The Amazing Spider-Man *1/2
There was a spate in the late 1970s, that carried right through the 1980s, when cheesy – and sometimes not even cheesy – action and thriller movies allowed the convention that New York City was full of alleyways with dumpsters, and in these alleyways lurked mischievous villains, who were clean-shaven, wore clean, expensive-looking leather jackets and travelled in packs. They were always in the middle of a hold-up when our hero appeared, whether he was a murderous Charles Bronson in Death Wish or simply an ass-kicking superhero such as Michael Keaton’s Batman. These thugs always shifted their attention to our hero, who would make a couple of brave quips before dispensing with – either by killing, hurting, scaring or somehow incarcerating – the most photogenic of the thugs, while the rest ran away down the alleyway, almost inevitably crying out “Let’s get outta here!” Thankfully, this convention was eventually realised to be stale, outdated, corny, redundant, stupid, boring and ludicrously cheesy. No scriptwriter worth his salt would write it, no director worth his salt would shoot it. And no costume designer worth any salt would clothe the “Muggers” in clean, expensive-looking black leather jackets.
Welcome to The Amazing Spider-Man, a movie that can proudly lay claim to being stale, outdated, corny, redundant, stupid, boring and ludicrously cheesy, all at the same time. “Redundant” probably being, in this case, the worst offending attribute. Yes, your memory is not playing tricks with you: we have just had a spate of Spider Man movies, the first one, Sam Raimi’s version with Tobey Maguire, only dating back to 2002, and the last in the series only having been released in 2007. Like jokes in the aftermath of September 11th, we have a right to cry “Too soon!” Especially when this latest version, daringly titled The “Amazing” Spider-Man (italics mine, as ham-fisted as much of this movie) is such a carbon copy of Raimi’s original.
Don’t believe the marketing: this is the same old boring origin story all over again. Watch Peter Parker get bitten! Watch him discover his spider-powers! Watch him use them on the “school bully” before taking them to the street to fight crime (see above, “thugs in leather jackets”)! And, finally, how about he has a showdown with a super-villain while cops and assorted New Yorkers look on?
What’s really, frankly, annoying about this new film is that it not only slavishly copies the 2002 film, it does everything worse. Much, much worse. Remember the upside-down kiss? Here it’s on a domestic balcony. Remember Peter Parker beating up the bully? Here he dunks a basketball. Take that, Bully! (By the way, the Bully is revealed to actually be a Really Nice Guy, in keeping with this movie’s desperate attempts to not offend anyone, even School Bullies).
Any movie that wastes Emma Stone is guilty of flagrant idiocy, and the charge is here laid with assurance. Ms. Stone – a brilliant actress, has to flap about as a high-school senior (!) whose boyfriend dons spandex at night to fight leather-clad street punks (or “rough trade”). It’s an embarrassing role and I’m afraid she knows it. At least her co-star, Andrew Garfield (who was excellent in The Social Network) is close to her age. The problem is that neither one of them is remotely believable as high-school seniors. They look absolutely ridiculous walking the school corridors, backpacks slung ludicrously over their adult shoulders – but then, the school itself looks completely ridiculous: although the film is set in New York, the high school attended by these twenty-somethings looks straight out of Stone’s much, much better film Easy A – in other words, a sun-drenched, spacious, campus-style suburban Californian High School. If this school existed in New York it would cost $120,000 a year and your classmates would be Kennedys, Rockerfellers and Raimis.
Garfield is lumbered with having to act like not only a teenager but a really angsty teenager, and it results in a performance that is very difficult to watch. Stumbling and (practically) stuttering, umm-ing and err-ing to the point that you want to grab him and yell “Just spit the words out, damn it!”, he’s going for something here, and it’s not a wise choice. My colleague who I saw it with said that that was true to the Peter Parker character, and while that may be true, it doesn’t make for pleasant viewing. Spider-Man may be a reluctant superhero, but Garfield here looks like a reluctant Spider-Man – which is odd, as he’s famously a true believer, a Spider-Man fan from way back. Perhaps he finally realised how banal the script was, with fifty days of shooting still to go.
This movie is bland. It’s so gutless that it doesn’t even have a villain. It has an antagonist, sure (Rhys Ifans, looking surprised to be here) but he’s not menacing, violent or criminally insane – he’s just very nice. Everyone’s very nice (Parker’s Uncle Ben is played by Martin Sheen, in extremely nice mode, and his Aunt Mae is played by Sally Field, for Goodness’ sake!) Dennis Leary, once the very definition of an edgy performer, is here saddled with (how much did they pay him?) the role of Emma Stone’s Nice Dad. The only character in the movie who is obviously nefarious is also the only non-white main character – a strange and telling example of exactly how far off the mark this movie is.
Treating its audience with complete disdain, the movie doesn’t even attempt any sort of interior logic. High school students not only get to intern at the very highest levels of the very greatest scientific corporations, they also seem to get twenty-four hour access to those corporations’ highest-level labs. Worse, the interns at said corporation are idiots who know nothing of what the corporation does – how did they get what must be the most sought-after internships in the world? Worst of all Peter Parker’s use of the internet. The instigating incident of the whole story comes when he googles his missing parents for the first time – when he’s seventeen, even though they’ve been missing since he was about ten. This, despite the fact that he can write algorithms that surprise and confound one of the brightest scientists, supposedly, on the planet.
Parker can’t use the internet until the scriptwriters decide he can, but he sure loves his mobile phone. He loves to text, and he also – spoiler alert! (not really) – thinks nothing of making a call to his girlfriend, through his mask, during a huge action set-piece. I’m sorry, but this is beyond bland, it’s banal, mundane. A super-hero calling his girlfriend during the Big Fight to check on her? There’s nothing super about that.