Spiderman is one of the most popular comic book characters, right up there with Superman and Batman. The iconic image of a man in a skintight webbed suit, slinging from building to building on silken spider thread is as well known to both children and adults as most works of popular art. But, despite it’s intense and lasting fame, can the franchise consistently produce quality material? After seeing the latest feature film, a “gritty” reboot of the franchise that follows the comics’ canon more closely, I’m not so sure.
Let’s not waste any time, and take a look at The Amazing Spiderman.
Here’s the thing: this movie has made me really wonder whether or not I liked it. It wasn’t until I talked to a good friend of mine who had seen the midnight premiere, and listened to a critic I admire greatly, Bob Chipman, aka MovieBob, that I understood where it was that my uneasiness about this movie came from. I can, in part, sum up one of it’s major problems from my perspective: this movie wasn’t made for me, i.e. fans of nerd culture, older people, and people who I generally consort with.
My first clue? The first trailer they showed was for a Twilight movie.
Trailers tend to be a good way to decipher who the audience for the film you’re about to see really is. Brave’s was a combo of kiddy films and animated films which are appealing to older kids. Ergo, Brave is a film whose scope is for a wide range of ages. This movie is for teens, who love the new supernatural and sci-fi films that are now getting morphed to the simplistic boy-meets-girl formulas with high action that is now incredibly popular in that age set. So, to say I didn’t like this film, don’t come back at me and say “Well, it wasn’t meant for you, old lady!” cause one, I’m not old, and two, I put on my teen-bopper goggles…and this movie still has a lot of problems.
The biggest is Spiderman himself, Peter Parker, played by Andrew Garfield. He’s certainly a lot more…brooding and emo than his previous incarnations. But other than that, it seems that his character is all over the map. Sometimes he’s a geeky, shy kid, then he’s brave and outgoing, nerdy and smart but then a slacker who couldn’t care less about school, forceful but reserved, flirtatious but a mumble-mouth. You get the picture? My good friend even remarked that he acted like he had some sort of personality disorder, and she’s right. They were trying to make him the perfect hunky teenage boy and they ended up with a mishmosh of every type of teen-dream-boat combined into one…and it just seems like he’s a nut job.
Dr. Connors, who later becomes the Lizard, is just as jumbled and botched as our arachnid-based hero. I think they were trying to make him like Green Goblin from the original film, where the crazy was from the science experiment but they never really differentiated it from Dr. Connor’s normal personality. And it happened so suddenly, it seemed to come right out of nowhere. Not to mention his motivation for trying to turn all of New York into lizard people is so non-sensical it’s mind-boggling that it got taped at all.
And in fact, that seems to be another problem with the film: the pacing is rushing to finish as quickly as possible. Some scenes, often romance ones with Peter and Gwen, take longer than most of the shots in the beginning establishing the damn characters. And this makes the slow scenes last an eternity and everything else like a high-speed chase to reach the ending. I think I would have preferred an exposition dump, so that way we could have a normal, flowing plot than crash coursing it.
Speaking of, the plot may be close to all the other Spiderman origin media, but did they ever botch Uncle Ben’s death. It seemed so random and rushed, not giving it any real importance or depth to the sole reason why Peter Parker decides to hunt down criminals. Personally, I preferred how it was done in the original film where it made you really feel the emotional despair and guilt felt by Peter. In this film, he just seemed angry without really processing that it was all his fault. Not to mention that he doesn’t seem to grow much after the experience.
The dialogue ranges from witty and powerful to stupid. Sometimes, it feels like the actors are ad-libbing, or maybe that the studio was not happy with the few script and demanded a re-write to be made immediately. When I say this movie was made for teens, it certainly sounds like they are aiming for that younger audience, with simplified concepts and speech patterns. And while Peter and Gwen’s awkward flirting can be very realistic, and cute, some of the dialogue falls flat. Hell, even some of Spiderman’s taunting comes off as just mean-spirited and snarky. And, probably the most obnoxious scenes is when he’s fighting a car thief, and jump attacks him with a body slam….crotch first….while he screams “crotch shot.”
The worst is that this film just has no heart. It feels cold, like while you’re watching it, you can be impressed by it’s graphics, but nothing sticks. They try to make some dramatic, emotional moments, but most are ripoffs of better movies (even one scene from Spiderman 2) and just don’t have enough time, effort, or power to be really as deep as they needed to be. This was a movie made to make money – that’s it. It has nothing new to say about the franchise, which is a real shame as it could have taken it in a new direction. This is a studio effort and it feels like it – pretty, but superficial.
But there are some good points. The bully Flash is strangely well rounded for a character that gets less than five minutes, and Emma Stone really works as Gwen Stacy, Peter’s lady love before Mary Jane. It’s just a shame that she’s squarely stuck in the witty love interest and not some kick-ass heroine herself. I’d have much rather watched that. And of course, Martin Sheen and Sally Fields as Uncle Ben and Aunt May are not only perfect, but adorable. Two veteran actors in a bit, yet important roles, really makes me happy.
The fight choreography is actually pretty great looking, though it was probably more the use of a good stuntmen than anything else. My friend noted that Spiderman’s fighting was more spider-like than the original trilogy, and I can’t help but agree. While some of it looks like parkour, Spiderman really is using the wall, jumping around, using webs for combat purposes, it’s really amazing. This film also looks pretty good (to me, of course), with some nice updated tech for Oscorp, better CGI (though I would never say it was great), and even manages to give this franchise a new look, even if it’s not as “gritty” as I’m sure the studio would have liked. The only problem is shots of the city go by so quick, that the world the film takes place in feels small.
In the end, The Amazing Spiderman just doesn’t live up to any of the expectations I, and many others, had of it, and is honestly a soulless and cold retelling of a heartfelt and classic story of growth and maturity. I wish someone else had developed and directed this reboot because it had so much potential and wasn’t a complete disaster…but I’m certainly not going to go out and buy the DVD. But it could be worse – it could have been another Green Latern.
Next week, I’m not sure what I’ll review, since I am not sure where I’ll be and what I’ll see. The life of a student critic is tough. My August preview will be up soon, I promise, it’s just been hectic, and don’t forget about my Pan Am review to come!