Film Review: "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN"
Published: Monday, July 2, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 5, 2012 16:07
“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” isn’t a film; it’s a business model. When plans for a fourth entry in the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire/Kirsten Dunst series got derailed, Sony got cheap and started hiring younger knockoffs. Who needs the Lars Von Trier-approved Kirsten Dunst when you have the Judd Apatow-approved Emma Stone? Villain and love-interest characters are changed for the sake of being “original” (Mary Jane Watson becomes Gwen Stacy, The Goblin becomes the Lizard,) but that’s a laughable attempt from a film that knocks off every single story beat from the 2002 franchise-starter. They had a chance to make something new, something hip, something exciting with this. Instead they made a film we’ve already seen.
But “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” commits a crime far worse than being an unnecessary movie: it’s not even a good movie. Any amount of studio cash-grabbing can be forgiven if we’re properly entertained, but everything about this movie just feels wrong. The script, the direction, the acting, the effects, the treatment of the continuity - it all feels amateur; AAA players trying to convince us we’re still watching major league baseball. It all pales in comparison to the artistic cohesion that kept the hit-and-miss Raimi series going (even when it didn’t make much sense.)
Unfortunately, cohesive is the last word I’d use to describe Webb’s reboot. In fact, it’s so episodic that it plays more like 6 segments than it does one movie, complete with the requisite non-ending and mid-credits cliffhanger. That may work in a run of 50-cent comic books, but not for audiences paying $15+ for IMAX 3-D tickets. In continuous twenty-minute segments, we’re introduced to Peter, then his powers, then to gal-pal Gwen Stacy (Stone, whose shot in lights that are laughably ethereal even by comic book standards,) then to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans,) then to his alter-ego The Lizard, before everything climaxes in a battle on the streets of NYC ripped right out of, well, the first “SPIDER-MAN”.
The worst part is that none of the story strands are ever brought together through organic means. Instead, the script draws meaningless and laughably convenient connections: Gwen is a medical engineer at Connors’ facility because of course she is, and so on. Where the previous films told the story of the spider-bite and Peter’s ensuing powers with visual poetry; Webb leans on jargon and comic-book-tropes: long scenes of scientific explanations (“cross-species genetics,” sure) and ability-establishing montages (apparently Peter built his own web-shooters out of some spider-web-surplus) are meant to feel gritty and real, in the Chris Nolan mode that reboots are well known for. Instead they feel nonsensical – if Batman is for 18-year-olds, and the Avengers for teenagers, then this straight-faced-but-still-silly entry is for the preteen set.
Marc Webb proved an eye for strong compositions in his debut feature, 2009’s deceptively dark “(500) DAYS OF SUMMER”. But the big budget has smoothed away his striking talents – he shoots much of the films dialogue in bland over-the-shoulder angles; the characters look like cheap cardboard cut-outs thanks to the 3-D effects. And speaking of the third dimension, it dims what should be a brightly colored comic-book style palette into a cold, impenetrably dark tint that feels more “BATMAN BEGINS” than Jack Kirby. And seriously, can we please retire the “slow CGI tracking shot through buildings leading into a close-up” shot? It’s the most tired cliché since, well, rebooting superhero movies.
In fact, Webb’s tired aping of the previous films’ hallmarks, his faux-hip quippy dialogue, and his beyond-conventional framing end up making this feel like a Spider-Man TV show commissioned for the CW. I think this is suppose to stand in contrast to the B-movie silliness of the Raimi films; positing this as the “hip kid’s” Spider-Man. But the school is populated with characters so cliché that Judd Nelson and the rest of the Breakfast Club would scoff at how archetypal they are – and a basketball court comeuppance scene feels like low-rent wish fulfillment of the highest order. I half expected a laugh track to start playing.
In trying to make the character hip, Webb & Co have lost his essence. Their Peter Parker wears Nike Dunks, stands up to bullies before he’s Spider-Man, looks like a model, and is probably about 10lbs of muscle away from being the varsity quarterback. It doesn’t make him unlikable, no, but the entire heart of Spider-Man lies in the wish fulfillment angle: a kid too nerdy to get the girl, fight back, or look cool finds a vessel through which he can do all three. But who wants to see wish-fulfillment scenarios for someone who is already a badass?
I hate to keep comparing “AMAZING” unfavorably to the last three “SPIDER” films; it almost feels like a cheat. But when this new entry is so insanely similar to the 2002 “SPIDER-MAN” franchise kickoff, it’s as if they’re forcing you to play one against the other. It’s literally the exact same story: in both the 2012 and 2002 entries, we have an ambitious-but-friendly scientist villain who befriends Peter Parker on the grounds of his apparent genius. Said scientist is then rushed into human testing on a dangerous new drug, and experiments on himself; turning into a supervillian.
That’s not all. Both monstrosities (It was Willem Dafoe as the Goblin in 2002, for those with lacking memories – the switch to the Lizard here feels more necessary than inspired) begin speaking to themselves in disembodied voices, though where Raimi aimed for camp, Webb plays the scene with a straight face. Same goes for the silly “all of NYC coming together to help a spider” subtext, which worked oh-so-well in the months following 9/11 and feels oh-so-cheesy in this decade-too-late offering.