Yes, after my previous unsuccessful endeavour to watch a film while it was still relevant, some of you may be pleased to know that I finally did manage to watch Amazing Spider-Man without walking out halfway through to do research on what it would cost to get a vasectomy.
I’ll forgo reviewing the movie as such since any of the buzz surrounding it is already pretty much dead, and I’d trouble doing so without referring heavily to other takes on the character that might prevent me from being objective. But with an analysis I can actually do the latter and not feel bad about it. So let’s do that! Obvious spoilers below.
Feeling somewhat lazy I guess I’m just going to pick out things about it and make comments. Here goes…
I don’t think there’s anyone in here at all that really annoys me in this movie, something I usually can’t say about other adaptations. Garfield handles his leading role well, Sheen is certainly great at doing his part as a father figure, and although I prefer Stone with fake red hair I’m certainly not complaining that she’s in it. One thing I did notice is that the movie is somewhat limited in its supporting cast, perhaps because there’s no college transition and the Daily Bugle doesn’t really feature. Presumably this will get rectified in the inevitable sequel, something I’m looking forward to as it will open the door to more complex characters.
Garfield seems to get Peter right. He looks good in the role without looking *too* good in it, and though maybe not without owing something to the writing, seems to pull of Spidey’s trademark humour pretty well too; two things Maguire wasn’t always that good at.
Stone is particularly more endurable as a love interest than Kirsten Dunst was, although some of this is due to Stone getting a lot more to work with (early incarnations of Mary Jane do tend to portray her skirting a fine line between quirky and annoying). Admittedly, the mere fact that she’s been cast as Gwen Stacy does put a sense of foreboding over her involvement in future movies, but with the demise of that character being such a landmark event in comics it would be ridiculous not to incorporate that into the movies at some point either.
Though I disliked them being shoehorned into the comics (where readers have a wider suspension of disbelief, because… well, they have to), I was generally fine with Raimi’s case for organic webshooters. Yes, having proper webshooters is a testament to Peter’s abilities as a scientist, but once you take into account that he created something that even 3M couldn’t make you have to wonder why he didn’t just patent it early on and make a ridiculous amount of money from that rather than get involved the seedy world of retaining kayfabe in wrestling matches (or variety TV, pick your poison).
Amazing Spider-Man makes an odd compromise on this one. Though Peter develops his own webshooters, it’s shown that they’re not entirely his own work. However, the subject is still handled a little clumsily, as it’s not clear just what his role was, or even how they work. Peter makes the familiar gesture to activate them, yet in at least two scenes he’s shown to be wearing them under his street clothes, which I would have thought to be a little ostentatious.
So yay, they’re in there, but I wouldn’t have minded if they weren’t. As long as they’re in the comics. Forever.
On a related note, it took some getting used to but I really like the costume after all. Spandex is difficult to do on film, and Spidey isn’t a character where wearing a lot of padding makes much sense. I think they got a decent balance.
The romantic subplot
Romance is often the most superfluous element in many superhero flicks, and tends to betray itself as a checkbox rather than a key element of the subplot. However, romance has always been a prevalent part of the Spider-Man mythos, with one of the comic’s most prolific artists having cut his teeth on the genre, as well as the idea that a large part of Spider-Man’s appeal in the ’60s was that the problems he faced were more relatable than those of other comic heroes.
Thankfully, that’s a thing that’s handled way better in this movie than any other adaptation, and it’s done by breaking a number of rules. Peter gets the girl in the middle, and sidesteps the ever-so hackneyed problem of “I missed my date because I was out doing Spidey stuff!” (though I wouldn’t have minded going for the Debra Whitman approach on this one) by revealing his identity to Gwen early on.
Again, Emma Stone gets a lot more to work with here. I watched enough Smallville last year to know it’s difficult to make romance anything but filler if you can’t even demonstrate what virtues the primary love interest has; a problem that particular series struggled with for eight years. By avoiding the usual clichés of a damsel in distress, as well as the previous film’s habit of making it unclear as to whether Dunst was supposed to be playing Mary Jane or just a redheaded Liz Allan, Stone is able to act as a confidant and demonstrate much more value than those before her. To be fair though, she even does this early on when she protects Peter from the not-quite-so-multi-faceted-just-yet Flash Thompson. What’s more, the scenes just aren’t as nauseating as what we’re used to. In fact, a lot of the scenes intended to have some sort of emotional resonance actually manage to get the job done more often than not. So yes, didn’t mind this at all.
The power and responsibility
It’s ironic that this life lesson from Ben Parker is such a central part of the character, even though he never really said it in the comics (it’s something that was added retroactively in the comics, like Batman’s policy on firearms).
There’s a mistake (in my opinion at least) made in the Raimi films that’s repeated this time around too, in that the crucial moment of Peter neglecting to help someone in need is mitigated somewhat by said person being a complete douchebag. In the comics Peter was simply being a jerk and paid for it dearly, whereas in both of these movies he’s an unfortunate victim of circumstance. I suppose you could argue that that’s supposed to make the lesson all the more poignant though, in that even though he was clearly wronged first he should have done something. Still, I prefer it to be a bit more black and white.
This gets it right on a few levels. First, we have a classic villain that appeared in the comic very early on. It satisfies the totemistic element that a lot of the classic Spider-Man villains have (Doctor Octopus, the Vulture, the Rhino etc) and also is a villain that Peter has to battle using his smarts rather than just besting him physically, which used to be a novel part of the early comics.
Also well done is making the Lizard’s origin intertwined with Spidey’s own, even if it’s a little poorly explained (it’s only mentioned that the spider that bit Peter was part of the experiment on cross-species genetics *after* Peter has already gained his powers), because it reinforces the need for Peter to take responsibility after finding out he has a hand (no pun) in the creation of his enemy.
Predictably, it looks like were being set up for a gradual reveal of Norman Osborn. As someone who regards the events leading up to the death of Normal Osborn back in 1972 to be a seminal moment in the history of superhero comics, I can’t say I’m a big fan of the post-1996 agenda of making him Marvel’s answer to Lex Luthor (although this is partly due to me being a huge Ben Reilly apologist). So I’d rather some other classic villains get the rub, or even if they went the route of the ’90s animated series and have the Hobgoblin show up first. We see what the next movie has in store though.
New Yorkers band together to help Spidey
A recurring element almost as ubiquitous to Raimi’s movies as the Bruce Campbell cameos, I think this is handled a little more tastefully here. I’d rather not make conjecture as to whether Raimi wanted to instill a sense of patriotism in his movies following something that went down the year before, but I always felt these moments were a little forced, especially in the first film. I always thought they were attempting to portray New York citizens (I should admit I’ve never been there) as much more altruistic than they actually are.
The second one handles it a little better, with a train car full of people defending an exhausted Spidey after he’d just saved them from becoming a red smear on the side of a building. A slightly more simple rendition of this idea shows up this time around. Here, Spidey gets his first real taste of Doing The Right Thing by saving a child, only for that child’s father to return the favour when he gets the opportunity. Though there’s a slight misstep in the writing in that initial scene (you don’t just say “I’m Spider-Man”, you get “Friendly Neighbourhood” in there fist…) the bit where this pays off ends up carrying more impact than it does in the Raimi films.
The product placement
Sony has a reputation for trying to display a higher degree of synergy than they’re actually capable of. That’s kind of how it goes here too. Every computer in the world, whether it’s a laptop, workstation or all-in-one seems to be made by Sony. The cellphones are Sony’s own (although the capacitive touchscreen that seemingly works with gloves on borders on false advertising), and though I can’t remember the markings on the HDTV shown I’ll just go ahead and assume that was made by Sony too.
Which makes the bit where Sony products aren’t being used something of a missed opportunity. Of course Sony doesn’t make trainers, so I guess indulging Nike on that one is understandable, but I found it surprising that Peter doesn’t use a Cybershot camera with the logo nice and readable for a few seconds. Also, when he was playing some Puzzle Bobble clone on his phone, why didn’t he have a Playstation Vita instead? He could have dropped it in the sewer only to find it still works when he picks it up later! Come on Sony, you’re losing money here…
Seriously though, the bit that really stuck out was something I first noticed when watching Real Steel to be honest. Sorry, but whenever I see a character using Bing as their chosen search engine I just have to wonder how much money traded hands for that to happen. Sure, it’s not quite Bing Arena, but remember in the mid ’90s when even Apple had to pay Hollywood to their computers? It’s like that. Although Bing probably won’t be horrendously popular ten years later, so maybe it’s not like that at all.
Despite not wanting to write a review, I should at least clarify that I like the movie as a whole. Quite a bit. While not quite as groundbreaking Raimi’s work on the character (particularly Spider-Man 2, which just happens to be the best superhero movie since Donner’s Superman), I can’t help feel some of that is due to Raimi making his movies in a decade where we were just getting used to the idea of superhero movies not being terrible anymore.
The story behind the production of this film is a little cynical, with Sony scrambling to get a movie made not only to prevent the rights returning to Marvel (which would have made for a very different Avengers adaptation if they’d failed) but also restarting the franchise after Raimi decided he wouldn’t be able to meet deadlines without sacrificing the quality of the project (rumoured to be his crew having no experience shooting in 3D). Nonetheless they’ve managed to put out a great realisation of the character in a manner that provides satisfying action and a refreshingly witty script. It’s up against some stiff competition on both sides of the fence this year, but they’ve laid the foundations for another strong franchise. And it could have very easily gone the other way too.