I wanted SPIDER-MAN 4.
I really was hoping to see what Sam Raimi had left in the tank, after the disappointment that was SPIDER-MAN 3, complete with wedged-in Venom, the sad Sandman and a wasted second Green Goblin… oh, and let’s not even mention dancing emo Peter Parker. Damn… I did it anyway.
In any event, Raimi delivered on two out of his three SPIDER-MAN films, so I was easily ready to give him the benefit of the doubt, knowing there was a lot more studio interference with his third installment, to right the ship. After all, the first two turned out to be more than fine when he was left alone to tell good Spidey stories, not to sell merchandise and cater to the fans’ every whim.
But we never got SPIDER-MAN 4. Even though the band had been put back together, pre-production was halted, script problems were blamed (“How dare you, Sam, want the Vulture?” says the studio) and the plug was ultimately pulled. It felt like the film was set-up to fail, having the rug pulled out from beneath it, leaving Sony oddly with no new piece to its biggest franchise… or did it?
Surprisingly, not too long after, a new Spider-Man film was ready for production, further supporting the idea that another Spidey flick was being put together while SPIDER-MAN 4 was trying to get off the ground, even though its feet were pretty much stapled to the earth. The idea was that they were going to go back again, back to Peter Parker’s early days, around the time he became Spider-Man once more… an origin story of sorts retold, only this time a little different, a little darker, a little edgier, a little more modern, a little unnecessary.
Okay… Marc Webb gets picked to direct… I really like (500) DAYS OF SUMMER. He knows how to handle characters as far as relationships and emotions go, so I’ll go with it.
Andrew Garfield, after his brilliant performance in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, gets the nod as Peter Parker. Alright… he may be a little old to enter the realm of Spidey, considering Tobey Maguire was also getting up there in age and teetering on the verge of being unbelievable for the age range needed, but he can pull off slightly nerdy, so this looks like it can work.
Then you just go down the list… Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, finally the transformation of Dr. Connors to the Lizard, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field… perhaps this could work. Perhaps rebooting the Spider-Man franchise only a handful of years after Raimi’s inexplicably ended.
But the closer we’ve gotten to THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, the worse my feelings of the film have gotten. The story didn’t sound right. The footage didn’t look right, and, being that Spider-Man is my all-time favorite superhero, for me to not be particularly excited about seeing a Spider-Man movie of any kind, something’s wrong with that. However, as I sat in the theatre, fingers crossed, I still had hope that Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone and the whole cast and crew had somehow pulled it all together and delivered an amazing new Spider-Man film. I don’t want there to be a bad Spider-Man movie. It hurts me enough having to acknowledge SPIDER-MAN 3 already exists. I don’t want another one coming my way.
But all that hope was for naught, because THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN may not have failed as epically as Raimi’s third, but it’s bad… it’s really, really bad… from its unnecessary need to tell a retooled origin story of Spider-Man to its incredibly off-base interpretation of Peter Parker’s internal struggles to the sheer fact that it’s tone deaf about what a Spider-Man movie should be. Sadly, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has gotten caught up in a movie with an enormous web of problems.
Let’s start tonally first. This isn’t a fun, comic-y Spider-Man story at all. In addition to the abandonment issues Peter Parker deals with as a result of his parents suddenly walking out of his life at a young age, which are simply introduced and then forgotten about later (most likely to be addressed more deeply in the coming chapters of another prospective trilogy), THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN attempts to borrow heavily from the success of THE DARK KNIGHT by adding some attitude, some edge to our hero. The only problem with such an idea is that it doesn’t work for Spider-Man. It’s a perfect fit for Batman. His parents were murdered. He’s out for vengeance. He has no super powers. It makes sense to ground that story in some type of reality. Sure, the fantastical approach had worked for the character previously, between the Adam West TV show and the Burton/Schumacher films, but what Christopher Nolan wanted to do worked, because Bruce Wayne/Batman has an inherent dark cloud over him already by the very nature of his creation. That doesn’t work for a teenager bitten accidentally by a radioactive spider, who develops super powers as a result. Do you know how ridiculous that would sound in real life? A film like CHRONICLE played with taking the superhero genre in a more realistic way, but Josh Trank’s film also didn’t have characters with the ability to scale walls on their own or with the super smarts to build web shooters in order to swing all around the city. There’s something off about trying to place a man with abilities like a spider in the real world, and, as a result, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN largely feels off. It’s way too serious for its own good, sucking all the fun out of what should be a lively superhero property, not one so drab.
As a result of forcibly trying to be dark at all times, when it’s necessary for THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN to actually head into that territory, it’s meaningless, because those moments look and feel like everything else. Uncle Ben’s death… yeah, that’s a pretty big moment in the Spider-Man Universe, and the very incident that prompts Peter Parker to use his great power with great responsibility moving ahead for the benefit of society. That’s not the case, which leads to an even bigger problem with the character itself, which I’ll get to momentarily. But the death of Uncle Ben is so clunky and poorly done, involving a convenience store robbery, Peter Parker spitefully choosing not to help, though he’s probably not in a position to do any good even if he did, and Uncle Ben wandering into the wrong place at the wrong time and then entering into a struggle for a gun. You never get the sense that Peter Parker is even remotely responsible for Uncle Ben’s death, or that there’s any reason he would ever blame himself… and that’s essential to Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man. He should bear this huge cross of guilt and self-blame, but, because of how THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN presents it, none of that is apparent.
Choosing a more wordy play on the “With great power comes great responsibility” creed that’s become synonymous with Spidey, such an idea feels incorporated into the film more like a slave to the mythology than something prevalent in the story, because THE AMAZING SPIDER0MAN certainly doesn’t practice what it preaches. Peter Parker doesn’t choose to be Spider-Man to do right by what happened to his uncle, never forcing someone else to go through his pain. Instead he becomes Spider-Man solely to seek vengeance on his uncle’s escaped killer. That’s right… Spider-Man becomes Spider-Man for revenge’s sake. Peter Parker goes after criminals who only fit the description of Uncle Ben’s murderer. If he happens to stop other crime along the way, so be it… but this isn’t the Peter Parker who is using his powers to help others. This is a Peter Parker using those powers for his own selfish reasons, which is what set the chain of events off that wound up killing Uncle Ben. Therefore, Peter Parker doesn’t learn from his own mistakes, leaving us with a Spider-Man that isn’t consistent with any type of Spider-Man I’ve come to love.
Let me get back to the origin story though, because, for the first 45 minutes of the film, there’s a sense of déjà vu to everything you’re seeing… probably because you’ve already seen this part of Spider-Man’s tale told just 10 years prior. There are some tweaks as to where Peter gets bitten and how it goes down, but essentially it’s all “been there, done that.” Making it even worse is that Raimi’s initial film managed to capture the marvel (no pun intended) of Peter’s transformation from mild-mannered teen geek to superhero. Webb’s does no such thing. It feels so paint-by-numbers that when the film tries to get into second gear with its second transformation of Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans) to the Lizard, you’re not all that interested. The film has taken a familiar path that now feels long-winded to get you there that all of the excitement of seeing the Lizard finally committed to a movie has been drained.
I get why the origin story is there. There seems to be a need to re-establish Peter Parker in the body of Andrew Garfield. However, that idea seems to operate under the premise that most people don’t know how Spider-Man came to be, which I can’t imagine to be the case. Starting with Peter Parker already in full-blown Spider-Man mode may have been a wiser choice, because it capitalizes on the unfulfilled desire to see the Lizard (something Raimi didn’t have the time to get to… poor Dylan Baker) right away rather than making us sit through an all too familiar History of Spidey segment that lacks spark.
Do you know what else lacks spark? The interaction between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), which when first introduced plays very genuinely as there’s this innate awkwardness to watching two teenagers trying to act cool around each other when there’s a mutual attraction. But whatever chemistry might exist between them is quickly cast aside to become a lesser part of the overall story in order to concentrate on the other aspects of Peter’s life. It feels at times as if there’s a romantic interest for Peter just because there should be, or in order to create a subject of peril for future episodes. There definitely is something between Stone and Garfield, but beyond their opening and more intimate scenes, Webb does a shoddy job of continuing to build their romance, almost like the effort of showing them together in the beginning is enough to last the rest of the film. It’s all so rushed, as evidenced by Peter revealing his secret identity on their first real date, and, even as one of the positives of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN for a short time, it manages to quickly be turned into a negative.
By the way, can someone please stop Spider-Man from taking his mask off ALL THE TIME?! I believe Peter Parker is unmasked no less than three times during the film, including once at his own hands the very first time he appears in full Spider-Man costume. The audience knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. It’s not that difficult of a thread to follow, so stop treating us as idiots who have to constantly be reminded that the guy under the mask is in this case Andrew Garfield. What kind of a secret identity is this if everyone gets to see for themselves?
As for the Lizard… well, it’s cool to see him finally get his due, even if his appearance is a little off facially. But with Webb going for a Spider-Man grounded in reality, having a eight-foot-tall reptile walking and talking around the streets of New York City doesn’t exactly match what you’re going for. Just to go back to Nolan’s Batman films for a second, since his vision clearly influenced what Webb is shooting for here in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, there’s a reason the more fantastical villains of Gotham City weren’t chosen. They simply don’t fit that world. The Lizard doesn’t fit this world of Spider-Man. He’s a large mass of special effects that doesn’t feel like he belongs, and, while Ifans does his best to make Connors a victim of his own circumstances, of trying to push the limits of science for a specific corporate agenda, there’s not nearly enough sympathy for who Connors is and what he’s trying to accomplish. He’s missing an arm, and yet that’s not the primarily reason he’s working on the cross-species genetic formula he’s working on. Therefore, when things go awry, it’s not a matter of him trying to do the right thing. It’s him being forced into it by another party, making his choice far less tragic.
The motivations of the Lizard then quickly become bizarre – something about no longer healing the imperfections of humans as they are, but surpassing them, but, once he crosses paths with Spidey, it’s as if nothing else the movie has built to then even exists. What happens to the corporate crony the Lizard is chasing after? Forgotten once Spider-Man bursts onto the scene. What about that search for Uncle Ben’s killer? Halted once the Lizard arrives. So why even bother feeding us these details along the way, if you’re just going to forget about them later on? Am I supposed to remember them with ease in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, when the first film forgets about those loose ends about halfway through? Just another example of the careless story-telling that goes into this far from amazing superhero entry.
I will say Webb has managed to make a beautiful looking film in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, with the web-slinging taking full advantage of the better technology available to surpass what Raimi’s films did in transporting Spidey around the city. The action sequences are nicely shot, too, even if they contain no action. Seriously, it’s just Spider-Man shooting his webs at the Lizard, using them to blind him or tie him up or subdue him… but there’s not a punch of a kick thrown in the Lizard’s direction, rendering the action scenes action-less. And the point-of-view shots of what it’d look like to be behind the mask of Spider-Man, which the film cuts to three or four times, are distracting, ripped directly from a first-person shooter video game. They’re drenched in CGI, and, much like the Lizard, don’t fit in the scope of the rest of the film, which is trying to desperately to be grounded in reality.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN just never feels like a Spider-Man movie, which is incredibly unfortunate since that’s what it’s trying so hard to be. Garfield and Stone are fine in what the roles call for them to be, but, outside of them, it’s just one misstep after another in the direction of where they want this new Spider-Man series to go. Sheen and Field don’t exude those warm grandparent feelings you should get from Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Denis Leary’s Captain Stacy draws too much from the mold of J. Jonah Jameson in creating a civilian opposition to Spider-Man, and Parker’s interactions with Flash Thompson at school feel like someone was watching a lot of TEEN WOLF when they penned the script.
There may be problems through Raimi’s trilogy of films, including just about all of SPIDER-MAN 3, but none of them missed the mark as badly as this one. There are now two bad Spider-Man movies out there, and one of them is THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. I wish there wasn’t such a rush to do something, anything Spider-Man so closely to Raimi’s films, because unless they were just going to recast and keep going, the franchise could have used a break. A refresh like this may have worked 10-15 years down the line, but now, with Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe, James Franco, Alfred Molina, etc., still fresh in our minds, this comes through as a weaker copy. The breathing room might have helped, but the closeness that was opted for in its place instead suffocates Spider-Man with an untold story that feels pretty well told and rather inconsistent with what we’ve come to know and love of our friendly neighborhood web-head.
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