Remember the sheer joy on the face of Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker in the first Spider Man (2002) when he was discovering his powers, strength and agility, leaping from building to building and eventually finding the magic to shoot webs and swing from them. Like a modern-day Tarzan he mastered the whole swinging from a web thing, and when the mask was off, he was thrilled with what was happening to him, and because Maguire conveyed that thrill so well to we the audience, we too were thrilled with him. There was a delirious joy in what had happened to Peter Parker allowing him, overnight to become a master athlete and super hero, and the film celebrated, from beginning to end one of Marvel’s most iconic comic book characters.
Which brings us to the new film, The Amazing Spider Man.
First of all, it’s not so amazing. In fact, really it’s not very good. The writing is terrible, the plot, the second half is ridiculous, oh, well let’s just get into it.
Why? Why did Sony Pictures make this film? Some of the suits who work the studios really do believe movie goers are a stupid lot, who will line up and go see anything, just because they believe the film might be good. Comic book hero films are all the rage right now, and the first two Spider Man films rocked, so maybe this will one too right? Wrong, oh so, wrong, in fact it is the worst such film since The Green Lantern (2011) last year, which landed on my ten worst of the year list. You see commerce had everything to do with the making of this movie, everything. You can almost hear the suits at Sony snorting over the success of the Warners Batman franchise, as directed by Christopher Nolan, eight years after Schumacher’s Batman and Robin (1997) ended it all, wondering why their Spider Man series was not as profound as the Batman films directed by Nolan. Why did their director not land a DGA nomination for the films? When Raimi had said all he had to say with the character and moved on, the bright lights at Sony got the idea to revamp the whole thing, to start it all over again.
No matter that audiences had something invested in Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/ Spider Man, believing that he brought the film some depth being a real actor and all. There was real heart in his performance, honesty, something you do not always get in films like these and sadly the very thing that makes them work. Spider Man 2 (2004) was the finest comic book hero film made until The Dark Knight (2008), an absolute knockout of a film with one of the best super villains in Doc Ock we had ever seen. Again by choosing a real actor, Alfred Molina, the series was given something others do not have, heart and soul. look at Heath Ledger’s Joker, a staggering performance that earned an Academy Award!! Cast real actors and reap the rewards.
This one really perplexes me and frankly angers me. Maybe we should consider having a remake of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy, after all it’s been ten years since the first one? Maybe we should get on a remake of Minority Report (2002) or Gangs of New York (2002) as ten years have passed… it must be time. Oh hell, let’s rush it all and get a remake going of The Passion of the Christ (2004)!! Why not?? Where does it stop??
The first half of The Amazing Spider Man is virtually a retelling of the first film, a regurgitation if you will, of Spider Man (2002) with a few differences here and there for diversity. Sadly there is no Mary Jane this time, but Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is here to romance Peter Parker, played this time by Andrew Garfield, so good in The Social Network (2o10) and recently onstage as Biff in Death of a Salesman. So they have started things off right in casting two real actors, gifted thespians both, but then they made the fatal mistake and given them a terrible screenplay that gives them nothing to do. Worse, they are an off-screen couple that throw no sparks on-screen. God remember that upside down kiss in Spider Man (2002)…that was smokin’ hot and had every guy in the theater ready to don those tights and the suit just to get kissed by Kirsten Dunst like that. It is as if dying Stone’s hair a color other than red tones down her sexuality, her cockiness, prevents her from being brash, and she is at her best when she is brash.
And Garfield, as good an actor as he is, when given so little to do, what is he to do?? There is no sense of wonder, no sense of awe at the new gifts he is experiencing, so little joy. Instead he seems to take it all in stride and throw out one liners every now and then to remind us he is smartass.
The casting of Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) is both good and a major problem. Martin Sheen is a wonderful actor and brings real warmth and dignity to Uncle Ben, with all due respect to Cliff Robertson. But Mama Gump as Aunt May??? We are asked to accept Sally Field as Aunt May, the actress millions know as Forrest’s mom, and who they will know later this year as Mary Todd Lincoln in Spielberg’s Lincoln? Rosemary Harris brought something very special, something deeply profound to the Aunt May of the first three films, and was so good I find it hard to imagine anyone else in the part. Sorry Sally, love your work, just not here.
May I offer that the visual effects are superb, due in fact I suspect to the advances in CGI effects over the last ten years.
The action sequences, involving fights with the Lizard (Rhys Ifan) look very similar to those in the previous three films, and that is a problem, because where are they going to go with the character?? What else can he do?? Now in fairness, The Dark Knight (2008) and The Avengers (2012) have challenged all other super hero films to rise to a different level, it’s no good to be really good anymore, the films have to be incredible to be appreciated by the audience. Thus Sony might be celebrating this weekend a great opening, but it is next week that will tell the tale, because if things drop off fifty per cent or more, this might be the only Spider Man film we see for a long, long time. If this is the quality we are going to get, I hope not to see another for a long, long time.