“Amazing” is an overstatement, but “New and Improved Spider-Man” works for me.
I finally saw the movie last night, – my second attempt. (My first attempted failed because it was the premier night of Batman Rises and the theater failed to update their listings and the fact that they closed a theater that had been showing Spider-Man. Tsk!)
I think virtually any conversation about the new Amazing Spider-Man is going to happen in context with the Sam Rami version, and my synopsis is no different. Let me start with the non-spoiler points, and then I’ll provide a warning for any plot points that I’ll reveal.
First, the overall directing (by the director with the appropriate appellation of, Marc Webb) was superior to the 2002 Rami Spider-Man. Admittedly, most of the directing for this 2012 version was just solid and workaday – not exceptional, but that is still better than Rami who (like Tim Burton), usually seem ’emotionally dyslexic’. – The emotions and feeling of the movies seem, disconnected, like the punchline of a joke told offbeat. – Hard to put your finger on exactly, but just wrong.
The storyline of the 2012 version takes some liberties with the standard Spider-Man origins story (at least as I know it – although I don’t claim to be familiar with every version of the multi-verse.) I found the changes to be subtle, but still provided a fresh take on a story that most of us know. The variations were enough to keep me wondering how the story would unfold and yet everything also felt true to the original story in spirit.
One of the chief improvements were in the characters, who were more relatable and realistic. (Although the Dr. Curt Connors character felt underdeveloped and lightweight.)
Emma Stone, playing Gwen Stacy, was a distinct step forward as a whip smart female counterpart to Peter Parker compared to the simpering Mary Jane Watson from the Rami film.
I was particularly happy that they dumped the awful, poorly motivated, cartoonish newspaper editor John Jonah Jameson and instead better served the story with the much more interesting, more dimensional Captain Stacy.
The action sequences and Spider-Man moves were greatly improved, with a greater feeling of being both fantastically dynamically, and still grounded in physics. Spider-Man was super-human but he also had mass.
These items being said, I did have quibbles with the movie, including a few contrivances including a villain that could have used some more motivational gravitas.
[notice] Spider-Man Spoiler Commentary Follows[/notice]
Many of these points are awash in geeky nitpicking. – All of which could be silly since the very movie requires a comic book level suspension of disbelief. But of course, stories still have to play in the world that they setup and where storytellers are lazy and try to take intellectual shortcuts, it can be jarring to our conscious and unconscious enjoyment.
Its like in the story Misery when the Annie Wilkes character complains about an old serial story would be ‘unfair’ because they’d shown the hero go over the cliff in one serial episode and in the next, show him having dived to safety beforehand. “HE DIDN’T GET OUT OF THE COCKADOODIE CAR!” – Broadly speaking: stories must maintain internal consistency and even minor details should feel as ‘right’ as a storyteller can make them within the restrictions of the media.
Here is a partial list of niceties and rough patches throughout the move:
- Both the Rami and the Webb version of the movies show a lab of experimental spiders – one of which bites Peter resulting in his transformation. What bugs me (get it – ‘bugs’?), is that in original comic book story, the spider had been exposed to radiation seconds before biting Peter. – Making that spider and that bite unique thereby making Spider-Man unique. In the movies, one has to wonder how the lab technicians never got bit by one of their super spiders. (There is one tiny possibility that there was a unique spider in the 2012 version. If you watch closely, you’ll note that one of the many spiders that Peter disturbs gets shocked by the machinery. – Perhaps, we can imagine, that shock was the extra special catalyst and that was the spider that bite Peter, although the director never makes that even remotely clear.)
- I enjoyed the scene where Peter wakes up to new found strength and accidentally breaks fixtures in his house.
- The scenes of Peter experimenting and learning his powers with his skateboard on the grounds of a warehouse were fun, but I find it hard to believe that his first practical test of the web shooters would start by plunging off of an exceedingly tall sky scraper. Peter is a smart boy, I think he’d start with, say, a two story building at the highest. I know that the filmmakers wanted something more dramatic, but it made me think – “Well, that’s stupid…”
- Several times throughout the movie, Peter uses his super abilities in front of other students including exacting vengeance on a bully, “Flash”, by one-handed palming a basketball that Flash can’t move with all of his might; jumping at least 15 feet through the air, slam dunking a basketball – smashing the backboard; and lifting the larger Flash into the air by his shirt. These demonstrations weren’t full-blown amazing Spider-Man feats, but they would be very noteworthy in a high-school and would certainly have people talking and changing their behavior around Peter, – it not outright suspecting him of super abilities.
- I enjoyed the scene were Parker finds himself in an abandoned gym and conceives of the need for a secret identity (although the roof collapsing under him felt a bit contrived). I thought that it was a clever way to provide an homage to the original wrestling / costume scene without having to repeat it. The directing in the scene was also one of the more inspired moments.
- When one first sees the ads for a Spider-Man movie and notes the high-tech costume made by a teenager of little means, you have to ask, ‘how is it that the kid made that costume?’ He’s not a tailor – right? So, I thought that the movie’s answer of a luge speedo costume was a great solution.
- If you put any thought into it at all, you have to conclude that non-supernatural webs from a human are going to be problematic from a physics standpoint. – And I’m not talking about the tensile strength of the web (which would be truly great if it was proportional to a human.) Rather: the issue arises as a mater of mass. Shooting miles of webbing requires a large source of material from somewhere. If the web shooters were biological – as they were in the 2002 Rami version, Spider-Man would need to consume prodigious quantities of protein and have some suitcase sized tumor somewhere on his body. And if the webbing were man made – per the original comic book and the 2012 move – than Peter would need something closer to two scuba tanks on his back to provide sufficient web fluid.
In the past, I’ve been partial to the biological web shooters, because, although the require a person to suspend disbelief about the amount of web fluid that is required, they didn’t require the additional suspension of disbelief that a high-school student of little means was able to make webbing and mechanical shooters work. (Even if Peter is a genius.) That being said, I again was pleasantly surprised by the manner in which they were introduced in the story, where Peter lifts the technology from Oscorp. I also enjoyed the subtle detail of the red lights in the shooters (although I don’t know why he’d do that) and the little white clouds of powder that the animators depicted coming out every time he shot them.
- Why was NYC crawling in lizards? If they were somehow attracted to the villainous Lizard, it was never explained. One scene included a line of lizards marching down Spider-Man’s webbing with no reasoning provided.
- How exactly did Dr. Connors / The Lizard, not only get his high-tech lab setup in the sewer, he managed to power it, all within less than a week? (Actually, probably less than a week – the story wasn’t clear about the timing other than we knew he had been fired and told to pack-up the next day and then telling Peter that he gave the team the week off which was why he was in the lab alone during one of the following scenes.) Nor does it seem likely that a high-tech lab in the main corridor of a sewer would long last in the horrible, wet conditions nor long elude the the inspection of sewer workers.
- Peter didn’t have to be a genius to figure out Dr. Connors evil plans from the silly clues left behind by the doctor in his sewer lab which included a paper with an article circling a headline, a video log and an unlocked computer screen. – Clearly the story tellers were running out of time and/or were lazy and had to rush the story along at that point.
- The low point in the movie occurs when a crane operate, who’s son Spidey had saved earlier in the movie, is watching TV and concludes that Spiderman is trying to make his way to the Oscorp building and needs help. So the man arranges for his fellow crane buddies to maneuver their crane arm’s into position for the length of many city blocks so that Spider-Man has a convenient runway for his web-swinging. Clearly the writer / director wanted to impart a sense of returned justice to Spider-man in his moment of need, but the concept and execution are so contrived that one could hear the sound of fellow movie goers eyes simultaneously rolling back into their heads.
The most noise I heard about the movie came from people who felt that it was too soon for a reboot – a retailing of the origin story, and I can sympathize. However, these people are missing out because the new Spider-Man is an upgrade with better directing, writing, acting, characters, effects and overall ‘tone’. It still has its share of flaws, to be sure, but it’s a strong addition to the pantheon of super-hero movies.