The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

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Okay, okay, there's been a lot of talk comparing today's new film, The Amazing Spider-Man, to another film of similar style and substance that was released only a short while ago. I think those comparisons are unfair: The Amazing Spider-Man is not quite as aggressively awful as Green Lantern. It's bad, but has a couple of good moments; don't get confused and think that's anything close to a recommendation.

Mind you, both films have their similarities. Dial down the contrast, add in heavy doses of foreshadowing for future installments that may or may not happen, make the lead an unlikeable bourgeois prig, throw in a mighty share of questionable special effects, and knock off in time for happy hour.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't step into the theater expecting to cheer every time a swing connected with Spider-Man, but when your hero spends most of his screen time realizing that there's more to life than just beating up low grade criminals and their friends, it's hard to sympathize.

The worst part about the new Peter Parker? He hates Mondays!

Here's a paragraph where I describe the plot: feel free to skip ahead. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) loses his parents in one mysterious incident and grows up in the care of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). He's mopey until he accidentally gets bit by a magic spider that gives him spider-like abilities, like being able to stick to walls and punch things really hard. These new attributes win him a girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and an enemy, Dr. Curt Connors AKA The Lizard (Rhys Ifans).

There's a love story here that owes more to Twilight than any previous superhero romances, as Peter relentlessly stalks Gwen and seems to creep her into submission. He puts her photo as his computer background, watches her through her window unawares, and fondles pictures of her. Especially horrifying is one scene where Parker attempts to ask out Gwen, and a quiet whispery song in the background starts going on about unlocking her magic door. Jesus.

It's a good thing that Stone is able to pull off the darling ingenue so well, or that icky feeling that Kristen Stewart was unable to shake until the fourth entry in her franchise might have permeated this film just as badly. The focus of Amazing is heavily on the Gwen/Peter relationship, which plays heavily into the aforementioned 'bad boy' story that Twilight trafficked in with little warmth. Stone always seems to be having a bit of fun, and Garfield, juggling about a half dozen balls, is never given a chance to settle in with Peter or Spider-Man.

Parker's relationship with his nemesis, Dr. Connors, is fairly dumb in a spectacular way. Dr. Connors knows something about the death of Peter's parents. However, this is only the first movie, so he is not allowed to tell even the audience what this may be. The writers don't want to write themselves into a corner; that seems to be their entire gambit with this character. The Lizard is unremarkable, and all emotional attachment he has with Peter is stated very directly in the dialogue since the film simply doesn't have the will to connect the two in any deeper manner.

Connors is indifferent towards the concept of Mondays.

Which is a big problem for an ages old character who is filled with such rich and bizarre ideas. Director Marc Webb's visual style is a mixture between hectic and intimate that never quite works. He's more interested in the romance, while the CGI (which ranges from stunning to abysmal, often within the same scene) is given priority over the fluidity of the action, so we're treated to long, elaborate set pieces that look pretty but go nowhere and do nothing. Usually when you watch a fight in an action film, you have a winner and a loser, and these results force the characters to change their plans or make new ones. Here, they just punctuate the relationship drama that barely starts rolling its wheels as well.

And I guess that's where the biggest disappointment in The Amazing Spider-Man comes from: it does nothing new. The shots of Spider-Man swinging through the streets-- breathtaking in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man (2002)-- have been cribbed here and mechanized. Rather than giving a few seconds of exhilarating pause, we're instead treated to Spider-Man reenacting a gallery of Todd MacFarlane's improbable comic book poses, which seems to assume everyone in the audience has their checklist in hand and ready to go.

That checklist is super important, since, while Spider-Man is a beloved children's character, most of what is emphasized in the film is comic book details combined with condoning what Spider-Man does as just. Not the first film to try and justify glorifying vigilantism, it's the most recent one in memory that so cravenly caves to the idea by simply have one character state that he's against it, and much later decide that he's for it because Spider-Man is not such a bad guy after all.

That's not how that works.

Spider-Man is all CGI and is programmed to hate Tuesdays. It's a switcheroo!

Most of the reactions I've gauged from the film seem to be of one mind: it's an origin story, so whatever, it's just setting the board for a superior sequel. This isn't the first time I've seen this pop-up (hi, The Avengers), but, to me, it's a fairly lazy and scary opinion. Is that all we want from summer blockbusters? Narrative fidelity to comic book accuracy? All setup, no payoff?

Especially bad is the sequence in the middle of the credits, which teases that the next film will have, of all things, an antagonist. I never would have guessed.

The action scenes are routine. The character drama is hoary. The emotional scenes here play to a dry eyed audience. The film is muted. It feels like we're watching a pilot for a late 90's ABC TV show: it's not risking doing a damn thing new or interesting, and is content with replaying the previous version and just hoping the audience will come back each week.

Give me a film with something to say any goddamn day of the week.

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Posted by Danny

Comments (11) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Well that’s legitimately upsetting because I’m quite the super hero movie whore. I’m still going to see this but thanks for softening the blow.

  2. It happens. I like this site becuase you can give a weight to each review based on experience. I tend to side with most of you but I’m also pretty forgiving with a lot of flaws. Really I just like hearing your opinion. I wish you guys got more of a fanbase becuase you deserve it.

    Also you disliked Hugo. You have my continuing loyalty for being the only ones who pointed out all of its flaws. I hated that movie with a deep dark pasion.

  3. Yeah I’m gonna have to side with you on this one after actually seeing the movie. This was essentially a cartoon tailored towards teenagers – complete with a skateboarding montage, a shallow relationship with a British villain, a high school love interest, teenage angst, being disrespectful to adults and authority, and, something any film aimed at this particular age group needs, sloppy writing that any creative writing teacher with an ounce of self respect would scoff at.

    Truly awful. Why is it acceptable to forget about one plot and pick up another now? more importantly: Why were those stupid lizards there??

    • I think some writers believe in the animal symbolism so much that they think a superhero character should control those lower down on the chain (see also Batman Begins). God knows what happens when they apply this to ‘Super’man.

  4. Hey why can’t I post on here with Twitter??

  5. If the color scheme of your blog (there should be enough contrast to detect input fields) is not enough to indicate… I take it your not a fan of fiction. This Is Fiction Bro! Aside form that, I believe there was a significant amount of research done for this film. This was an attempt to stay true to the comic. Previous incarnations of the character were accused of trying to change the story or simply not being true to the comic.

    The angst you refer to was simply a tendency towards teenage awkward situations. I don’t know if you remember being a teenage geek. I do remember it. I promise, those years were full of awkwardness. The kids are supposed to be 17! I believe that was stated pretty clearly. As to the action scenes, in this film, Spider-Man is not yet a hero. He is not yet a crime fighter. He certainly is not yet in full control of his ‘powers’. The movie was true to the kid’s experience.

    The wife is hovering so I must go to bed. Just look at the movie with clean clear eyes and give it a second chance. There is an earnest attempt to remain true to the character and his age in this film.

    ps. It’s a movie. No need to get that worked up over it. Besides it was better than the last 3.

    pss. whats up with the scene at the end. At no point did they say his parents were dead. Then the scene at the end seems to be suggesting some other plot for them. Could it be possible that his father tried the serum himself?

    • To quote a critic I respect, ‘Narrative fidelity is bullshit’; how well it respects the continuity of comic books is irrelevant compared to how good of a movie it is, and like I noted in the review, this one comes across more like a television pilot than a feature film. If this were a comic book, I presume it would be fine, but spending forty minutes of a two hour film setting up sequels is plainly irksome.

      Also, I should note that I was a very (very) awkward teenager, and while this film plays with the idea of being one, it’s about as sanitized as it can be. Peter’s feelings are less raw than generic, and while it was true to his experiences, I never felt it reflected them any differently than the Raimi trilogy.

      Sorry, I should say in reflection I don’t hate the movie as much now as I did as I left the theater, but that may be because I’ve blocked most of it out by now.

      P.S. Hey, getting worked up on the internet about movies is the fun part. 🙂

      P.S.S. It’s certainly possible. The movie left so many ends open the shadowy figure may as well have been Stan Lee.

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