The Amazing Spider-Man Is A Calculated Cash In With Few Surprises
By Alex Cranz
In the annals of comic book film history there’s a little gem of a film that’s become almost mythological in its badness. Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four made on a super low-budget for a company who needed to make a movie just so they could hold onto the rights of the property its unfettered imagination, shockingly loyal fanboy writing, big and broad and sincere performances and all on the budget of a single Michael Bay fart.
If you snoop around eBay you can still find a copy of it. It’s a poor quality bootleg with cover art more iconic than anything the theatrically released films ever came up with. There’s a fan’s devotion in every minute detail of the bootleg. Ironic because the film itself is calculated, cheap and pretty dang awful. Made in 1994, 33 years after the first comic hit shelves, its beholden to the original story and rather than adapting to the times and the conventions of film it’s a cynical series of scenes produced to bring the fans in and repulse the average film goer. Which is one of many reasons it never got a theatrical release and exists only on bootlegs today.
The Amazing Spider-Man share a similar undercurrent of cynicism. Like Fantastic Four it was made so a company could maintain the rights to the property a little longer and squeeze out just a few more dollars (this is also why we have the third and worst X-Men film). In their haste to get this film in theaters and pull a few more bucks out of the pockets of moviegoers they forgot some key elements to a good film.
Namely they forgot how to tell a story and why a story should be told. There is very little awe on display in Spider-Man. Everything moves forward in a very matter of a fact matter. You can see screenwriters Steve Kloves, James Vanderbilt, and Alvin Sargent sitting in a room somewhere having a few cups of coffee and looking over a list of required elements for a modern action film with superheroic aspirations.
- Gritty revenge story for half the movie? Check
- Playful perfect girl love interest devoid of any personality but that which the actress brings to the table with natural talent? Check
- Mentors a plenty who will either die in sacrifice or turn evil and then be redeemed? Check
- Wise cracking good-looking lead devoid of any personality or characterization beyond what the actor brings to the table with natural talent? Check
- Young and reluctant hero who never earns one iota of their gifts but instead literally stumbles into them because the script demands it? Check
There is nothing original to the film. Which, in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. Originality can create some massively bad films and strict adherence to an age-old coda of storytelling can create some magnificent ones.
The problem is The Amazing Spider-Man is kind of…boring. Bland. It’s the summer confection you throw back and immediately forget. There is nothing iconic and there is no one moment so gloriously perfect in execution as to be memorable. Instead we meet Peter Parker, we watch his adventure, we leave the theater. He’s not a character we relate, nor is he one the film asks us to relate to. He’s just a good-looking “nerd” up there on the screen doing his thing.
And because the film seems to always keep you at a distance it becomes very easy to see the many flaws and praise the few strengths. Like how much more talkative this Spider-Man is versus the previous film incarnation. The character of the comics is the wise cracking Web Slinger. Besides the powers gifted to him by a spider he has the ability to never shut up. Andrew Garfield is playful when he’s behind the mask and dealing with street level thugs. While he never lets us in on the elation Peter Parker might feel he gives us a glimpse of the ease with which Peter wields his new power.
The big problem with the film’s Peter Parker isn’t his wise cracking tendencies or his selfishness (those are hallmarks of the character). It’s that he’s really, really stupid when the plot demands it. And I get it. Teenage boys can be dumb. I lived with one and went to school with many more. They can think it’s a good idea to throw a kegger in the pasture and invite a few hundred people. But teenage boys are also kind of smart. They’ll charge admission to their keggers and read up on the laws so they can keep the cops out of the party. Peter Parker though–he’s another in a new breed of idiot teenage boys in films. They’re petulant, irritating, unrelatable and REALLY stupid. We don’t like them because they’re likable. We’re simply told to like them because they’re the leads.
It didn’t fly in Fallen Skies or Project X and it doesn’t fly here. Towards the end of the film Peter does something SO stupid and unreasonable outside of a Hollywood writer’s room that I started rooting for the villain–because at least that dude has the whole “turning into a giant lizard” thing to explain a way his stupidity and that’s a helluva lot more reasonable than “I’m a teenage boy duuur.”
Surprisingly my biggest fear going into the film was actually forgotten by the end credits. See Emma Stone is playing Gwen Stacy. She’s excellent in the role, like the rest of the cast she feels like she’s a part of a Tumblr fancast photo collage. Emma Stone! Martin Sheen! Sally Field! Rhys Ifans! These are the actors you dream of tackling these roles. Not the ones who actually get it.
They’re all fantastic and none are as memorable as Stone. She nails the Gwen Stacy of comics books. She’s smart. Vibrant. Just distant enough to be a little mysterious but available enough that she’ll smile when Peter sneaks into her bedroom twenty stories up. Like Peter she’s a scientist, and she abhors bullies and has a strong sense of justice. She’s the dream.
And in the comics her death is one of the most important moments in the history of the medium. Coming into the film I kept thinking about her death, because when you introduce her to your story it’s with the knowledge that you will eventually kill her in a heartbreaking fashion. That’s her destiny. She and Bruce Wayne’s parents and Jean Grey. They may pop up for time to time but they’ll always find their way back to worm food.
Emma Stone and director Marc Webb have both mentioned Gwen’s potential ultimate destiny. They’re aware of where she’s eventually headed and they’re very open in what they want to do. They want to make you feel for Gwen. They want you to like her and relate to her and sob a million times over if and when she dies.
And to that end they’re incredibly successful, because when the movie was over I was wondering why we had to sit through two hours of Peter Parker being by turns gritty, stupid and snarky when we could have had two hours of Gwen Stacy wondering what the hell was up with Peter Parker and working hard to save the day with science. It’s a neat feat. I went in expecting to watch Gwen Stacy with suspicion and came out wondering when she’d get her own film.
Which maybe isn’t the best thing when the film is titled The Amazing Spider-Man.