Not so amazing

Latest Spider-Man reboot could have aimed higher
by Willie Krischke

This new Spider-Man movie is labeled “Amazing Spider-Man” to set it apart from ordinary, old “Spider-Man,” which was directed by Sam Raimi and released in 2002, a.k.a. back in the time of the dinosaurs. Amazing is a bold adjective; it might be better titled “Nervous Spider-Man” or “Mumbly Spider-Man” or even “Gritty, Realistic Spider-Man.” Amazing, I’ve got to say, is a bit of a stretch.

“Amazing” takes everything about Spider-Man and places it in a more realistic, lived-in world. I’m not going to say it is the real world, because hey, it is still a world where a spider bite can give a kid super powers and a glowing green serum developed in a sewer laboratory can turn a man into a giant mutant lizard.
But it’s more real that Sam Raimi’s world. Andrew Garfield plays Peter Parker with such inwardness, with so many nervous tics and mutterings, that you wonder if he isn’t on the autism spectrum. (Now that would be interesting – an autistic superhero. How come that movie’s never been made?) He rides a skateboard to school instead of the bus. He gets bitten while trespassing in a high-security, forbidden zone of a hi-tech lab, not while touring the local museum on a high school field trip. He does not seem to have any friends, let alone a millionaire playboy best friend. The whole thing is rougher around the edges, though not necessarily darker, unless you’re talking about the color palette.

In spite of all those differences, it’s, well, amazing just how similar the stories are, though some of the names have changed. There’s the school fight with Flash just after Parker discovers he has spider strength. The argument with Uncle Ben, letting the crook get away who kills him, then chasing the crook. Even the bad guy, though different, is the same: a scientist whose funding is about to be pulled, so he decides to experiment on himself and goes mad in the process. Gwen Stacey might as well be Mary Jane Parker, and Curt Connors might as well be Norman Osborn.

One change that irritated me: Peter Parker invents his webslingers; it is not a superpower any more than the Batmobile. But this is hardly explained at all. He steals a cartridge of the web stuff from the lab and then experiments with his own propellant device. And that is all the info we get. How much does that one cartridge hold? Does he have to keep going back to steal more, or did he figure out how to make it in his bedroom? Does he carry extra cartridges somewhere in his spandex suit? Seems like a pretty important detail, you wouldn’t want to be caught in mid-air and suddenly run out of web.

“Amazing Spider-Man” is not a bad film, not by any means, but it often points out things I loved about the old “Spider-Man” (the un-Amazing one.) Sam Raimi’s version is so bright and bold. The colors pop, and so do the characters. They live in a world of sharp lines between good and evil, even if bad guys are almost always good guys gone mad. Sure, it’s not this universe exactly, but that’s part of the charm. They feel like they jumped straight off the page of a comic book circa 1962. There’s something really entertaining and enjoyable about that era of comic books, and you can feel the affection of the people who brought it to the screen. “Amazing” feels like a lot of comic book reboots; it’s an update of something that was classic, a perfect product of its place and time, and removing it from that place and time only hurts it. There is a reason nobody has ever attempted to remake “Casablanca.”  

But reboots, remakes and updates seem to be all the rage these days. Everyone loved “True Grit,” though it was almost word-for-word an update of the John Wayne classic (and I’d rather watch Wayne than Bridges any day.) “The Artist” just won Best Picture because it felt like an old-time silent movie, as if those movies were gone forever. In the age of Netflix, I don’t really understand why people don’t just watch the silent movies it aped instead. “Super 8” tried so hard to be “E.T.” plus “The Goonies.” We keep remaking the movies we love, or loved, as if we’re going to make them better. We’re not.

Having said that, at least “Amazing Spider-Man” is not as bad as the ‘70s version of “King Kong,” the ultimate remake failure. It gets plenty of things right, or at least close enough. It’s entertaining and clever and generally well made; a competent summer blockbuster. Garfield is great, once you accept his nervousness and weird body movement. Emma Stone is pretty good, too. Martin Sheen pulls off a decent Uncle Ben, though there’s something weird going on with his hair, and to me he’ll always be Jed Bartlett. “Amazing” is a good sight better than a lot of other superhero films out there, but that doesn’t put it in the upper echelon.  

I found the first half more compelling than the second. When “Amazing” settles in to good guy vs. bad guy, it suffers. For one thing, it doesn’t seem like Spidey ever has a chance against the giant lizard; his punches just bounce off, and Ugly Green tears through his webs (10 times the strength of steel!) like they’re, well, spiderwebs. As we head toward the climax, the only suspense is about who’s going to die, and the film chickens out on that, too. (I’ll give you a hint: Mary Jane Watson comes after Gwen Stacy in the comic books, but Peter and Gwen don’t exactly break up.) But maybe we’ll cover that in the inevitable sequel. Or the next reboot, which can’t be too far away.



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