Sunday, July 15, 2012

In Theatres: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

10 years ago, Sam Raimi brought Spider-Man to the big screen, and put together three epic thrillers in the space of 5 years, with Tobey Maguire in the webs. Raimi's only flaw, it seemed, was skipping past Peter Parker's first true love, Gwen Stacy, who was reduced to a convienent plot device in "Spider-Man 3", and going straight to Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), only because MJ was Peter's wife in the comics, and still is in the newspaper strip (Thank GOD!). Raimi knew how to utilize the characters available to him, even if the quality of the writing started to slip with the last film.

Unfortunately, the bottom line-obsessed corporate nerds at Sony decided they wanted to hit the reset button, rather than give in to Raimi's request to use a classic villain, the Vulture (Ben Kingsley would've been perfect as Adrian Toombs). Exit Raimi, Maguire, & Dunst. Enter the appropriately named Marc Webb ("(500) Days of Summer"), Andrew Garfield ("The Social Network"), & Emma Stone, the latter cast as Gwen. Mary Jane is nowhere to be found this time, and neither is J. Jonah Jameson (played by J. K. Simmons in the Raimi movies), who is more of an intregal part of Spider-history. And that's just the beginning of the errors plaguing "The Amazing Spider-Man".

We begin with a young Peter being taken by his father, Richard (Campbell Scott) to the home of his Aunt May (Sally Field, ex-Brothers & Sisters) & Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen, ex-The West Wing), so they can care for Peter while Richard and wife Mary go away for a while. A few years later, Peter discovers that his parents have died. In the comics, Richard & Mary Parker didn't become a focus until the late 90's, when someone at Marvel, marking the 35th anniversary of Spider-Man, decided that the Parkers were secretly spies. In the movie, Richard is a scientist who had been working on a genetic experiment with Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans).

This is also wrong. In the comics, Connors had been working alone, for one, and had a wife & son, who are not seen in the movie. The writers, including Alvin Sargent, who had worked on the entire Raimi trilogy, fumbled the ball big time by ignoring the sympathetic aspect of Connors' character. By tying Spider-Man's origin to that of Connors' morphing into the Lizard, those writers are making the same mistake the scribes behind 2005's "Fantastic Four" made, and I never thought I'd see such shoddy ignorance of comics history again. Sargent, for one, should've known better.

Another mistake was the way Ben was killed off. In the comics, and in Raimi's first film, it was a prowler in the Parker house who killed Ben. Instead, you have an ordinary street thug who shoots Ben after a brief struggle while Ben is walking the streets, looking for Peter after an argument. The thug robbed the same store that Peter had been in, trying to buy chocolate milk. In the comics, Peter had already created his costume and had been attempting to get into show business when he let a crook pass. Again, Sargent should've known better, but the blame falls on James Vanderbilt, credited with having written the story. Who is this guy trying to fool?

Where else do these scribbling idiots go wrong? I'm not sure if in the comics Gwen was ever privy to Peter's secret, and we do know that her father, Captain George Stacy (Denis Leary, currently heard in "Ice Age: Continental Drift"), had known before his passing. How he knew, I'm not sure, but in the movie, he finds out by unmasking Spidey after capturing him. Like, he didn't need Jameson to point the way for him now, did he? However, once he realizes Gwen's aware of the secret and is helping Peter in attempting to thwart Lizard, Capt. Stacy lets him go. Stacy then sacrifices himself in the line of duty (though in the comics, the Lizard had nothing to do with Stacy's death, as most fans know) to help Spider-Man save the city.

Of course, co-creator Stan Lee gets his obligatory cameo in, this time a silent spot as a school librarian listening to some music. Cute. Leary was just flat out brilliant, one of the few bright spots in the flick. Garfield was way too awkward in trying to capture the wiseacre Spidey of the early days, and his scenes with Stone (now his real-life honey) were also uneven. I just wasn't feeling this at all. Ifans was fine, and we get a hint that an old foe may resurface in the next film (and there will be one).

My only other problem might've been with Sally Field. Sure, the years have finally caught up with her, and she is no longer the eternally youthful actress who charmed us in Gidget, The Flying Nun, "Norma Rae", and so many other films, but May Parker was originally written as being frail and physically fragile. Field's May is only emotionally fragile, not physically, and she's anything but frail.

The trailer block offered us the following:

"The Dark Knight Rises" (opening Friday). Like, it has its flaws, which I'll discuss after seeing it, but it is storytelling 101, something "Amazing Spider-Man" is not.

"The Watch" (July 27). Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, & Jonah Hill in a community watch program, going after aliens. Nothing good can come from this.

"Lawless" (August). Tom Hardy & Gary Oldman follow up "Dark Knight Rises" with this ensemble drama.

"Here Comes The Boom". Kevin James, a big time wrestling fan who was on a high school wrestling team with ring legend Mick Foley in Long Island, tries MMA. With Henry Winkler & Bas Rutten.

"Total Recall" (August). Colin Farrell tries one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's old roles. Kate Beckinsdale & Jessica Biel provide the eye candy. It's going to take some convincing to prove it's better than the original from more than 20 years ago.

And speaking of trailers, here's one for "Amazing Spider-Man":

Rating: D.


magicdog said...

I have yet to see the film (been getting reviews that cause whiplash in some they're so polarized) but from what I gathered so far, I can understand some of the alterations. They wanted to establish a different universe and make it different from the three films that preceded it.

I am disappointed that the franchise was rebooted so soon after the last film, even though it wasn't that good. You'd think they could have waited a while!

However I do appreciate that they went with Gwen Stacy rather than Mary Jane this time. Gwen was supposed to be Peter's first love before meeting MJ and her death despite Peter's efforts to save her resonated with comics fans. I'm curious if they'll kill her off in this new series (I do know she lives to the end of this film at least).

I also don't mind much that Mae Parker isn't as frail as she's traditionally been depicted. The latest incarnation of her ("Ultimate Spiderman") choose to take a different approach as well, making her a vibrant life loving "cool" aunt. As much as I don't like that show, I do respect updating Mae since women over 50 aren't necessarily fragile, sickly ladies anymore.

hobbyfan said...

To me, it's just another example of know-nothing writers (Sargent, as I wrote, worked on the other three films) insulting the intelligence of the fanbase by not doing enough research. I get the idea of trying to make things more contemporary, but changing the site of Uncle Ben's death, for example, was wrong as wrong can be. Sony's now 0-for-2 with new Spider-Man projects this year.