Thursday, July 5, 2012

Great Disposability

By now there's really no point in discussing whether The Amazing Spider-Man was "necessary" or not; "necessary" has never been and will never be a core consideration of Hollywood studio execs, except insofar as it is necessary they continue to make huge piles of money from their property investments – and Spider-Man is nothing if not a lucrative property. There's no arguing against the fact that the new Spidey is redundant, of course, but if that were an unforgivable fault we should have to discard every major superhero tentpole film of the past decade not directed by Christopher Nolan. Let's not pretend, for instance, that CGI technology has not advanced in leaps and bounds since 2002, a time when even the most ardent accolades of Raimi's work were willing to admit that Spidey's visual incarnation rather more resembled a transplanted cartoon than a tangible character, particularly in the embarrassing street fight sequences.

That said, I come to bury The Amazing Spider-Man, not to praise it. Raimi's was and is the definitive version of the friendly neighborhood web-slinger, capturing every ounce of Lee and Kirby's larger-than-life sense of super-powered fun and "gee whiz!" comic pizazz. Certainly, it had it flaws, none the least of which was a perpetually torpid Tobey Maguire who could never quite make believable the transition from pitiable Parker to spectacular Spider-Man, but as a blockbuster based on a beloved American myth it was as complete a package as anyone could have asked for, fan or no, and the fact that at least one of its sequels was every bit as compelling an addition to the genre is of no small note by Hollywood standards of property decay.

The Amazing Spider-Man, on the other hand, is every bit as turgid as Spider-Man was frenetic, and as bloated in its own self-importance as its predecessor was lackadaisical. Of course, to compare the premier studio work of a novice independent film and music video director like Marc Webb (thrown here into an exceptionally cynical production even by Hollywood reckoning) with the loving craft of a B-movie veteran like Sam Raimi is to invite such contrasts, and I suppose we all knew from the first trailer exactly what we were getting here. TASM is a mess, plain and simple, a textbook example of exactly how not to successfully transcribe a comic to the silver screen, from its painfully familiar opening scenes of Peter's childhood and parental separation (especially now that aping Nolan's Batman saga has become the modus operandi for the genre) to its interminable origin sequences that insist upon gorging a solid half of the film's running time with heavy-handed character development for a character with whom everyone watching the film is already intimately familiar. Granted, Andrew Garfield is better and more rounded in the role than Tobey "walking-lopsided-grin" Maguire ever was, but even his nuanced work is so hampered by the insipid screenplay and shoddy editing as to render him ridiculous in moments that should have been poignant (the entire theater erupted in laughter at his reaction to a certain inevitable family death) and creepy when the camera was clearly going for cute (how many lingering shots of lecherous grins do we really need per love scene anyway?). Emma Stone fares a little better as a Gwen Stacy literally written for her talents, though at times her character seems shoehorned into the narrative by the demands of the inevitable saga-to-be.

After ten minutes of this, trust me when I say
 the "erotic medical treatment moment" is way more awkward than it sounds on paper.

In that regard, she's not the only victim. I've already used the adjective "bloated" to summarize the movie's major issues, and I can think of no better term to invoke again in comparing it to the disastrous third entry of Raimi's original trilogy. Criminally stupid dialogue aside, TASM's script is stuffed beyond capacity with sideplots within sideplots within sideplots, all packed between pell-mell introductory cuts of characters intended for recycling at a later date while largely ignoring the superhero aspect of what is, ostensibly anyway, a superhero film. Parker finally does don the darker-and-grittier suit, but only after a short eternity of tedium culminating in a so-bad-it's-hilarious moment of epiphany that, in ripping off both its predecessor and Batman Begins simultaneously, exemplifies exactly how much TASM is not either of those films and has no hope of being anything comparable. By then it's too little, too late anyway, and we are treated to but a few brief moments of costumed crime-fighting that manage to make a blazing car cliffhanger sequence tedious before being thrust into the showdown with Rhys Ifans's Dr. Connor/Lizard "homage" to both the Jekyll/Hyde story and Defoe's infinitely superior schizophrenic turn as the Green Goblin.

TASM feels like every second of its 136-minute running time, offering reprieve only in a few moments of satisfying arachnobatics and a glut of unintentionally humorous one-liners punctuated by some seriously dedicated mugging. I've already forgotten every note of James Horner's soundtrack (which I'd wager he probably has too), and I have nothing to say about the cinematography except that the team would have done better to have gone for broke with the camera work and filmed all the web-slinging scenes with tracking over-the-shoulder shots; it would have at least carried more of that Cloverfield-esque theme park appeal, because Lord knows TASM has nothing to say for itself as a film qua film.

About the only other thing I can say in its favor is that it avoids recycling Ben Parker's "With great power comes great responsibility" speech, instead substituting a remedial philosophy course summation of Kant's Categorical Imperative peppered with a heavy pinch of Peter Singer's ethics of duty, as peculiar an espousal of morality in a mainstream American movie as I can ever recall having heard. And even that manages to sound pretty insipid in context. The film ends with the now-compulsory mid-credit "bonus" sequence, and the questions this one raises are nowhere half so important as the one on everyone's mind right now: is The Amazing Spider-Man worse than Spider-Man 3? Apples and oranges, I tell you. Granted, a worm-ridden apple and an underripe orange, but at the end of the day I wouldn't recommend eating either unless you're on the brink of starvation. And even then you're likely to get sick off it.

Grade: C-


  1. As far as the "erotic medical treatment moment" goes, I mean, in their defense, holding ice on an injury should really take at least 20 or 30 minutes, several times throughout the day. The odd thing here is that she chose to focus on whatever he had on his chest, which is dumb cuz he clearly has a pretty nasty bruise/break on his left front-delt, which will probably swell soon without proper treatment.

  2. Somehow I'm not sure detailed attention to the medical realities of mutant lizard claw wound treatment was central to the film makers' concerns here...