This may make you yearn for the days of Emo Peter, Topher Grace and Sad Sandman – The Amazing Spider-Man
A lot of people are going to go into The Amazing Spider-Man with a pre-installed bemusement. A reboot of a film franchise that started 10 years ago seems prima facie stupid, forcing the core fans who have Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s origin and motivations woven into their very DNA to sit through another rehash of events internalized years before. Even moviegoers with passing familiarity with the character have to go into it thinking “Didn’t we already go over this spider-bite stuff? Do these people think we’re that dull?” (Answers: Yes and Probably Yes.) No matter the reasons behind it — the sour taste of the last entry of the Sam Raimi trilogy, recalibrating with a younger actor behind the mask — the back-to-square-one retread factor is vexing. It’s hard to get around. It is for me.
And make no mistake, I wasn’t madly in love with the Raimi films. I liked the first two quite a bit, and thought they captured the timeless spirit of the Spider-Man comics about as well as they could. Unlike most of the rest of the planet, though, I thought the first entry, Power Ranger Goblin and all, was superior to the second. Spider-Man 2 focused more on the stillborn romance of Peter and Mary Jane, and it just left me cold. Kirsten Dunst seems like a nice girl, but she has all the spark of a mud puddle, and Tobey Maguire, while grasping the charming dorkiness of our mild-mannered New Yorker, never had the right verve. It was a trilogy where, for me, the movies diminished with each volume. In that sense, I had no problem with the reboot. Not married to the work of the past ten years.
So. Here we are. The Amazing Spider-Man is upon us, released on the big stage of the Fourth of July holiday and into the impossible-to-match wake of the Avengers success.
Verdict? It’s not that good. It really isn’t, and I’m sad to say that. I wanted this film to succeed, if only to get back on track with the franchise, and avoid sitting through another setup story in the near future. But it’s a dud. It’s actually kind of awful. As I walked out of the theater, numb from the experience, I found myself coming to the realization that I’d rather revisit Spider-Man 3, which I still have seen only once, than this film. I think that might say it all.
But, if that doesn’t say it all, here are some observations, the bad and the good, with the mildest of mild spoilers thrown in:
- The script plays as if written as a cobbled student project in an “Introduction to Creative Writing” class. It’s ham-handed, careening from one scene to the next with clumsy characterization and obvious, at times cringe-worthily so, dialogue. It’s hard for me to believe that much of the crap thrown onto screens these days is the best that Hollywood has to offer, and this is part of that downward spiral. Director Marc Webb does nothing to enhance the meagre tools at his disposal, and he’s just as much to blame for there being no driving force holding this together, no animating principle that shows us that this is a story that needs to be told, and that established continuity had to be flushed down the tubes to bring it to us. Is George Lucas running screenwriting workshops out at the Skywalker Ranch?
- I had no problem with the Raimi films using organic web-shooters. When the first was conceived, it was going to be hard enough for movie audiences to buy into a boy spider without him inventing a substance that 3M and a trillion-dollar grant wouldn’t be able to conjure. But really, they were gross. A young man’s wrists shot out a milky, sticky fluid. THAT IS DISGUSTING. If that Spider-Man webbed me up to save me as I plummeted from a building or wandered in front of a bus, I’d be initially grateful, then I’d vomit, because GROSS. Now that we have a decade of super-hero shenanigans to build on, with Tony Stark crafting a flying suit, a God of Thunder descending from some cosmic plane and Super-Soldiers freezing in ice, the old shooters don’t seems so outlandish. They’re a not-too-significant but welcome addition to this party. NO MORE WRIST-SEMEN. Rejoice.
- If you had told me twenty years ago, as my friends and I were sitting in one of our bedrooms listening to a third generation dubbed cassette tape of No Cure for Cancer, that Denis Leary would one day play Captain Stacy in a Spider-Man movie, and that he’d be one of the brighter lights in said movie, I might have slapped you for being stupid. But there he is, in all his doomed NYPD glory. Sadly, and I don’t think I’m really spoiling things here, he won’t be around for a sequel. Nor will Martin Sheen’s Ben Parker, who feels fleshed out thanks to a fine, gentle performance by an old pro. (Sally Field as Aunt May seems too un-gray, and we barely get to know her before she’s into her weepy, “Oh, Peter” shtick. Though, to her credit, she at no point holds a condom aloft, keeping her from being the worst May Parker ever.)
- Rhys Ifans, the skinny guy from Notting Hill who made a Euro-trash ass of himself at Comic-Con last year, steps into the white lab coat of Marvel’s one-armed Dr. Jekyll. He seems disinterested, and that pesky script keeps him mired in the clumsy “let’s get to Point B” motivations that are the megalomaniacal fare of the summer movie season. He goes from wanting to regrow his arm to wanting to banish weakness by making people lizards. Or something. Mazel. Oh, and after he starts getting all scaly, he has the presence of mind to leave behind Exposition Vlogs in his well-appointed sewer laboratory for Spider-Man to find. LAZY. WRITING.
- On a lighter note, Peter Parker utilizes Bing as his search engine of choice. BULLSHIT. They might as well have him browsing with Netscape Navigator.
- Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are genuinely winning as our two leads. Stone’s Gwen Stacy is by far the best onscreen paramour for Spider-Man to date, while Garfield takes the Peter of the 1960s and makes him a shy, awkward young genius for the new millennium. But, like everyone else, they’re weighed down by the leaden script. (One of its few contributions to the superhero genre comes when Peter first gains his powers. There’s some comical material as he tries to perform everyday tasks, like hitting the snooze button and squeezing out toothpaste. They’re logical speed bumps for a newly empowered teen, which is more than can be said for most everything else in the film.) With both Garfield and Stone, I almost feel like I did with Brandon Routh after the microwaved casserole that was Superman Returns. I wanted to see him in a Superman movie that didn’t suck. I feel that way with these two. In fact, if you yanked Maguire and Dunst out of the first Spider-Man and plopped them in, then that first film might have been perfect. PERFECT, I SAY.
- Note to Spider-Man filmmakers: Spider-Man zipping around New York has lost most, if not all, of its wow factor. A climactic scene has our hero using conveniently arranged construction cranes to swing his way to save the day, but no matter how slick the CGI, no matter how many generic, swelling strings are in the score, it doesn’t move the needle at this point. Even throwing in that he’s injured, making him some mask-wearing, vigilante Kerri Strug, doesn’t help.
- There’s, of course, a post-credits scene. This trope is getting a bit tired by now, though it can still be effective. See: Thanos. But this one may be the most insulting of them all. Introducing a shadowy character tied into the stupid WE ARE MAKING A TRILOGY plot about the parents, it will leave all audiences asking “Who was that, and why should we care?” and not getting any answer. I have no idea who it’s supposed to be. It may be Future Guy from Star Trek: Enterprise for all I know. And you know what, movie? I never want to find out who it is. That’s how much I was bored with this thing. I really don’t care if there’s ever a sequel. Take your shadowy Parker family secrets and cram them.
- The most damning indictment? It doesn’t feel that there’s much SPIDER-MAN in the movie. Not only that, but every time he appears, the mask comes off pretty quick, as if Sony wanted to show us that YES INDEED, ANDREW GARFIELD IS PLAYING SPIDER-MAN AND WE ARE GETTING OUR MONEY’S WORTH. A part of the absence comes from that goddamn origin crap, which delays everything, but still… I paid for Spider-Man, and I feel I didn’t get sufficient Spider-Man for my dollar. Or time.
- To end on a positive, the action sequences, brief as they are, have energy. Spider-Man battling the Lizard (I won’t even start on the Lizard design — stay positive) is frenetic, with the hero twisting and contorting and using his webs to launch himself all over the place. It’s like a faster, more bone-crunching take on the deliriously wonderful Doctor Octopus fights in Spider-Man 2. But not as good.
This film is a misfire. Some people are going to like The Amazing Spider-Man just fine. The adolescents in the audience during my screening did, guffawing at the script beats which caused me to shake my head with acute chagrin. Good for them. And there’s a floor to Spider-Man movies. They can only go so low, because, at the end of the runtime, you’ve still just seen a Spider-Man movie. A bad Spider-Man movie is like a bad hot fudge sundae. But this feels more like the last Ghost Rider movie than it does anything in the Avengers universe. It might be most comparable to the Green Lantern flick. It’s aimless, like a high school senior who doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up.
I give it 2½ non-organic webshooters out of 5: