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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-man


View the video version here.

It has not been a good time to be a Spider-man fan for quite some time now. Between the comics going quite literally to hell, and Greg Weisman's excellent Spider-man TV series being replaced with a godawful Frankenstein cobbled together from various popular cartoon styles, it seems like there's nowhere left in the world where Spider-man doesn't suck.

So one would hope that The Amazing Spider-man could've been just the thing to change that trend. Sure, it's a corporately mandated cynical cash-in designed to retain the character rights from Marvel lest something as awesome as Spider-man joining the Avengers materialize, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing. It worked wonders for 20th Century Fox's new X-men film after all. Unfortunately, sometimes first instincts are completely right, and The Amazing Spider-man is every bit as stale, soulless, and uninspired as feared.

The primary reason this film is bad is, while it was sold as a reboot of Sony's Spider-man film franchise, the finished product is anything but. It's not a reboot is a remake. Pure & simple. Calling it a reboot would imply they're taking things in some drastically new direction or at least updating it for a newer audience. Hulk vs Incredible Hulk, Batman vs Batman Begins, both are good examples of this. However, despite Sony's pretensions to being darker or more faithful to the comics, this new film is a beat-for-beat retread of the first Spider-man movie. Sure they replaced Mary-Jane with Gwen Stacy, J. Jonah Jameson with Captain Stacy, and Green Goblin with the Lizard, but they all still have the same basic personalities and story functions as their predecessors. The sweet girl next door, the snarky guy who brands Spider-man as an outlaw, and the scientist villian who admires Peter's intelligence and turns into a supervillian with multiple personality disorder after he tests an serum on himself too soon. And of course there's a cheesy citizens-help-out-Spidey scene because, well, the first two movies both had a citizens-help-out-Spidey scene.

And all the changes to the narrative only makes things worse. The most egregious example is the decision to take Peter Parker's stint as a pro wrestler out of his origin story. Sure the basic idea of Peter refusing to stop a criminal who goes on to murder his uncle is still there. But the way it plays out here it makes his decision to become Spider-man illogical from a character standpoint. He doesn't refuse to stop the burglar because he's become self-absorbed & arrogant, he does it because he was in a bad mood and the cashier was a jerk to him. Not only does it leave the plot thread of hunting for Uncle Ben's killer dangling, it negates the entire point and keeps Spider-man from having any real character arch or growth.

The characters in general in this movie are woefully flat. Gwen never really transcends the standard superhero's girlfriend role, her father is an interchangeable Commissioner Gordon wannabe, and Curt Connors, our villain, has no real motivation beyond some vaguely defined desire to "rid the world of weakness". Ironically, Flash Thompson, of all people, in only three scenes is given more depth and complexity than the hero, his love interest, and the villain combined. That...is just plain ridiculous.

One of the main ways Sony has tried to counter the backlash from a reboot-weary fanbase is by making this film "more accurate to the source material". Ironic when you consider they didn't even get the origin right this time, but you can see where some effort was made. Things like Spider-man actually building his web-shooters, Gwen being his girlfriend before Mary-Jane (Raimi's Mary-Jane WAS Gwen Stacy in all but name), etc. But the biggest change was an attempt to address complaints that Spider-man didn't make enough clever wisecracks in the original films like he tends to do in the comics. Well, they certainly got the "wisecracks" part down but they seemed to struggle with the "clever". See the reason Ol' Webhead wasn't rambling off comedy monologues about Doc Ock's bad dress sense in the original movies is because Sam Raimi understood that movies are not comics and in a movie actors cannot deliver four paragraphs of jokes mid leap. It simply wouldn't translate. The Amazing Spider-man makes a go of it anyway, and end up making the character so obnoxious and annoying that he becomes the most unlikable he's been since he made a deal with the devil. Seriously, how hard it is the make Spider-man likable? He's Spider-man!

There are certainly worse superhero films to be had. To date The Green Hornet remains the most unpleasant superhero-related experience I've ever had with a movie, and old bombs like the Fantastic Four movies & Daredevil are always good for an eyeroll, but The Amazing Spider-man still does absolutely nothing to distinguish itself as either good or bad. It's completely forgettable, lacks any imagination, and fails to justify Sony's unforgivable treatment of Sam Raimi during & after the production of Spider-man 3. I'd like nothing more than to see this movie fail and Sony punished for their misdeeds, but that probably won't happen.

P.S. Hey have any of you ever seen Black Lightning? See Black Lightning. It's ten times the Spider-man movie this is. It's basically "what if, instead of being bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker found a flying car?"

9 comments:

Nathan Lord said...

What bothered me the most in this movie was the score they play through NINETY-FIVE PERCENT OF THE SCENES! It was annoying and it actually stopped me from taking it seriously (Spider-Man saving the kid from the falling car was when I gave up hope). Also, I hated that they never conclude the hunt for Uncle Ben's killer, and THEY NEVER EXPLAIN THE MOTIVATIONS OF HIS PARENTS. You know, the THING THEY KEPT TEASING YOU ABOUT IN THE TRAILER. It's like Prometheus all over again. This movie didn't seem to care to be as dark as advertised, and it certainly wasn't as dark as I wanted to see (I think I'm spoiled by TDK series (deservedly so?)). It's not terrible and your definatley correct about Green Hornet being the absolute worst, so The Amazing Spider-Man fell at mediocre for me. Bleh.

Joshua the Anarchist said...

It actually shocked me how not-dark it turned out to be considering how dark it was clearly TRYING to be. Sure it had a darker color pallete and focused more on the seedier aspects of Spider-man's world (the "gritty" hunt for his uncle's killer montage), and of course there's the part where he gets shot. And yet, it's all undermined because literally EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER that's starts out remotely antagonistic to Spidey is singing his praises by the end. The Lizard, Captain Stacy, even Flash Thompson. Bizarre.

Andreisidro said...

Though I see your point, I completely disagree with a lot that you said. I don't care what people said it was gonna be, a reboot, a remake, whatever. I went to the theatre with two "goals" in mind. The first was if the movie would be able to trim some of the edges left by the previous trilogy, and it certainly did.The second was if it felt like a Spidey movie, and it certainly felt.

Peter is no longer the stereotypical nerd that doesn't get along with others just cus he's nerd. He's a loner, he doesn't like to have contact with others, and he happens to be really clever and exploring his inteligence is what keeps him satisfied. I'm kinda like that so I really liked the way they wrote him, cus I easily related to that. Gwen is not the damsel in distress MJ was. You often see her take more action other than screaming, whining or walking down a rainy street without a bra just so she can be harassed and saved by spiderman. In fact in the previous movies you always got a sense that MJ was really in love with Spiderman and not Pete, when in this one you can clearly see the chemistry between Pete an Gwen even before he got his powers.
I also really liked the way this film went much deeper in Pete's rellationship with his uncles. The scenes where he forgot to pick up his aunt really left me with the sense that the film knew me. I went several times through stuff similar to that and it happened exactly like the film told.
Speaking about his uncles. One of the things I was kinda skeptical was when I heard that there was no "With great power comes great responsabillity" speech, but I thought the movie handled that "theme" waaaay better than the first Spiderman. In fact, in the first Spiderman the speech comes out of nowhere and left me thinking "what? Uncle Ben knows about his powers?" cus there wasn't really no point of saying that unless he knew about the spider-powers. In this one Pete's really irresponsable and he's constantly getting in trouble, so when uncle Ben dies I felt Pete's guilt for causing so much trouble to someone that saw him like his son. And I really liked that he didn't change by night, in fact, when he was making fun of the car thief you got the sense that he almost forgot about uncle Ben, that he was just playing with his newfound powers like a kid that plays with a new toy (and I really liked the humour in that scene). Its when someone is in danger that he gets more serious and I felt uncle ben's aura through his motivations to save that person. And, again I felt that was more realistic than make him change to a completly different person because of that tragic incident.

Andreisidro said...

Now I also had some complaints about this movie. The first one was that I thought the Lizard was a really weak character, and I didn't like how they made him like a Green Goblin/Magneto ripoff rather than the Hulk/JekyllHyde character I always saw him as. It felt like the writers didn't know how to "fill" the movie with this character, so they gave him a cartoony motivation and portrayed him like a villain that needed to be stopped instead of a tragic character that needed to be helped. Another complaint I had is the fact that though you see the police against spiderman, and even making some good points as to why spiderman shouldn't be doing what he was doing, you never see the new yorkers being against him. And the crane scene was fucking stupid and felt really out of place tonewise with the rest of the movie. You felt like they wanted to adress the typical point in the spidey stories that "It really sucks to be Spiderman", but then someone said "OK bu we have to end on a high note" so they make everyone liking him all of a sudden. In these points I think Raimi's movies were better (at least the first two).

But yea, this movie really got me invested in the characters in a way the previous ones didn't, so I really liked it, and it really reminded me why Spiderman is my favorite Marvel character.

Either way, I enjoyed the review (like always), so keep up the good work. Cheers.

ps: Keep in mind English is not my first laguage, so please bear with the text and try not to go all Grammar Nazi on me.

Joshua the Anarchist said...

@Andreisidro

Actually Peter IS a stereotypical nerd in this movie. Sometimes. Other times he's a troublemaking skater kid, sometimes he's a moody emo, and at times he feels like as much of a jock as Flash. He HAS no character in this movie. And Gwen is really no less a "damsel in distress" than MJ. She treats his wounds (a pretty stereotypical "action heroes girlfriend" duty) And happens to be in position to whip up the big macguffin for defeating the bad guy but that's it. At least MJ was a fully realized character, and her romance arc with Peter was a helluva lot better written. With Gwen all we get is some badly written dialogue the actors are desperately trying to work with, and an awkward as hell transition from flirting to dating.

I admit Martin Sheen was the highlight of the film, but his "with great power" speech (he may not use those exact words but it IS a "with great power" speech) is way more outta nowhere than the first film. The first time "great power" referred to his ability to beat up people he doesn't like, like Flash (preceding line: "just because you can beat him up doesn't give you the right to"). Here, it feels totally out of place. What the hell does it have to do with forgetting to pick his Aunt up?

And my God, did I despise the car scene. It was tonally out of place and not even remotely funny. Whoever suggested "how about if Spider-man webs up with guys crotch and then laughs about it like a drunken frat boy" should've been fired on the spot. And the man is supposed to be on a vengeful manhunt for his Uncle's killer, what kind've sense does it make for him to just forget that & have some fun?

Overall the character completely backfired. Talk about it being "more realistic" for him to not change overnight, the fact remains that he didn't change AT ALL. He's the same self-centered smug loner at the end that he was in the beginning. Uncle Ben's death didn't cause any kind've epiphany, all it did was make him mad. The fact that he completely disregards Captain Stacy's dying wishes is proof of this. Every time he does something benevolent, it never feels natural because the character always comes across as self-centered and nothing ever happens to change that.

Andreisidro said...

Well I still strongly disagree with you. It might be cus the movie made me relate to the characters to a point where there was no need to explain most of their actions. For example, like I said, I shared a lot of the characteristics of this Peter (I don't like to talk to people face to face, I'm kinda akward with girls, though I'm not a genius, I'm rationally pretty smart, I skate, and I'm a bit self-centered to a point of being irresponsable).I even left my mother without a clue where I was for several hours, just cus I got distracted, more than one ore two times (and like I said, the coversation with my parents was really similar to the scene where he forgets to pick his aunt). The Only thing Peter had, that I don't have is the Spider-powers. Raimi's Peter, in the other hand, felt like the unpopular kid that wanted to be popular and get the girl (waaay more stereotypical to me). So the thing is, while I can see why some people tend to say "How the hell he's a nerd now and a skater 5 min ago?", to me is fairly obvious, because I'm like that, so I don't need any explaining. Same thing with the car thief scene. I don't need the movie to explain why is Peter laughing and making jokes, when he should've been acting like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, cus I'm like that, I understand why. So maybe I can't look to this movie with more of an outside prespective and analize it for what it really is and, instead, I tend to analize it for what it made me feel. Well screw that then! I loved it, you apparantly not so much. Lets just agree to disagree.Cheers!

Ps: And yes I too think someone in Sony deserves some slaps in the face for keeping the spidey rights from Marvel, cus I too wanted to see him in The Avengers 2, and, though I liked the movie, I still think it was somewhat unecessary.

ELT said...

I cannot make a comment on this film because I have not seen it yet...and might not see it until it comes out on either netfilx and/or redbox...I'm one of those people who lurks movie review sites to scout whether it's worth to pay $10+ for a particular film or not. From what I've read/seen in the reviews about this spidy movie it looks like I'm better off going to see Avengers or wait for the Batman movie...

But I would like to comment about the spider man comics going to hell...I'm certainly not seeking to call you a hypocrite Josh, but would these position be somewhat agaisnt what you were addressing in this post? And while admittedly I am not a comic book fan and do not follow any sort of American comics (I follow manga which you can count as Easter comics) I'd hear many things about that particular run...though I cannot imagine that it is the worst a spider-man run has seen. I mean I've heard that in one occasion Peter Parker gave Mary Jane cancer with his radioactive spider semen....

I'm just sayin'

Joshua the Anarchist said...

@ELT

Ok, I see your point. That said, that post was mostly about letting go of old hate. I mostly brought up the One More Day thing because it's generally considered that the comics took a sharp turn for the worse at that point and have yet to recover. Admittedly I stopped reading so I wouldn't know if they've gotten any better. I mentioned it because between that, the cartoon, and this movie, it just feels like the whole franchise has gone downhill on all fronts. Not really holding onto a grudge, just pointing out an overall drop in quality.

Mildra: The RPG Monk said...

It occurs to me that the only place where spider-man has anything positive going on is in videogames (having Beenox handle the spider-man games was a smart move), and in the tabletop RPG that Margret Weis Productions put out a few months back. Though I could be viewed as cheating with that last one.

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