The Amazing Spider-Man (Columbia Pictures, PG-13)

spider-man2I’m sick of movies that exist to set up franchises.

 

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In Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man, we are introduced to Peter Parker, a nerdy high school student who is bitten by a genetically altered spider while visiting a high tech laboratory. He feels sick, passes out, has flashy dreams of spiders and such, and then wakes up to discover that he now has super powers. He experiments with his powers, at first not being able to control them and then slowly learning how to use them to his advantage. He uses them to humiliate the school bully and gets the attention of a girl he likes. Then, through a series of wacky events, his uncle Ben is murdered, and he realizes he must take responsibility and use his powers for good. He magically obtains a fancy costume and becomes Spider-Man, a masked hero who fights against small-time thugs in New York.

At the same time, we are introduced to a respected scientist who Peter greatly admires. The two meet and have a connection, but little comes of it. This scientist is in the middle of some very tricky genetic experiments and, when pressured by the people who hired him, decides to begin human trials on himself. Obviously, this doesn’t go well, as it gives him amazing abilities but also drives him insane. I’m sure all of you remember this and wonder why I’m wasting your time and not synopsizing The Amazing Spider-Man.

Surprise! I am synopsizing The Amazing Spider-Man. All that shit happens again. There are a couple twists along the way. The scientist is not Norman Osbourne, but rather Curt Connors, a scientist who works for Norman Osbourne. Instead of turning into the Green Goblin, he turns into the Lizard, who is also green. Uncle Ben’s death does not result from Peter entering a wrestling match, but rather from his trying to buy some chocolate milk. There’s a real twist with the love interest: In Spider-Man, they took a blonde actress and dyed her hair red. Here, they take a redhead and dye her hair blond. They are tricky, those filmmakers.

Raimi’s first Spider-Man is not a perfect film. The first half is way better than the second. Unfortunately, the first half is the part that the new film redoes the most. The origin story was done so well before, why would they bother to do it again? It would be one thing if they made it better, or at least different, but it’s worse. Watching these same scenes play out the same way is boring. But who knows, maybe they can save it in the second half when they have to do new things?

Let’s talk about the Lizard. I know that Sam Raimi wanted to do a movie with the Lizard as the villain. The character of Curt Connors is in Spider-Man 2 and 3, played by Dylan Baker. Baker is a really good actor, and it was exciting to see him set up to eventually become the major villain. Well, that will never happen, because they’re finally doing the Lizard, but it’s a reboot so they have to recast. This time, Curt Connors is played by Rhys Ifans, another talented actor who now has to start over and build this character from scratch. The script doesn’t do him any favors, and he is unable to step up and transcend the material. But what about the design of the Lizard himself?

A while back I was discussing the trailer for this film with a friend who condescendingly scoffed and said “the Lizard looks like complete shit.” I defended the movie saying we had barely seen it and that it could turn out OK. I was wrong; he was right. I tried to hold out hope for as long as I could, but in one scene, the Lizard breaks into a building through a toilet stall, and I suddenly realized that I was watching a movie in which Spider-Man fought a giant Ghoulie. Aside from just being aesthetically lame, I don’t understand what the Lizard is trying to achieve. I’ll avoid specifics about his final plot, since it is one of the few things that is different from the Raimi film. Suffice it to say, it makes no sense.

I’ll say this for The Amazing Spider-Man: We do have a different Spider-Man. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is less nerdy at the outset, and isn’t afraid to stand up to people before gaining his powers. As Spider-Man, he is more vengeful and mean. He likes to fuck with the criminals he attacks, and he makes a lot more smartass remarks while doing so. I know this is true to the comic, and the scene in which he stops a car thief is the best scene in the movie. The problem is, he comes off as a bit of a dick. In the first film, it was an act of vengeance that led to Uncle Ben’s death, and learning that lesson is an important part of his development. Here, he becomes Spider-Man in order to avenge Uncle Ben. I know it’s a small difference, but it’s an important one. In theory, this setup allows for more character growth as the film goes on, but that just kind of thing doesn’t happen.

My biggest disappointment, surprisingly, is the 3D in the film. 3D is good for two things: stuff flying out at the audience, and characters falling away from the audience. A Spider-Man movie obviously has many opportunities for both. The best 3D I’ve ever seen was in How To Train Your Dragon. The flying scenes in that movie took my breath away, and the idea of a web-slinging version of that was very exciting. Unfortunately, the 3D here is mostly unremarkable. Maybe it’s just that the action scenes themselves are not as skillfully rendered as in the earlier movies. Raimi’s aesthetic of showing Spider-Man swing through the city with long, elegant shots that start up high and go right down to the streets would work great in 3D. Here, I couldn’t even enjoy the movie as a theme park ride, and the special effects themselves are not any notably better than in the earlier films.

The Amazing Spider-Man is a sloppy movie. It is 20 minutes longer than the original film, yet it feels less complete. Huge plot threads are left unresolved. The movie even seems to acknowledge that in its last scenes with a moment I felt was strangely meta. Major characters literally drop out of the movie (not to their death; Spider-Man saves them—they just aren’t seen after that). The trailers (and the first scene of the movie) tell us that this will be about Peter learning the truth about his parents. He doesn’t. He becomes Spider-Man to find Uncle Ben’s killer. He never does. I’m sick of movies that exist to set up franchises. Television works in a serialized format; in a film, we want closure.

These days, “reboot” is the popular word for this kind of movie. This is a remake. When James Bond gets recast, some actors from the series stick around to make the franchise flow from one to the other. The character of J. Jonah Jameson is absent from this film, assumedly because they didn’t want anyone from the earlier movies, but knew they could never find anyone better than J.K. Simmons. There are a lot of talented people here: Andrew Garfield is very good. Martin Sheen is always an enjoyable presence. Everyone loves Emma Stone, and I am part of everyone. The director, Marc Webb, made (500) Days of Summer, which I liked quite a bit. Usually when this many talented people come together, the result is a complete success or a complete disaster. This is neither. It is a complete retread of a movie from 10 years ago. It doesn’t fix the problems of Raimi’s film, and what that film did well, this film does worse. It’s not the debacle that Spider-Man 3 was, but neither is it any more enjoyable. It is a limp, forgettable superhero film in a time when fans of the genre have come to expect more. It doesn’t even have a good post-credits sequence. | Sean Lass

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