Friday, July 6, 2012

"[Not So] Amazing Spider-Man" Movie Review


So I went into AMAZING SPIDER-MAN with hopes it would be a solid reboot, Certainly, the casting is fine. And the movie definitely has a modern-Hollywood flair. It also treats the subject matter seriously, so no issues there.

But about halfway through the movie I had this feeling of inertia. That I was watching a soulless movie that was not so much telling a story, as checking off plot points. It lacked panache, energy, urgency. For the second half of the movie, I became pre-occupied with where this venture derailed. And I ended up with a lot of thoughts on the matter.

THE ORIGIN: Spider-Man's comic book origin, for my money, is just about the most perfect origin in all of comic-dom (Batman comes second). It goes beyond the how and actually get to the why. Look at Flash, Green Lantern,  Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Hulk... and a host of others... and their origins are really just one Incredible Event (belted by gamma rays, bathed in electrified chemicals, etc...) With Spider-Man, it's not just that he was bit by a radioactive spider, it's everything that followed in that sequence of events -- from his misplaced sense of pride to the terrible lesson he learns about power and responsibility. It's super-powered but it's also deeply human.

It's also the way this plays out, which Sam Raimi realized was pretty much perfect as is. Here, the origin gets a wane retelling that neuters its most dramatic moments. There's no initial freaked-out joy when Peter realizes his powers... instead, it's a manic subway freak out. There's no path of great pride the wrestling match gave us... instead, he confronts Flash in a very un-Peter-like moment. There's no painfully dramatic warehouse realization that the criminal he let go at the height of his hubris was the man who killed his uncle.... Instead, Peter gets into a snit with Uncle Ben, then a snit with a convenience store worker, and only realizes through a police sketch who killed Ben. Every step of this revised origin is neutered, failing to adequately show Peter's path of "Fuck y'all" self-righteous indignation. All the dramatic moments squandered for smaller ones that have 1/10th the emotional wallop.

Spidey's origin is a pop culture Greek tragedy. It's a super-powered parable. And when done right, that last moment needs to inform his entire existence as Spider-Man. In the course of this movie, he NEVER finds the killer, and that's his main quest as Spidey. So, he still isn't Spidey because "it's the right thing" and "with great power comes great responsibility." No, he's just a guy looking for revenge. And that's a major fumble to me.

Also, would it have killed them to say the words "with great power comes great responsibility"?

I understand the producers probably wanted the origin to play different from a movie still fairly fresh in audience minds. They should had either 1. Done an origin montage sequence at the start of the movie like in INCREDIBLE HULK or 2. opened with Ben's funeral and just given us enough snippets/nightmares/flashbacks to fill in a bit as we go.

PETER PARKER: On the surface, it may seem that they got Peter Parker "right." But this Peter was "wrong" to me in some key ways. First, he comes across more as a loner than a geeky social pariah. Very much an 80s-era John Cusack. In his second scene, he's standing up to Flash Thompson in a way that doesn't make sense knowing what comes next in his character arc as Spider-Man. Plus, he's clearly not the lowest on the high school food chain, something else that felt "wrong." And, we don't et a sense of Peter really being shunned by anyone other than Flash. We don't even know where Gwen lies on this social spectrum.... it was all very ill-defined and lacks that instant character identification of Peter as a geek pariah.

It was also bothering me the amount of times Peter was using his powers openly at school. Won't someone connect these dots later? The Peter that teases Flash Thompson with the basketball also didn't feel "true" to me. In the Raimi version, Pete's retaliation against Flash is very "in the moment." Here, Peter is pre-meditated in his actions. I guess you can see that as his "pride" moment, a substitution of the wrestling ring incident... but I didn't get the feeling Peter was there yet with embracing his powers. He comes across as too aggressive. Likewise, the dinner scene with Captain Stacy; He not only tips his hand to his dual identity, he's openly argumentitive with the father of the object of his affections... which again, seemed non-Peter like and even a bit hostile.

Looking at a LOT of the "character arcs", a lot of them don't really track from point A to point B in a logical fashion.

GWEN: Other than what little Emma Stone can add to the character, we get little sense of who she is. She's the smartest girl in school, and clearly gorgeous. As mentioned, where is she on the social strata? Is it weird for her to be interested in Peter, or is she way out of his league? We never get a sense of their relationship, or what obstacles may threaten it. And even when they get together, it's almost perfunctory. I blame the director a bit here; I believe the identity revealing web-spinning rooftop kiss was imagined as something romantic and heroic, but it came across as a fast stolen moment. I was expecting a Superman: The Movie type night-time flight when Peter took Gwen web-slinging, but the scene was cut fairly quick. We never ever got a sense of who Gwen is, how she sees the world, her father or Peter. She more or less performs her role as "the girlfriend."

FLASH: Even more problematic. I didn't "get" his arc at all. He's a bully, until Peter humiliates him utterly and then Pete's uncle dies. And then Flash is a reformed bully and later even says "You're coming along Parker!" wh-at? It felt like there was a missing scene or two here. And while I appreciate Flash as more than a jerk-bully, this certainly needed more.

FORKLIFT GUY: Did I miss something? He's like "we have to help Spider-Man!!" So-- the city is gridlocked and is being evacuated.... and somehow, this guy makes it across town within MINUTES during this pandimonium (which isn't possible in NORMAL NY traffic. And... what does he think he's going to do anyway? Why would he think Spidey was gonna fall? This made ZERO sense except to dumb America who didn't think about this sequence for more than 2 minutes. Also, I might be wrong-- but doesn't this all occur during/after they established Gwen is waiting 8 minutes for the antidote? How is all this occuring in this time window?

LIZARD: I know a lot of people had issues with his story, or how the character was presented. The truth is, if EVERYTHING else worked (The origin, Peter/Gwen, the tone, the dialogue), this would have been serviceable. 

I guess I felt the Lizard was as generic as the script. By the time the movie got around to him in the second half, I was already disengaging. In a rewrite, he could have been made more tragic. He wasn't the least tragic until the very end, where we saw more in hindsight that the injection caused much of his delusions.
I was really annoyed when Lizard kept doffing his lab coat. That image of a Lizard-Man in a lab coat is horror-movie-awesome... why change it?

PETER'S PROMISE: Peter makes a dramatic deathbed promise to Captain Stacy. Then he ducks the guy's funeral. And it's like, dude, you could have gone to the funeral. He hurts Gwen big time, which was unnecessary and even cruel in her hour of need. And then, all of two days later, we get the hint that "promises are hard to keep" or whatever he says in class, a knowing nod that he won't be staying away from Gwen for long. Wha-? A deathbed promise that lasted less than a week? Again, sort un-Peter like. This sort of thing should TORTURE him. The movie should have ended with them apart... again, Raimi got this aspect of the Spider-Man mythos.

and lastly, THE JACK BAUER PRINCIPLE: Spidey is shot, and unable to stand--- until he puts webbing on his leg to stop the bleeding--- and then he rallies and he's all better? what? Again, this script needed another pass or three.

I get the feeling that the producers were moved by Nolan's Batman and some of those sensibilities crept in -- the driven crime fighter and byzantine conspiracy. Like, they thought "this is the future of super-hero movies.... !" And, no. It feels like an ill fit for Spidey. And if you trace back some issues, a lot might be attributed to this.

I did enjoy Dennis Leary as Captain Stacy. And Sally Field as a spry Aunt May. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are fine. But the script let them down. There's no sparkle, no playful dialogue, no cute upside-down kisses, no big moments or either triumph or tragedy. The rare attempts at levity were either lame or tame (Gwen's period talk with Daddy, for example.... Spidey's really unfunny banter for another).  

In short, you don't walk away from this movie with an indelible impression of any specific scene or moment. It's all rather paint-by-numbers Spider-Man and he deserves better. He deserves to be Amazing.