Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man (Marc Webb 2012)

This seemed like a "what were they thinking" film except I know what they were thinking - money.  Something worked before so let's just repeat it then we can rake in the cash.  Which apparently worked since it was the 6th highest grossing film of the year.

Still the decision to basically repeat the first film was a deadening mistake.  Origin stories are always the least interesting and in this case we get it again in tedious step by tedious step.  This is a film that really needed J. Jonah Jameson.  One odd change is the removal of one of the most interesting aspects of the story.  When Parker first acquires powers his immediate reaction is how can I make money with this?  That may or may not be purely American but it's certainly reasonable and honest.  The wrestling bit also explains his costume but in Amazing that's all gone leaving a more convoluted reason for the pose.  My guess is the filmmakers were trying to be "serious" and follow the Nolan path (perhaps why Parker seems so dour) except what they did was make Parker a more narrow character.

It doesn't help that the conception of Parker is a bit less, well, heroic.  For one thing he steals the ID of a student at Oscorp and it's hard to overlook this when we're treated to a shot of the real student being forcibly evicted.  Parker doesn't seem to care.  He later steals a drink from the convenience store and I wonder if viewers are supposed to not notice that's what he did.  There's even a mean-spirited scene on the subway where Parker beats up (mostly) innocent bystanders and humiliates a woman by ripping her shirt off.  Admittedly Parker doesn't do this deliberately but the filmmakers conceived, wrote and shot it so clearly this was intentional.

By now we're used to Hollywood high school students not actually looking like high school students but the actors here seem to be almost a parody of that.  Garfield always seems a little befuddled as Parker and Emma Stone apparently wanders the halls most of the day.  There's not much to the rest of the cast either.  I assume if I'd ever seen Rescue Me then I could accept Dennis Leary in a dramatic role but I haven't and I can't.  The one good thing about the film though is Martin Sheen who is far more lively than the mask-like Cliff Robertson in the first film.

The IMDB says the film had an estimated budget of $230 million but I wonder where that went.  The fx for The Lizard are almost laughable, looking like something from a direct-to-video B-movie.  The city shots are closer to animation than to anything that might appear to be a person swinging on slender threads between buildings.  Even the final fight happens on a set where little has been done to make it less set-like.  In itself this isn't necessarily a problem (much of The Avengers is also barely disguised sets) but since the intention appears to have been grit and darkness then artificiality doesn't sit very well.

The film mashes together the familiar origin story with elements of the Captain Stacy sequence and The Lizard origin.  Parker's parents follow the Ultimate versions but their fate is left open, probably a subject for the sequel.  It's hardly surprising this doesn't all fit very well.  At one point The Lizard discovers Parker is Spider-Man because Parker used cameras with large "Property of Peter Parker" stickers.  People do dumb things in real life but this is a stretch.  Gwen is made something of a budding scientist (though that is toned down for Parker) but still ends up mostly the damsel.  Just imagine if when she was hiding in the closet and The Lizard's face bursts through that she punched him between the eyes instead of screaming.  That's why her character is no kind of improvement.

I have a feeling that the people behind Amazing were mostly hired guns.  It's no accident that the best superhero films have been made by real fans like Sam Raimi, Bryan Singer and Joss Whedon, people who understand the source and how that can be brought to another medium.  Amazing's staff are on board for the sequel so all we can hope is that they learned from their mistakes - unlikely but that's what hope is for.