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Jeff “Reviews” The Amazing Spider-Man film

Jeff Lester

I mean, I kinda hate saying “reviews,” when the proper term for it is really, uh, “bitches about,” but feel free to join me behind the jump for scattered thoughts (seriously, really scattered thoughts) about the Amazing Spider-Man movie.

Think of me like your virtual movie buddy! You know, the one you didn’t come with, but who is sitting directly behind you in the otherwise empty matinee performance muttering comments under his breath because he is lonely, oh god so terribly, terribly lonely.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (the movie reboot):  As it goes, this is actually a pretty great recreation of the 1977 TV show starring Nicholas Hammond:  crap spidey-lenses, weird-looking suit modeled by a scoliotic stuntman with a half -yard of spandex riding up his asscrack, cipher-like villains, time-killing script, ear-stabbable music score…


Okay, it’s not quite that bad, but it really is not very good. Almost all of the charms come from Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, even though Garfield is a bit overly mannered and Stone’s character has nearly nothing to do except react (usually to Garfield) and wordlessly emote (usually to Garfield).

(Though there is that one scene where Gwen, in order to keep her father from entering her room [although the way the scene is filmed, it doesn’t really seem like he’s about to], talks about her period to drive him away. Oh, 21st Century Hollywood! You really are the most progressive place on Earth, aren’t you?)

The entire enterprise lives and dies by these two talented young actors seriously committing to leaden material that’s utterly uninterested in humanity but also lip-puckeringly absorbed in its continuity revisions. It’s kind of unfair but that appears to be the state of Hollywood these days: an entire generation of craftsmen contributing their end of the affair with the help of excel spreadsheets, screenwriting programs, and small armies of non-unionized computer programmers and animators, and then tossing the resulting quasi-homogeneous paste — with a shrug and an “eh, you’re the one getting paid millions of dollars, you figure it out” — at the thespians.


I know a lot of people really liked 500 Days of Summer, which struck me as similarly dull-as-hell-but-for-the-charms-of-its-leads.  I guess it is this eye for talent that has allowed Marc Webb to overshoot the “director of more than two dozen Sunny D commercials” destiny his abilities would otherwise suggest.

Most of the other actors are…okay, I guess? Rather than try and make Dennis Leary look like the original Captain Stacy (a pretty smart call since the original looked like John Romita, Sr. trying to draw Vitamin Flintheart), they went with…I don’t know, Donald O’Connor from Singing In The Rain?  Something went weird with Leary’s face, that’s for sure, but maybe that was all stuff he did to himself? I admit it, I spent some time in wondering if, after they hired him, the producers recognized  Leary’s superficial resemblance to Willem Dafoe, the first franchise’s Green Goblin, and decided to change up his features.

(I also admit to idly wondering at one point what Bill Hicks’ Captain Stacy would’ve been like — “Gwen, come down here and eat this hash twinkie! And stop hanging out with that Parker kid…he looks like a fucking narc!” — as well as what other roles Hicks might’ve ended up playing in Hollywood if he were still alive.  You know, would he have disappeared into the woodwork and only came back when Judd Apatow cast him as the dad in Undeclared? Or would he have kind of carved out this secondary career for himself while still doing comedy, a la Louis C.K. or what?  Anyway, I only got as far as: bit roles in Soderbergh’s Traffic, The Limey, and Ocean’s 13; Howard Cosell in Michael Mann’s Ali; and the voice of voice of Paul in Paul; it’d be awesome if he’d, like, gotten cast in the Kevin Spacey role in American Beauty and gone on to this whole other level but I just can’t see that happening, which tells you something sad about how much fantasy I can bear to bring to my fantasy universes.)

I could tell you about the plot and stuff so you could feel like you were getting a real “review” but…why?  There’s not really much of one, to be honest: after burglars break in at the Parker home, Dad Parker and Ma Parker leave young Peter with Ben and May, promising they’ll be back soon.  Then they die in some plane crash type thing and Peter becomes Andrew Garfield, a twenty-nine year old man pretending to be a teenager who walks around with a skateboard and a camera and who sticks up for the little guy despite being unable to lift his arms except to convey inarticulacy a la James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause.

Then he comes across his dad’s briefcase which has some stuff in it including a picture of that guy who got naked in Notting Hill who’s now working at Oscorp.  Peter goes there to get close to the guy who got naked in Notting Hill…to find out what he knew about his parents, I guess?  But by then, there are spider bites and mouse mutations and a weird-ass video game and yakkity yakkity yakkity and by the time the movie is over, you realize Peter never got around to asking any questions about his parents and in fact doesn’t really seem to give a shit, and this is even before you realize the movie sells out its tragic ending twice before the final credits roll.

Oh, and they break Spider-Man, which kinda sucks.

See, in the movie, Uncle Ben gets shot by a blond dude who has just robbed a bodega (where Peter didn’t do anything to stop him, of course).  So Peter becomes obsessed with finding the guy, and he begins listening to a police scanner, and starts wearing a modified wrestler’s outfit, and running around in the night, and well, okay, this is 2012, right, so they got to update some stuff, fine, I get it.

But here’s the thing: Peter never finds the guy. He keeps busting various blond dudes and none of them are the actual guy.  (They lack the crucial tattoo on the inside of his wrist Peter and the audience sees when the guy robs the bodega.)

And then later, when Peter has dinner at the Stacy household, Captain Stacy starts talking about this crazy vigilante running around who has to be stopped. And Peter does the old “stick up for your alter ego” shtick, saying “oh, I don’t know, I think this guy is doing something the cops can’t” and “this Spider-Man is actually interested in justice.”  (Of course, since Garfield overcommits to the role a wee tad, it’s stunning nobody at the table goes, “Wait a minute. That guy is you, isn’t it?”)

But what’s worse is, he’s wrong.  The way the scenario is set up in the movie, Peter is out for vengeance.  He’s not acting from a sense of guilt, or the knowledge that with great power, comes great responsibility.  (Unless they somehow dramatically misunderstood that expression and they’re trying to show that, yeah, Peter now feels greatly responsible for his uncle’s death.)

Although they show Spider-Man doing heroic stuff in this movie (and the setpiece on the bridge is actually quite good), he is, for the most part, not a hero.  To the extent you see him helping fight crime, it’s only because he thinks the guy might be the person who killed Uncle Ben.  When Peter is sticking up for Spidey at that dinner table, the people responsible for the movie have screwed things up so badly that he’s actually wrong.  Spider-Man isn’t interested in justice in this film: he’s interested in vengeance and it’s not the same thing.

It’s weird. I’m a big obsessive Spider-Man nerd (so much so that (a) I spent no small amount of time in this movie thinking that C. Thomas Howell in the bridge sequence actually looks like a guy Steve Ditko would draw, he has that exact same “thin lip/mouth bursting to the brim with teeth thing” Ditko does, and (b) I kept getting distracted by how much the Lizard actually looked more like the Scorpion in close-up) and I never considered how essential it is that the guy who shot Uncle Ben is caught in the very first story.

(Looks like every guy Mr. A ever punched, doesn’t he?)

But if you don’t have it happen, you risk fucking up something kinda inherent in the character: some quality to his anguish and his decency gets tarnished because he’s no longer helping people out of a yearning for expiation that so clearly cannot be granted it becomes indistinguishable from goodness. Even with an actor so good I wish I’d been watching him through the three Sam Raimi movies (of which the second is the only one for which I have any affection and the only one which I’d actually call something close to a good movie), this Spider-Man is not only struck me as EH, and not so much “amazing” as “ersatz.”



19 Responses to “ Jeff “Reviews” The Amazing Spider-Man film ”

  1. Yeah, I was yawning my fool head off with disbelief at how many wrong turns were taken with this movie and I haven’t liked any of the Spider-Man movies (except for maybe Dr. Octopus in the second one, but I haven’t watched that since it came out and it probably doesn’t age well).

  2. Well, to be fair, Captain Stacey DOES call him on that at the dinner table – he asks ‘Is there something you’re not telling us, Parker?’ or some such…

    Also, the guilt-induced heroism aspect IS there, I think: he says outright to Gwen that he created the Lizard by giving Connors the algorithm, so he has to fix it. It IS weird that it doesn’t follow the path they laid out in prior continuity with the guy who shot Uncle Ben and earlier in the movie, but I guess they had to cut something? Maybe the scene they shot for that was too dark for the suits….

  3. You seem to be missing the point that Captain Stacy was right. He is driving home the point that Peter had not become a hero. It is that speech and the moment on the bridge that is his turning point. That is when he gives up the vengeance kick and starts down the superhero\responsibility path.

  4. First scattered thought of my own: YOU GAVE IN.

  5. Wayne – not sure how you conclude that I’m missing the point there. Because I didn’t recapitulate every plot point of the movie above, I must have misunderstood…? Yes, I got the point that Leary beat to death for Iike 5 minutes, like I’m sure everyone else did…

    Never comment in Internet threads, never!

  6. This movie was crap.

  7. @Cormac: You’re right, there is a little moment with Peter at the table, I forgot that.

    And your second point is good, but mine was unclear. Yeah, you do have the guilt-induced heroism with the comment about having to stop the Lizard because he made him–but without the vengeance angle played up, it tips the character into narcissism, I think.

    That tendency that Peter and Spider-Man have to make it all about them, and make it their responsibility (which, especially, in that case…really?) is great–as long as it doesn’t feel like actual narcissism. Which, considering the rest of the actions Parker takes in this movie have such a strong degree of “but what about *me*?”, it felt like to me.

    But yeah, talking about it, I suspect that arc is meant to be there in the movie and stuff got cut and changed around either via studio notes or audience screenings.

    @Wayne: The bridge scene I’ll grant you–though he would’ve had to be one cold-hearted bastard to let kids die, wouldn’t he?–but I didn’t get much of an impression that the filmmakers considered Captain Stacy to be right. Considering at the end of the movie, the mug shot of the guy who shot Uncle Ben is still up above Peter’s computer, there’s not much of a resolution that really points to it.

    In fact, you have Stacy openly capitulating to a point Peter had made at the table during the death scene! So….I don’t agree.

    @Matt: Interestingly enough, I didn’t really give it much thought so maybe you’re right. Though, technically, the more money Sony makes with their Spider-Man movie, the more it cock-blocks Marvel from getting their movie rights back, yes?

    Anyway, it’s very much like the Avengers–I donated more than the cost of the ticket to The Hero Initiative. (Though unlike with the Avengers, not super-crazy-more and I did so after someone, like you, pointed out how this flies in the face of my boycott.) I have bought my dispensation from my imaginary church but I apologize if you feel like I let you down.

    @Cormac: Don’t you think Wayne was responding to me, not you? Don’t keep your brilliant insights limited to just Twitter, man! We need you!

    @Pete: Yes. I dickered a lot over the rating, and the fondness for the actors made me go with EH.

  8. Jeff, I was under the impression that they’re following the model of the Nolan movies and making this a trilogy origin story. Delaying the confrontation with the burglar is surely a symptom of that, and it didn’t bother me so much as it did you. The Lee-Ditko origin scenario is beautiful in its plainness and simplicity, in an O. Henry short-story kind of way. But if you’re trying to fashion a more modern take on it, making a nod to “realism” or a baseline of psychological complexity, I can understand why they’d want to make the so-called “hero’s journey” a little more extenuated. I’m okay with Peter still being sort of a selfish dick at the end, since it’s clear that at one point, someone’s going to throw Emma Stone off a bridge, and he’s going to continue to learn the great power/great responsibility lesson. Even Raimi had to go back to the Uncle Ben murder by the third movie, which really felt gratuitous in that case since he had stuck relatively close to the text.

    Given the sequelitis epidemic in Hollywood, it takes three movies to tell a single story these days (really, three movies adapting The Hobbit? Really?). I see how that might be unacceptable for many, though. It’s like comics taking six issues to tell a story they used to do in one. So in that context I don’t think they broke Spider-Man, although there’s still plenty of opportunity to do it if they wanted, I suppose! If they turn Norman Osborne into a big demon, Ultimate-style, I’m off board.

  9. And let’s face it, Ditko’s Peter Parker really was kind of a selfish dick. In fact, as Ditko’s tenure went on Peter became even MORE of a selfish dick, as he was developing into the Randian hero Ditko wanted him to become…

  10. Yes, everyone knows that Ditko’s Spider-Man was nothing more than a candy-coated bit of propaganda to get the kids hooked on Ayn Rand.

    Also, Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta was designed to get you to worship a Snake God.

    (I mean, we know that Alan Moore does magic and worships a snake, so we should feel justified and clever to just assume all of this early work was a tilt in that direction. Probably be SOMETHING in the actual comics that could be spun to make it seem so.)

  11. If this was the first Spider-Man movie ever made and they changed the origin so the most important person to Peter’s moral evolution WASN’T the man who raised him from childhood but some guy he had dinner with one night, what would be your reaction?


  12. Why do people jizz and cry about kirby all the live long day yet only mock ole steve ditko? (in general. Not in Jeff’s article) I know kirby had the bigger hand in the whole “create the marvel universe” thing, but ditko is basically in the same boat, yet still alive and living on water crackers.

    That’s a man you could help NOW, by at least buying the comics he self-publishes, or at minimum not scaring off other readers by insinuatiing he’s the funny-book Tom Cruise.

    Unless you don’t care about this whole movement to get people money for stuff they did 50-80 years ago. Which is kinda where I fall, really. But I really dig steve ditko, man.

    I was in a band in high school named See Thomas Howl. It was a side band split off of The Seales. (as in bobby. We were very young…)

  13. Will B: given that the majority of Ditko’s written work from ’67 on increasingly became Randian screeds, it’s not as much of a leap as you’d think. And of course Stan’s scripting mitigated a lot. Would it have actually happened if he stayed on? Who knows, but it’s fun to think about.

    Sure, I was being a little glib, but Objectivism aside, I do think the actual text makes Peter come off as kind of a selfish dick. Reread Peter’s treatment of Betty Brant over the course of his run. It’s like watching an episode of Mad Men. Don’t get me wrong; that’s not a criticism. I think early Peter’s rough edges was what made him interesting as a character. It’s no secret he became a lot more likeable under Lee and Romita. But that’s why I’m okay with him being not-fully-formed by the end of the movie.

  14. I have to take the contrarian view and state that I loved this film. I’m one of those (apparently very few) people who never understood the appeal of the bloated and clunky original 2002 “Spider-Man” film (Macy Gray concert, anyone?). This new film may not have been as faithful to the source material (not being a huge fan of Marvel’s comics, I wouldn’t know and I don’t care), but as a film it was head and shoulders above the Raimi trilogy in the way it streamlined the narrative. Rather than checking off all fanboy pre-requisites like the Raimi trilogy did, this film allowed source elements to coalesce and work as a cohesive story, not as a series of tangentially related vignettes (like the original Raimi film). And if this film is not faithful to the original source material? So what. The original comics are still out there to enjoy. No one is taking them away from anyone.

    I’m have to say that I’m also a bit annoyed at the criticism that everything wasn’t resolved in this film (Spider-Man didn’t catch Uncle Ben’s killer, the story with Peter’s parents, etc.). This is the golden age of long-form serialized storytelling we’re living through now. I personally LIKE the fact that not every conflict was resolved. I LIKE the fact that seeds were planted that will play out in the next two films. For me this is much more sophisticated storytelling. It acknowledges the reality of the accessibility of home video and how most people will watch this film (and its sequels) in the future, beyond its one-month theatrical release window: in one long, successive viewing or over the course of a weekend (in which case resolution of all plot threads in the first film isn’t necessary). I think in franchise films like this it’s time to acknowledge that it’s the WHOLE that’s important, not the individual parts. The criticisms about Uncle Ben’s killer not being caught are like people criticizing the first chapter of a novel for not resolving everything when there are still five chapter left to go. A little patience, please.

    I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind on this. If you liked the original Raimi trilogy better, well good for you in that you can still watch that trilogy whenever you want on home video. For the rest of us who were interested in different angle on the character, I’m pleased with the results.

  15. It worked for me, it was highly strung and balancing a ton of things at once, but that is kinda how I expect Spider-Man to operate. The cast was great, there actually was chemistry, the action was dynamic, the villain had menace if not incredibly clear motives.

    It felt like a movie that understood where it came from but didn’t want to be so faithful that it was slowed down while still grasping the Spirit of Spider-Man. I don’t have a problem with it being an origin because originality of concept doesn’t interest me as much as execution, and because origins are primal and we will never escape them (especially with the better characters).

    I hope Sony and Fox hold onto whatever movie rights they have with all their might. The Marvel universe of films is an exercise on all the pitfalls of uniformity and continuity with slight perks, this may become that but right now it seems to be telling a contained story, that still had ending moments included. I would take all the Wolverine: Origins and Elekra’s if it means they can produce peaks like this, rather than the constant mediocrity of the Marvel Studios films which seem like are only concerned with the narrative and not about the intrinsic quality of each entry, kinda like the current brand of Marvel Comics fittingly.

  16. Got to back Steely Dan’s analysis on this one. I loved the living hell out of this flick. I feel like the CHARACTER of Peter Parker was a lot more spot on here than it wasunder Tobey Maguire, and Garfield’s chemistry with Emma Stone was head and shoulders above anything Maguire and Dunst brought to the screen. Oh, and Martin Sheen was given a much, MUCH better script to play with – i always thought Cliff Robertson’s Uncle Ben came off as kind of a dick.

  17. I saw it last night and really thought the blend of old (Pete’s camera, Gwen’s outfits, etc…)and the new was done well. The actor playing Peter was very enjoyable as was Sheen’s Uncle Ben. Never thought this summer’s Spidey moview would eclipse The Avengers, but it sure did. Hopefully, BATMAN will eclipse them both!

  18. As others have commented, you’re pretty off the mark about the scene in the Stacy dining room. The filmmakers want you to agree with Captain Stacy. Peter literally does nothing heroic with his powers before that point in the movie. It’s only after his dressing down by Captain Stacy that he does something selfless in saving the kid. Watch the scene with the car jacker again (it’s on youtube), and check the close up of Spidey giving the guy the evil eye before pouncing on his wrist. Even the most oblivious viewer watching this scene gets the sense that Spider-Man isn’t a full-blown hero yet, and is even kind of petty and a dick, so it seems unlikely that the filmmakers would not have intended it.

    What may be throwing you off is that it’s pretty different from the comics, where Peter’s attitude adjustment is almost binary, from 85% dick in Amazing Fantasy 15 to 85% misunderstood hero in Amazing Spider-Man #1. In this reboot, they seem to be drawing out his character arc (again, I think deliberately), with the Burglar still on the streets at the end of the film, and Peter not having yet completed his transformation to the guilt-ridden celibate of the early comics and original trilogy. In fact, Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie concluded with the very ending this movie feints, that is, with Peter living under self-imposed isolation from his friends. I can see why you would say it sells out its tragic ending, but for my part, I’m just happy it didn’t rehash the Raimi films.

    None of this is to say Amazing Spider-Man was a great movie, although, like you, I do wish we could have seen Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in all the other ones. I was pretty disappointed with the climax, which couldn’t have been more by the numbers. If I didn’t already know that kids don’t play with toys any more, I would guess that toy executives write all the superhero third acts, with the goal of moving their surplus “Battle Atop the Tower” and “City Under Siege” playsets. Also, how in the hell did that guy control all the perfectly-placed cranes in the city, WTF was that?

    One more thing I wanted to mention, which struck me as the biggest way in which the movie drops the ball. I remember after Spider-Man 3 came out, legions of fans rushed to Raimi’s defense regarding the weak portrayal of Venom, citing the studio’s foisting of the character on him. Well, can somebody tell me what is the defense for the dogshit depiction of the Lizard in this movie? In the comics, Conners was a veteran and a family man, who lived in fear of the Lizard endangering his wife and son. None of that pathos shows up here. Instead, Conners has seemingly no human ties and is made out to be some kind of master race advocate, even before taking the serum. Rhys Ifans isn’t bad in the movie, but he just has nothing to work with.

  19. If cliches and contrivances (and an awful score and even worse editing) are your thing, I can see why you’d like this film.

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