Posted by: Jeff Lester on July 14, 2012
Tags: 500 Days of Summer, Amazing Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield, Bill Hicks, C. Thomas Howell, Dennis Leary, Emma Stone, Jeff, Marc Webb, movies, Nicholas Hammond, Reviews, Steve Ditko, superhero movies
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.
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.”