Is The Amazing Spiderman a super hero film high-water mark or just another Green Lantern (Oh god I almost vomited)? While Ethan and I can both agree that Emma Stone is an attractive woman, there isn't much else in the way of common ground on this one. With a sequel forthcoming, it's time to choose sides.
I want to start off by saying Andrew Garfield can be my Spiderman anytime. He’s great with the quips, is completely convincing as a crush-stricken teen, and pulls off the range of emotions displayed between his father’s disappearance and Uncle Ben’s death while simultaneously portraying Peter as being in over his head as he begins his new heroic lifestyle.
The best parts of The Amazing Spider-Man happen when Garfield and Emma Stone share the screen together. The Peter Parker/Gwen Stacey relationship feels legitimate because of both these young actors. Their interactions are genuine teenage mixes of hormones and awkward sentence construction. Is it perhaps a bit too cute? No, it’s perfect!
As for the content of the story, I think director Marc Webb does a great job laying the foundation of everything we need to know about Peter. In the first 11 minutes (which includes the title sequence) we are introduced to the overarching mystery of the film (Dr. Parker’s disappearance), see that Peter doesn't have friends, likes Gwen, stands up for what’s right even if nobody else will, knows about engineering and can fix/make stuff, and is a good photographer. Peter becomes rounded out as the movie goes on through the struggles he must overcome, but this beginning lets us know the basics of the teen and the world he inhabits before the infamous bite occurs.
A decision I really like was to disregard an emphasis on Spiderman’s secret identity. Keeping a secret of this magnitude would not be easy for a teenager, and Peter telling Gwen early on is a realistic thread to weave into this particular Spiderman’s universe. When you like a girl a lot, you want to be with them all the time and talk to each other about everything. Plus, Peter isn't in any danger yet when he tells her, so he’s not being risky. He’s just being a boy that wants to impress his girlfriend.
Further, I think having Peter take his mask off to save the boy in the car dangling over the bridge cements how Spiderman and Peter Parker are the same. The mask doesn't define the hero. Peter gets these crazy special powers, but only starts using them for a purpose after Uncle Ben’s death. Everything that happens with Dr. Curt Connors is a result of Peter wanting to know more about his father and his father’s work. The idea to dress up only comes from not wanting to be seen by the street thugs he’s taking out, and then later by the police. Connors finds out Spiderman is Peter after becoming The Lizard, and yet none of the suspense is deflated. Saving the city is Peter’s responsibility because he directly gives Connors the opportunity to turn into The Lizard. Heroism comes from direct causality, making the mask irrelevant to Peter himself.
The action sequences look good. I was exhilarated. I want to skateboard now. I like this movie. The End.
With Great Power Comes Great Teenage Angst
The Amazing Spiderman is a bad movie.
Being simply bad doesn't make this particular screen adaptation of the beloved comic franchise noteworthy or interesting (shout out to Spiderman 3). The way in which The Amazing Spiderman manages to be bad is what separates it from a crowded pack of contemporary throwaway super hero movies. The movie flirts with being good, wallows in mediocrity and then quietly tiptoes into the realm of bad nearly unnoticed. In fact, my initial reaction after seeing The Amazing Spiderman was just a shrug and a grunt.
And then nothing.
When I rewatched The Amazing Spiderman for this almost timely article (hey there's a sequel coming soon, right?) it was like watching it for the first time. Par for the course when a movie is completely and utterly forgettable in every way. That’s the way it should be. If you’re reading this right now, just stop. It’s better to forget. If you bother to pause and really think about Spiderman (not something I would recommend doing) you'll start to see fragments of one of the worst screenplays in recent memory slowly bubble to the surface.
I can feel an ulcer forming.
TASM (I'm already sick of typing the damn title) is, for all intents and purposes, a shining example of soulless art. The movie was made not because someone had a story to tell, but because a studio had a contractual obligation to meet and a checkbook to balance. With the departure of longtime series director Sam Raimi, Sony felt it would be in the best interest of the franchise to hit the reset button and treat audiences to an origin story fans were already familiar with. In essence, the first act of the film becomes a complete wash. The audience knows exactly where the film is headed, so the task of keeping the audience engaged is placed firmly on the shoulders of our new, focus tested, tween approved, Peter Parker.
TASM's Parker is intriguing because in an attempt to make him appealing to everyone he's completely fractured and unappealing. Is Peter a nerd? A dreamy introverted loner? A skater? An angsty wise-cracking teen? All of the above? Spiderman is a beloved marvel property because Peter's character is traditionally well-defined (albeit one dimensional) and his transformation is empowering. Spider Man is everything Peter can never be, and Peter's character is the perfect template for the audience to project themselves onto. The two classic personas-- Parker and Spider Man are two very different sides of the same coin. Andrew Garfield's Spiderman/Peter Parker on the other hand is a coin where one side is a middle finger and the other is the cover of Tiger Beat doing a 360 on a half pipe. Peter Parker is a handsome navel gazing dick, becomes a masked dick, and finishes the movie a handsome navel gazing dick. Clearly this is a story that needed to be told.
Our villain, The Lizard, is equally frustrating to watch on screen. The movie wants us to buy Dr. Connor's transformation into The Lizard as a classic Jekyll/Hyde situation, contrast Connors' transformation with Peter's own metamorphosis, and then say “WOW, WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY.” The screenplay lets this simple narrative fall to pieces before it has a chance to develop. In order for the Jekyll/Hyde angle to work, Connor’s character needs to be sympathetic. At best, Dr. Connors is whiny and off-putting, at worst he's just a dick and a corporate shill (are you seeing a pattern here?). The Lizard's motivation for destroying New York is transparently nonsensical and somehow still sold to the audience as the calculated work of a mad genius. Why doesn't Connors try to reverse the effects of his lizard goo injection? If the transformation has made him crazy, why does he inexplicably revert to a normal mental state at the end of the film? Why does he turn several police officers into Lizard monsters which are never once shown again in the film? Do you really expect me to shed a motherfucking tear for a guy who wants to turn everyone into a Lizard just because he has a stump for an arm?
Jesus Christ my fucking head hurts.
Even side plots, like Peter's budding romance with Gwen Stacey, are handled carelessly or left flailing helplessly without a clear narrative arc or a semblance of character development in sight. Peter Parker is a smart, handsome boy. Gwen Stacey is a smart, pretty girl. They fall in love instantly. There's no conflict or escalation between them to speak of, and the chemistry between Garfield and Emma Stone is so good you might actually forget the fact that the two characters have the least interesting romance ever conceived for the silver screen. And don't even get me started on Flash, the school bully, who after being publically humiliated in gym class by resident dickbag Peter Parker decides to stop being a bully because Peter's uncle died. Really. That's it. Any potential for conflict and tension or ANYTHING remotely interesting is gleefully pissed away by a screenplay favoring emotional sleight of hand over competent narrative beats.
And then there's the ending. Oh god the ending.
After the obligatory final battle with The Lizard, the dying Captain Stacey (who has just saved Spiderman's life TWICE) makes Peter promise to stay away from his daughter Gwen in order to protect her from the enemies the masked web-slinging vigilante will undoubtedly make. Peter of course obliges, and then we're treated to a rainy, melodramatic moment on Peter's front porch where Gwen (rightfully) chews him out for skipping her dad's funeral and completely ignoring her. Peter is silent throughout the scene, refusing to respond or even acknowledge Gwen. The scene gives the audience a slight inclination that maybe, just maybe, Peter has actually learned something about responsibility and how his actions can have negative consequences. Instead of ending on this note, the film pushes forward with a montage of the two lovers torn asunder so we can all say “oh gosh golly I'm so upset that these two conventionally attractive cardboard cutouts can't be together. Cue sappy modern pop song. Fade to black. Roll credits.
In one final brazen “fuck you” to good writing, good film making, and an audience that has persevered through 90 minutes of tripe, The Amazing Spiderman pisses away the somber ending so we can all leave with warm fuzzy feelings.
In the closing moments of the movie, Peter rushes into a class late and plops down in a seat behind Gwen. Peter promises the teacher he won't be late again, to which she replies “don't make promises you can't keep.”
“SOME PROMISES ARE MEANT TO BE BROKEN”
And then the camera focuses on Peter and Gwen, smiling ear to ear
So, no, actually Peter has learned nothing. Gwen has learned nothing. And the audience learns that teenage hormones conquer all.
If you listen closely during the closing credits you can actually hear Uncle Ben and George Stacey rolling in their graves.