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The Amazing Spider-Man: Tag-Team Movie Mini-Review
Posted by Thurston McQ on Saturday, June 30, 2012
The Amazing Spider-Man hit German theaters this week. Atrejub and I went to see it. Here are our individual takes on it.
Although it was opening night, the movie theater was quiet and mostly empty. Most of Munich was huddled around impromptu screens in various parks and biergartens, watching the Germany vs. Italy Euro 2012 game. There was just a single worker at the cinema, who, in his loneliness, was very eager to talk to anyone who approached the ticket and concession counter. He explained to us that, since the theater had switched to digital at the beginning of the year, he no longer needed to dim the lights or start the projectors in the individual theaters. It was all automated. We did end up being joined by one other couple, but I have a feeling that the German box office in general did not do much business on Friday.
I have not followed the Spider-Man comics like Goiter has (beyond guest appearances, like when Deadpool tries to do good), so my only frame of reference, really, is the Tobey Maguire trilogy of films (liked the first one, loved the second one, would rather not talk about the third). The Amazing Spider-Man (amazing!) has a number of advantages over those movies. Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is geeky, but not in such a stereotypical fashion as Maguire's was (no pocket protectors here!), and I think that helps the movie. I find that Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy is a more believably attainable love interest (I'll admit that I have a girl-crush on Emma Stone), as she is beautiful without seeming obsessed with looks and she has genuine shared interests with Peter Parker. She never feels like a damsel-in-distress, but she also doesn't feel like an obnoxious girl-power character; Gwen is a wonderful balance. I feel like this movie did a better job showing how much the disappearance of Peter's parents affected him (without going full-blown emo about it). I like that Uncle Ben and Aunt May seem uncle- and aunt-aged (they felt more like grandparents in the previous films), and I like (though it is non-canonical) that Parker [SPOILER]never gets to fully enact revenge on Ben's murderer.[/SPOILER]
Some things that I didn't like: Dr. Connors is a great character, but the transition from seemingly helpful and caring professor to lunatic madman seems sudden, even when you factor in the effects of his lizard-serum (his lizard form, by the way, though more muscular, makes me think of the goombas in the Super Mario Bros. movie, which might turn off some viewers). New York seems to be crawling with tiny little salamanders who instinctively home in on bigger lizards whenever one is in the area. The school bully, Flash (note parents: if your kid acquires the nickname "Flash," he's probably an asshole), seemed to go back and forth between bully and friend without much transition, so I couldn't really get a feeling for whether or not Gwen was supposed to be his girl or how much he liked/disliked Peter Parker. There were a few slow-motion try-to-justify-expensive-3D shots, particularly right at the end, that the movie could have done without (we saw the movie in 2D).
All-in-all, though, I really enjoyed the movie. I liked Tobey Maguire's depiction of Spider-Man, but I think I prefer my Spider-Man to be Amazing. (Fun fact: according to the end credits, which we watched, the suit was created by Cirque de Soleil.)
Review Score: 88 / 100
I don't mind seeing Spider-Man's origin retold. I've seen it done and redone in the comics. If I could brave the stupid ponytail Mark Bagley gave Uncle Ben in Ultimate Spider-Man, I can brave pretty much any alteration to the Spidey mythos. (What's the deal with Mark Bagley and ponytails on dudes, anyway? Does he think they're cool? Is he trying to make the world more accepting of them one comic at a time?) I watched the first Tobey-Man more than once. What's the harm in watching it again?
While it's true that you're not going to get much from the first hour of Amazing Spider-Man that you didn't get from Spider-Man a decade ago, it sets a decent stage for the rest of the movie. On the whole, I feel Andrew Garfield is a better Peter Parker. We're required to care more about Spider-Man's alter ego than we're required to care about most other superheroes' alter egos. (It was Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man for 133 issues before they finally dropped Parker's name from the title.) It's a little harder to project ourselves into the narrative when the hero is a billionaire or an alien. A misunderstood teen, though? Every teenager everywhere feels misunderstood.
Peter Parker is as perfect an example of a male Mary Sue as you're liable to find--up to a point. He's a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the meek scholar. He's a geek on the outside, a superhuman on the inside, and hot girls inexplicably fawn over him. At the same time, he makes a series of dumb, self-involved choices that wind up haunting his life forever. That's where the split from the Mary Sue fantasy occurs, and that's the beat the best Spider-Man stories have to hit for them to stand out from the pack.
Amazing Spider-Man hits this beat. You want Garfield to get the girl. Specifically, you want him to get this girl. He and Stone have actual chemistry together. Maguire and Dunst didn't have this, and the audience was never given a real reason to want Maguire to want Dunst. She had a crappy home life and she was pretty. That was basically it. Webb and Co. play the romance right. They make Stone a bit of a nerd herself, and they don't make her a damsel in distress. They also don't go too far in the opposite direction by making her some kind of badass. They make her believable, and they make her attraction to Peter believable. Top marks on Peter + Gwen.
Middling marks on the action, which is mostly run-of-the-mill for a summer blockbuster. Some goodwill is built up by a scene with Spidey rescuing a kid on a bridge, but that goodwill is dashed a little bit by an extremely hokey revisitation of the You-Mess-with-One-of-Us New Yorker unity shtick from the 2002 movie. Martin Sheen is solid (duh) in the ten minutes of screen time he's given, and he manages to convey Ben's "responsibility" message without giving us the line all over again. Rhys Ifans is serviceable as Connors, and Denis Leary works as Captain Stacy. Some movie fans are probably going to see Stacy as a kind of "JJJ Lite," and may find themselves missing the cigar-chomping, Hilter-mustache-sporting EIC they came to know and love last time around.
Despite minor annoyances here and there, it didn't feel to me like this was all that bad a direction for the Spider-Man franchise. We're given a peek or two into an intrigue involving Parker's parents (with some hints that this version of Richard and Mary might be some sort of merger of the 616 and Ultimate versions), and we're made to feel that the threat of Norman Osborne looms. It's a bummer on some level that Sony didn't just let the rights revert back to Marvel, but at least they've put out a movie that suggests they give half a shit about the characters.