Right up until SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING ended with a literal What The Fuck Moment, each of the previous SPIDER-MAN films – spanning two franchises, two directors, and two different interpretations – wrapped up with the big Swinging Scene, save for one.* You know what I’m talking about. After defeating his nemesis, coming to terms with who he is, and either getting or losing the girl, we see Spider-Man cross a cityscape in a sequence in which the animators have clearly been told to just go crazy with it.** The whole point is to get the audience feeling jazzed up, and not just about the movie-going experience – you’re supposed to think: No matter what’s going on in my life, I can overcome it, and I can fly high.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN goes out with that familiar sequence, except everything about it is different from its predecessors. Yeah, Spidey’s swinging around and launching himself off buildings, but the similarities end there. For one thing, it’s a different actor and a different Spidey; he’s wearing silver shoes and a costume that looks like it’s made out of the same material used to manufacture basketballs. Instead of the sweeping choral that evokes flying over concrete jungles, and strings that rise and fall like the graceful weaving of a multi-spoked cobweb, there’s a Spaghetti Western trumpet blaring in your ear, fronting a score that sounds like something you’d hear in a Special Olympics montage.*** Everything’s the same, but everything is different, which is the best and worst you can say for a thoroughly pointless reboot retelling the exact same story you saw exactly ten years prior.
But among the changes, Spidey’s shoes stand out the least. Moments before the triumphant final sequence, in which we are, again, supposed to feel inspired and motivated through the act of watching Peter Parker confront and ultimately overcome the challenges in his life, we are treated to a moment so thoroughly repellant as to wonder what this showcase scene is supposed to be celebrating. To be specific, Peter, who has sworn to the father of the high school student he loves that he’ll stay the fuck away from her, so as not to endanger her life due to his wall-crawling antics, decides to say Screw it and more or less pisses on the guy’s grave. Make me a promise that you will keep Gwen out of it, says the dying cop after he and Spider-Man have battled the Lizard; Peter agrees, and goes so far as to stand the little lady up on the day of the funeral without so much as a half-assed explanation -- even when she shows up on his doorstep in the rain, asking for one. She leaves with a What the fuck expression and a broken heart. A day or so later, Peter decides his Downstairs Spider-Sense is tingling, and no one wants to make webs alone; so when he’s late for class and slides into the seat behind Gwen, promising not to be late again, his teacher tells him not to make promises he can’t keep. “But those are the best kind,” he says with a leering grin, practically purring the words into Gwen’s ear. She, too, smirks at the implication, and the heroic score comes up over the sight of two teenagers smiling in a very creepy way, relishing the thought of essentially spitting in the eye of a dying man and his final wish. It’s like promising not to have sex in your parents’ bed when they’re out of town, and then intentionally shooting web fluid all over their pillows.
That’s our hero, ladies and gentlemen. He’s not just SPIDER-MAN; he’s THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. For everyone complaining that Tobey Maguire blubbered too much, here you go: Peter Parker has been redefined as a twitchy, mumbling weirdo with hair almost as tall as his neck is long. Not since the Loch Ness Monster has a sight been so prehistoric. But hey, let’s not criticize Andrew Garfield for his looks, because other than that stalk of his, he’s fucking gorgeous. He’s so good-looking, in fact, that it’s absolutely one hundred percent believable that he’d be a social misfit no girl would take interest in, save the token Nerd Chick who keeps popping up like a plot point waiting to happen, and then never does. I mean, since when do the Bad Girls who wear fishnets and pigtails ever eyeball fuck a guy who looks like he just stepped out of a mail order catalogue for Slackerwear, particularly when he wears T-shirts with punk band logos, or rides a skateboard, or has that added, icky incentive of being hipster douchebag photographer who insists on using actual film cameras because Fuck Digital? Yes, this is our new Peter Parker, who’s an Invisible Outcast because the script demands it.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN**** is directed by a guy named Marc Webb, which is unfortunate, because it’s sort of like writing “Cutie” on your kid’s birth certificate with the expectation that he or she won’t grow up to look they took a few licks from the Ugly Stick. You have to ponder the possibility that the successor to Raimi’s mega-blockbuster franchise was selected for his name only, as if to desperately tell audiences that there was a rock-solid reason to watch the same movie all over again, and it was because this guy was born for the role as Spider-Man’s steward. Considering the films he's made, and the partial birth abortion that represents Sony’s first attempt to fuck a Spiderverse into existence, it plays out as if an idiot shaman read the bones upside down and backward. NOTE TO AMAZON: Make sure you don’t hire any creative overseers for your LORD OF THE RINGS series who happen to be named “Radagast” or “Bombadil.”
Webb had about as many handicaps with this reboot as Garfield has feet of hair, and in the case of both, they’re almost offensively obvious. I’m not going to list them; we all know what they were. The only one we have to underline here is that Same but Different model, and while it turns THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN into a perpetually ticking and clucking Rube Goldberg machine of stupefying incompetence, the most heinous and unfathomable decisions of all involve Peter Parker, who is, appropriately, a heinous and unfathomable character. With great power comes great responsibility goes the famous quote that Martin Sheen does everything in his power to say without actually saying it – who wants to be reminded of that better version, right? – and Peter Parker, now reborn as a guy who loves Alfred Hitchcock and The Ramones, learns every lesson but this particular one. Sam Raimi tried to give us an Eddie Brock who was like Peter’s distorted, mirror image; here ya go, Sam! Marc Webb did you one better.
In this retelling, Peter seems predestined to become Spider-Man, because of a backstory involving his scientist father, Richard, that was teased in all the trailers and then virtually excised from the final cut. It’s unclear whether Peter happens to get bitten by a genetically modified arachnid and gains super powers, or if the bite triggers something encoded in his DNA. Ah, fuck it, we’ll just deal with it in the sequel. Regardless, we go through all the familiar beats seen in Raimi’s first film, in which the various spidery abilities manifest in humorous ways, only they’re not humorous, and take twice as long to sit through. Nearly every re-do is for the worse. You get Peter accidentally breaking the pipes in his bathroom, Peter catching flies in his hands, Peter getting his hand stuck to girl’s boob on the subway, and Coldplay. That last part is possibly the worst thing on that list, at least until it’s “improved” in the sequel by the questionable upgrade to Phillip Phillips.
Peter’s a dick. I wish I could use less colorful language in this piece, but no I don’t, so fuck him. He stutters and waves his hands around a lot, which is supposed to be endearing, but suggests medication might be a preferable alternative to collecting vinyl and scouring the racks for skinny jeans. Are Emo Kids bad? No, but film depictions of Emo Kids are bad. It’s like when your guidance counselors tried to talk to you on your level, telling you that smoking cigarettes behind the stairwell wasn’t the def, fresh, chill thing to do. You have characters written by, performed by, and directed by people who are hopelessly out of touch with the culture, rendering caricatures that come off like alien mimicry of human behavior. He. Rides. A. Skate. Board. He. Is. Tortured. For a film (a few) critics and (a few) fans praised for its “bold, contemporary retelling” of the Spider-Man story, it’s almost insulting in the way it jumps up and down like a hyperactive child, demanding that you notice how it’s a bold, contemporary retelling of the Spider-Man story.
Most bold and contemporary is the way Uncle Ben’s death is depicted. As in the Raimi film, the old geezer bites it moments after delivering the power and responsibility speech; instead of saying it in two sentences or so, the attempt to rephrase it comes off something like: Remember, Peter, some people are strong, and it makes them feel powerful, but they shouldn’t misuse their strength in a way that’s irresponsible; because being strong means being powerful, and being responsible means being strong in other ways that are just as powerful, but strong, too! Then Peter, being the guy we all know and love, casually shatters the front door, incurring a payment a newly-widowed Aunt May had better make first thing in the morning if she doesn’t want to a robbed widow, to boot.
Uncle Ben chugs along after Peter, looking like a doughy pastry in clothes, and while he’s scanning this way and that, Peter thinks, Shit, things suck. I need chocolate milk. But he’s a few cents short. Does the clerk let him TAKE A PENNY from the LEAVE A PENNY bin? No, because he’s an asshole, too, just like everyone else in this film. So Peter lets the store get robbed by a Generic Stickup Guy, who shows his gratitude by giving Peter his chocolate milk. When Ben sees the thief leaving the store, holding a gun in his hand, he does the dumbest thing in the entire film by trying to waddle up behind and tackle a guy about four hundred years younger than he was thirty years ago. Thus, Ben gets a bullet, the escaping thief gets his take, and Peter gets his chocolate milk. With great chocolate milk, comes great chocolate milk. PLUS: chocolate milk is disgusting.
Beating himself up over the fact that his uncle died in the name of creamy, ice-cold cocoa goodness, Peter goes on a rampage to find the killer and show him exactly what he can do with the bottle, which we’re never told gets consumed or not. This isn’t about Peter learning a lesson: Peter wants revenge. Ben’s death is only his fault if you say, okay, technically he was only there at that time and place because he was following Peter, but no one made him go after a guy with a loaded firearm except the screenwriters. As such, becoming Spider-Man is a process developing from Peter’s thirst for blood, only it’s the human kind instead of insect. Then, for no reason at all, he decides to stop looking for the guy (?), and decides to become a superhero (??), simply because – again – the screenplay says he must. Take that, Nicholas Hammond.
A lot has been made of this being a more “accurate” Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire’s portrayal. Dude, he quips in this one, the Comic Shop Kid snorts when you say that Garfield plays the role more like an asshole than a punster. He’s always made fun of criminals. And turn your hat around, cuz you’re, like, fifty and stuff. First of all, you putrid little shit, I’m only forty-three, and secondly, Spidey does make fun of his adversaries, but in the same way you made fun of kids with red hair when you were five.*** His jokes are bad. They’re Dad Jokes. He makes fun of their names, costumes, and gimmicks. He gets them so annoyed that they lose focus. Spider-Thug he is not, and if you consider the scene with the carjacker an example of “quipping,” or shouting, “Ah’m swingin’, heah!” to be “quipping,” then I’d agree with you, but only if you believed the exact opposite. Besides, kid, reading a comic off the shelf and then putting it back isn’t the def, fresh, chill thing to do.
In the end, Peter learns everything about power, and nothing about responsibility. He learns to stick to walls; he learns to swing across the city; he learns to inexplicably unite crane operators without the assistance of a union.****** He also learns to forget about his Uncle Ben, literally until the very last scene; he learns that one should always show deference to their girlfriend’s father, at least until they’ve been in the grave a few minutes; and he learns that shoegazing is easier when you put something sparkly on your toes. When we go out on that tracking shot, with Spidey doing his leaps and bounds before wrist-ejaculating at the screen in slow motion, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN can’t help but promise a better sequel. But you know what they say about promises you can’t keep; if not, just ask Gwen Stacy.
*SPIDER-MAN 3 was a rather depressing, discouraging film about how relationships suck, and how we all have the potential to be colossal dickheads given 1) the motivation, and 2) an alien symbiote filled with Rage Juice. Friends die, girlfriends cheat on you, and sometimes, given these circumstances, you might be tempted to disfigure the former, and backhand the latter – publicly! In fact, we have to admire Peter’s willingness to show up at the jazz club during the final scene given his previous display; but the unresolved moment that follows, in which Peter and Mary Jane hold one another without saying a word, is a bold, ambiguous, and wholly appropriate ending for this unexpectedly painful last chapter. If a final scene involving web-slinging were to be added, it could only be the sight of Spider-Man, head drooped, trudging down the street in the rain with two long threads dangling from either wrist behind him, as all the while traffic backed up and horns blared.
**Well, I guess THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2is also a departure from formula, in that Spidey isn’t seen gallivanting across New York; it’s also also a departure in that – while it’s an action moment – it’s shown in the trailer as a tease for a battle with the Rhino that we expect to see in the actual movie…but when we see this moment in the film, it cuts straight to credits. Fuck you, too, marketing department.
***I’m on the Board of Directors for my local Autism Society, so I’m not being flippant. I’m referring to the often trite fashion in which emotions are manipulated by music designed to inspire, rather than allowing the subject to be impactful on its own. I resent the manufacturing of emotion when it comes to neurodiversity and the handicapped or disabled, as their achievements don’t need it. It’s belittling to douse gifts, talents, and competency with syrup as if inspiration can only be acquired by means that are by and large condescending, intentional or no.
****In everyday conversation, I refer to this film and its sequel as SHITTY SPIDER-MAN and SHITTIER SPIDER-MAN.
*****This is why I drink.
******Every single Spider-Man film has had the FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION moment. It’s that spot where we see the people of New York rally behind the Wallcrawler, teaching us that we don’t have to have super powers to be a hero. In a scene that struck a chord during the months following 9/11, it was hard not to be affected when a crowd began throwing garbage at the Green Goblin, informing him that You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us. SPIDER-MAN 2 upped the ante with Peter’s sacrificial effort to stop a speeding train – complete with Christ-like imagery and a bit where his body is passed around like a joint. The city rallied behind him once again in SPIDER-MAN 3 when our hero arrived to battle Sandman and Venom as the red, white and blue billowed behind him. In THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN? You get C. Thomas Howell leading a team of construction workers to line up a series of cranes so Spidey can swing to the Oscorp tower. How did they know he needed the help? Why did they think that solution, specifically, was the key to stopping the Lizard’s generic Blue Laser Shot Into The Sky? And why should we root for this arsehole in the first place? If there’s one genuinely funny sequence in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, it’s the moving and profoundly beautiful image of a bunch of cranes changing their respective orientation, all set to James Horner’s score that – ironically – is horn-based.
Erik Kristopher Myers (aka ekm)