Film

Movies I Have Seen: The Amazing Spider-Man

Ok, so I guess if you haven’t read it you should read this:
Film Critic Hulk’s Take on the Amazing Spider-Man

Now, for all that anger, Film Critic Hulk isn’t wrong about the specifics. I saw the film last night after hearing a good review earlier in the week and I decided, “What the fuck, why not?” After knowing, but not reading, that some pretty harsh commentary on the film existed I wanted to see if I could get to the bottom of why. I should really preface all of this by stating clearly that I am not a big comic book reader. I know about them in the general sense, but I never bought serial comics, so it’s not like I particular care about a single, unifying all-in-inclusive representation of what Spider-Man means to me. From what I have seen represented in games, some comics I have read, television shows and other films here’s what I understand and expect from Spider-Man the character.

Peter Parker is smart, slight guy who has always had the brains but nothing else really going for him. He’s mostly a meek guy who ends up gaining the powers of a spider. The specifics of this are not really crucial to my liking of Spider-Man, and in fact I will talk a little bit about Gods of Manhattan in talking about this film, which has a bit of a send up in it. Some ladies become interested in him, mainly because of his confidence increase, and he remains a smart ass most of the time. The man should sling witty rejoinders like his webs, be they organic or the result of tiny pellets. Uncle Ben dies, he lives with his Aunt May, his parents are dead or gone or whatever.

Ok, so that establishes everything I know about Spider-Man. As you can see, it’s not a lot. To say that I am not invested in the distilled essence of Spider-Man is an understatement, I really couldn’t care less about Spider-Man as a conceptual construct or ideal. So why then would I be interested in the movie? Well, I enjoyed the Sam Raimi version of Spider-Man and I wanted to see where they were going with this one. A comparison between the two franchises would seem inevitable, but it’s really not one I am interested in. You will naturally think one is better than the other, so an examination of that isn’t really something I want to pursue. By that same token, I am almost never the type of guy to get hung up on “the movie got the book wrong!”, particularly because I believe that slavish devotion to the source material almost always works to the detriment of the film. The problem that book to film conversions run into is really when it’s a series and the longer it goes on, the more the threads you dropped early on matter in the overall context of the story’s arc. The Bourne movies pretty much said “let’s keep the idea and the titles and throw all that other shit in the trash”, and you know what? That’s fine. They owned up to it, but it’s barely recognizable when compared to the books. This doesn’t prevent them from being good movies, as that really has no basis on the film quality itself, it only impacts individual enjoyment. Is that a fine hair to split? Yeah, maybe, but you get my point right?

In speaking Spider-Man, I have to digress a tiny bit more and spend a little time on Mass Effect. Wait, what? Yup, Mass Effect. Deal with it. I’m getting video games in your movie review. Why Mass Effect? Because The Amazing Spider-Man is currently suffering from the same fate as Mass Effect 3, though TASM, to steal an acronym, is a more complex problem than that. Mass Effect 3 gets a lot of negative comments on its ending, but really the entire game, from start to finish, is a series of endings. It’s a tying up of loose ends in accordance with the Greek Myth and Campbellian structure. I’ve covered this in depth elsewhere, but this fact is missed by a lot of people but the fact remains that if you jump into Mass Effect 3 without having played ME1 or ME2, you’d be fucking lost. This means that it’s a failure in terms of being a successful standalone experience. Does this mean it’s a failed game? Fuck no. I love this game and and I love the series. Again, check out my commentary on why ME3 was awesome and people should embrace it. Ok, but what does that have to do with Spider-Man? Well, TASM is a movie about origins and beginnings with a series of beginnings and origins. It’s a tale centered around the Super Hero Myth and the proposed question of “what is the self?” It is a series of vignettes that each examine a particular origin at that moment in time. This means that it’s a failure in terms of being a complete movie with narrative propulsion, story, and conflict. Does this mean it’s a failed viewing experience? Well, my answer is no.

The film has a lot of problems, but the biggest is its lack of narrative propulsion. I know, I know, I just said that didn’t make it a bad viewing experience, so why would I immediately bring it up? Well, the pacing is a major problem. The movie is a series of “and thens”, there are almost no “because, therefores or buts”. This means that the movie both feels longer than it is, and yet somehow doesn’t actually tell a story. Part of this is because of the way the movie was edited. Do me a favor, watch every trailer you can, and then think about the film or go watch the film. Seriously, what the fuck right? Where is all that dialogue and where did all the scenes go? The thinking here is two fold, and it’s sadly impossible to KNOW which direction will be followed. The trailers certainly imply, and judging by a few key facts of the film that were left in it seems to be true, that this movie series would explore the central mystery of Peter’s father, and the idea that Peter was prepared or destined to become Spider-Man, or at least something along those lines. Now is that interesting to me? Whatever, I don’t care. Sure, if the storytelling is good that sounds like it could be cool. No preconceptions, remember? However, the movie edited ALMOST all of the overt references to this out, but left in some oblique ones including an absolutely horrible and pointless stinger. This style actually fits the movie itself, but here it’s a negative, since what is shown is context and actually diminishes elements of the movie. The problem is that this makes the Oscorp/Connor scenes super fucking weird.

The opening of the movie seems to be about this research with a specific symbol attached, the double slashed zero, the resultant events cause Peter to be deposited with his Aunt and Uncle, and his parents to vanish. When Peter later discovers this information, and through some help by Uncle Ben, he is lead to Oscorp where he discovers that the security is the worst ever. He walks up, is confused by the bemused, good looking attendant, and is handed an ID badge for a coveted internship position. He never shows any credentials at all, no photo ID, and then, to make matters worse, the actual guy, who’s ID he stole, is manhandled by security and escorted out. What the fuck? Whatever, I guess it’s not important but this really bothered me. That attendant should be fucking fired and Rodrigo should successfully be restored to his intellectual glory. Poor Rodrigo! I hope he becomes a super villain and gets his revenge on that fucker Peter. Anyway, then Peter is all like “Yo Doc, I did a Google Bing! search on you, which none of these smug fucks could be bothered to do. Then I’m going to hack your fancy locks which are really just keypads, so I will watch someone do it and just repeat it. Worst security ever, whatever though. The double slashed zero is above the door and it’s full of fucking spiders for the biocable project, you know super cables spun by spiders, and one bites him. Now, why is this important? Peter does not in fact die horribly like the movie science says he should. Seriously, this is a pretty big point. That’s the entire point of that decay algorithm. This prompts a ton of bizarre turns though. Peter turns over the algorithm which is already stated as the big problem, presumably because he’s worried, but he doesn’t turn over the research. Maybe he just wanted to stay involved with the project? It’s all speculation. The algorithm only kind of works though? I mean, it mutates the fuck out of people with the lizard DNA, so why was it important again? I really don’t know, but it was somehow obviously important to Peter’s past, given all the deleted scenes. However, since none of this is explained it makes the Dr. Connor and Oscorp scenes just kinda…weird and pointless? I mean, it follows the movies style of “let’s start things and not finish them”, but in this case the science scenes are really just a drag on the pacing. I get that they want to keep a mystery, but it hurts the film.

The film has other pacing problems too, the way the Gwen/Peter relationship unfolds, the action sequences as a whole, outside of the school one, and the many, many “brooding” segments. The film just doesn’t quite find its footing in the speed of the story. Of course, the relationship between Peter/Captain Stacey is hampered by this too, as the editors opted to leave a lot of the dinner scene on the cutting room floor apparently. This leaves everything feeling very much on the surface. This is actually a problem, if you are worried about the movie being a complete movie on its own instead of a series of beginnings to a larger movie experience. That is to say, if the rest of the films pay off, will people say “they found their pacing and it works” or will they come back and say “this movie is now great because it laid so much ground work”, who’s to say right now, but it will be defined by the other movies and not this one as a standalone actual storytelling experience.

Now, I did say that the experience itself works, and it does. Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Rhys Ifans, Sally Fields and Dennis Leary are all excellent at their craft and it shows. The acting is so good that you forget the narrative flow problems, as long as someone is in frame. The movie really is about beginnings though, and as an experience there is a lot to be said for that. You see the beginning of Peter’s central question of the self, which, unlike some other reviewers, I believe is not actually broached until the end of the film. You see the beginning of the Gwen/Peter relationship, which while it really has no conflict, it’s still enjoyable, but really I feel can be summed by this comment:

Except the skateboarding emoness, this Peter kind of reminded me of myself, a whiny, self-pitying, narcissistic, self indulgent asshole. So I had fun watching him hook up with Emma Stone.

So you know, there’s that right?

You also have the unresolved story of Norman Osbourne, Ben’s killer, Peter’s vigilantism and rebellion, and the beginning of who Spider-Man is. This only happens at the end of the film and let me tell you, Film Critic Hulk isn’t wrong here. At the end of the film, Spider-Man is a brooding, rebellious team with the knowledge that he has powers and can do good, but isn’t interested in the self-sacrifice that can come with that yet. He’s kind of an asshole, but really before the transformation into Spider-Man he ISN’T a dick, despite what other people say. He tries to help out kids getting picked on, and he’s actually respectful to his aunt and uncle. I would also like to point out that the first time he starts behaving dickishly to them is after they revealed that they lied to him. So, it’s reasonable to assume that he keeps secrets from them because of this, but it’s never explained and that’s kind of a problem and makes Peter out to be pretty bi-polar and self absorbed.

He turns into a dick after getting his powers, and abuses bullies with the relish of someone who now has the opportunity to do so. He does it in front of other kids who were picked on. He crawls to his girlfriend to show off his wounds. He postures and preens. He begins to act like a douchebag to his aunt and uncle. Uncle Ben, I might add, is the only guy who acts like this is supposed to be a movie with impetus. He obsesses about his Uncle’s killer. He takes petty vengeance where he can find it. He’s a dick to a police captain because he thinks he knows better. He torments a car thief in a scene that just plays mean.

Despite all the the “discovering his powers” sequence was a ton of fun, silly, and just enjoyable. It was paced well and was interesting. The same can be said of the school fight. It’s by far the best action in the movie, and Peter actually quips in it. Just fun stuff

So lots and lots of beginnings, good acting and good chemistry. That makes the movie pretty fun to watch and it’s interesting to see where it MIGHT end up, but holy shit it has problems.

Why is everyone bi-polar as shit?
Sewer lab?
Fucked Up Mouse, how’d you get out of Parasite Eve bro?
Oh god the cliches…
Lizard left his plans on the computer?
Are those lizard cops just chilling for an hour or what?
All the cranes are operated by like one dude’s company? Maybe I guess.
Boyfriend in the room and the Captain Dan is just like yeah whatever, let’s eat fish?
The witty banter just wasn’t all that witty and showcases his dickishness really.
Poor CGI lizard guy, we’ll get you a bigger budget and better animators next time buddy

I could go on, but I am not going to, because it really was just fine entertainment, even if it fails at being a complete movie. I didn’t dislike it, but I recognize that the problems are massive and if the style continues then the problems compound and the movie gets worse as a result, sorry that’s just life.

The coolest scene? Where he builds a web. It’s pretty fucking cool actually.

Overall I’d give it 0 faces on a scale of five frowny faces to five smiley faces. You know, it was fun, it’s fine, but it’s not good.

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