I was very, very against the making of this movie from the first moments I heard about it. I had several objections, but the largest one was that I really didn’t feel that Spider-man 3 had failed so terribly that we needed to revisit Peter Parker’s origin. I felt that was covered perfectly in the first movie.
Sure, Gwen Stacy wasn’t there, and Mary Jane was, there were organic rather than home-made webshooters… but they weren’t… aren’t… the main focus of Peter’s origin. The main focus is Uncle Ben, the acquisition of great power, and the consequences of a lack of great responsibility. That’s all handled brilliantly in Raimi’s masterpiece.
So to hear that we were going to visit that again so soon, while attempting to make it more “realistic” and “grounded”… my FGWG feathers rustle. I avoided this movie for a long time. Almost six months exactly, apparently. I guess that’s not really that long… but it felt like it. If 13 year old me knew that 33 year old me was avoiding a movie about Spider-man, 13 year old me would have a cow, man.
I didn’t wait a specific planned amount of time, or anything. Teletoon was running a Spider-man cartoon marathon yesterday, which got me thinking about this movie. That combined with the (on average) good things I’ve heard and a post about fanboyish prejudice of entertainment at williamjepma’s blog, got me thinking about how I should give it a chance. I love movies. I love Spider-man. I should love even a mediocre Spider-man movie. So, I kept my expectations low, and gave it a shot.
I didn’t hate it.
That’s some glowing praise isn’t it? I didn’t hate it. There were things I hated about it, but on the whole The Amazing Spider-man is a nicely polished turd. I enjoyed the effects. I enjoyed Spider-man’s dialogue. He felt like Spider-man. That’s a bonus, because after the clusterfuck of Spider-man 3, it is apparently entirely possible to have a Spider-man on screen that doesn’t feel like Spider-man. I enjoyed the action sequences (all both of them). I enjoyed Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield. I enjoyed Martin Sheen as Ben Parker…. and that’s about it.
The story was boring. I found it boring for two reasons. Mostly, because I don’t need to be told how Spider-man became Spider-man. I don’t. I know it. Not only have I seen it play out in a movie and at least five cartoon series, it’s also retold in a flashback practically monthly, in almost every goddamn book Spidey has appeared in for the last 50 years. It really, really, really shouldn’t have been retold here. I understand the need for a reboot. Spider-man 3 was awful. But this should have been a soft reboot like The Incredible Hulk. Roll opening credits with some reshot sequences that mirror the original saying “Yeah… that other movie didn’t really happen like that. Here’s where we stand now.”
Secondly, The Lizard is a terrible villain. The only compelling thing about the Lizard as a villain is that Curt Connors is a very close friend and mentor to Peter Parker. That’s it. This movie completely removes that connection. He’s an old family friend who used to work with Peter’s father. Parker and Connors don’t grow close working together in this movie. They barely exchange any lines with one another. Gwen Stacy has a deeper connection to Connors in this movie. Add to that problem the fact that here, the Lizard comes off looking and feeling more like the Scorpion. Going with a more humanoid head was a really poor choice in my opinion.
Here’s the thing… I can forgive a boring story, given enough action. I need real action sequences. This movie has two. There’s the bridge scene, and the school. The sewers barely register. Oscorp is more about tension than action, and pretty poorly done in that regard, I thought, without getting all spoilery. I don’t need every superhero to have a deep meaningful connection with the villain he’s facing. In fact that’s one of the flaws of Spider-man 3. But I do need a helluva lot of action. Not training montage action either. Throughout the warehouse training scene all I could think about was Kevin Bacon’s angry dance in Footloose. Unless John Lithgow is playing the Vulture, if I’m watching a Spider-man movie and I’m thinking about Footloose… we’ve got problems.
The movie has a problem handling of the origin story itself. There is no good reason, for example, to have avoided the phrase “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s important, goddammit. That phrase shapes who Peter and Spider-man are… who they have to be. Martin Sheen does an amazing job as Peter’s loving guardian. He’s more of a focus in this movie than Aunt May, who comes off almost as an afterthought, to be honest. He’s loving, responsible, even-handed and understanding. Honestly, he’s one of the most accurate representations of a loving father-figure I can think of ever being put to screen. But they never have him say the actual words that become Spider-man’s credo. I’m not saying you have to say it in every single Spider-man movie… but if you’re telling his origin story, you’d better fucking well say it. I don’t mind that you kinda, sorta take wrestling out of the equation. That makes sense. But if you’re going to have a special voicemail message that Uncle Ben left on the night he died… what do you think he should say? If it’s not “With great power comes great responsibility,” then it had better be “Excelsior! ‘Nuff said, true believers!”
On second thought… scratch that.
The things that worked, though, worked well. I felt like it was well put together, directed, shot, edited, acted, etc… The effects were done well, and at no point was I thinking, “That just looks like shit.” Those two action scenes were fantastic. There was a good amount of humour in the movie. I laughed several times. Stone and Garfield played their characters well. Garfield did a great job as Parker in and out of the suit, even though I felt the character itself was written in such a way that he made some largely out of character decisions and actions. But even that worked, in the end. For example… Peter takes of his mask, or has it taken off, repeatedly. He doesn’t even remotely try to hide his identity. Even though this has been driving me absolutely fucking insane ever since the train sequence in Spider-man 2, it’s still out of character for Parker, and the biggest reason I never brought myself to read Marvel’s Civil War.
Every movie has had him losing his secret identity, though. The interesting thing about that occurrence throughout this movie, is that they finally fucking address the issue. This Peter Parker hasn’t discovered why his anonymity is so important… not to protect himself, but those closest to him… and doesn’t figure it out until (arguably even after) the end of the movie. The shirking of that responsibility could definitely be a great setup for future films.
There’s not enough good, though, to save this movie from mediocrity. Like I said, I didn’t hate it, and I’m extremely glad about that. I enjoyed it much more than say, The Dark Knight Rises, but that’s not saying much, since TDKR was my biggest, most disappointing movie surprise of 2012. I am cautiously optimistic about the future of the franchise. If they can maintain the characters’ feel while not necessarily sticking to their past like its the bible, there could be good, even great, things in the future.