Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Amazing Scott's Amazing Review of The... Not Terrible Spider-Man

by Scott Speegle

         I'm feeling pretty awesome these days. I'm drawing a lot, writing a lot, and the other day I revisited Chris Hardwick's book The Nerdist Way. In that book one of the sections that resonated most with me was the notion that, as human beings, our emotional responses to pretty much everything we encounter usually follow pretty predictable patterns based on our previous responses. In other words we feel the way we feel about things favorably if we feel favorable about things frequently and vice versa for negative feelings. 
Since my review of The Dark Knight Rises (which you can read in full here) I've been trying to make a concerted effort to 'see the good in things' as it were. The thing is, it's been working. The reason I'm choosing to precede my review with this anecdote is because it might have some degree of affect on the review itself, either way here's a picture of Spider-Man in swishy pants.

This has nothing to do with the review, I just think it's funny.

-hit the jump to read the full review! Note: This review contains spoilers and is written on the assumption that the reader has seen the film and is familiar with the characters involved.- 

       It's probably safe to say that as far as comic characters go, Spider-Man (and his alter ego Peter Parker) is the most liberally licensed, especially when it comes to younger audiences. Spider-Man was the first comic character that I obsessed over and ultimately solidified my decision to enter the comic industry. 

So we know that I've got a soft spot for the ole Web Head. Maybe so much to the point that I've avoided seeing the new reboot out of fear of having my little nerd heart broken. But not only did I break down and see it, I actually liked it. You read that right. I enjoyed this movie much more than I expected to because, and this should be made clear, while it's not a great film, I think it's about as great a reboot as you're going to find. The film does follow the by now tedious, and arguably unnecessary route of telling an origin story.
This is a questionable decision with a character such as Spider-Man since his origin is probably the most well known to the uninitiated or casual fan. One of the biggest strengths of the film however seems to be its uncanny ability to take stale elements such as the telling of the origin story and the training montage and make them fresh and interesting in the context of the universe. It is strange that this version of Ultimate Spider-Man was even the subject of a reboot at all, being marketed to adolescents, seeing as the current iteration of Marvel's Ultimate Spider-Man actually is a very fresh take on the character. But this is a Marvel movie and questionable decisions are to be expected. 

Caucasian young adults pretending to be in high school always feels so natural.

As integrated as the setting of high school is into the developmental arc of most versions of Spider-Man, most of what actually in this school feels cliched and hokey. The film's portrayal of Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka click this link to see a picture of the actor's shoulder) actually does a lot in that Flash has depth and eventually becomes something of a friend to Peter, in Ultimate fashion, it happens at a weird pace though and most of the early stuff involving Flash feels like every stereotypical high school bully ever.  

"Kneel before me! I'm king of this microcosm of nothing!"

Peter has his obligatory confrontation with Flash in which he must triumph but even this manages to be charming and playful. Zylka works in making Flash much more complex in his later appearances and interesting questions are left open about the possibility of him playing the more militant version of Venom in successive films. So high school is a bump in the road but it's pretty much a necessary one and it is admittedly hard to execute. Other areas of this Spider-Man's development into a hero run much smoother. One the first scenes showcasing Peter's powers has him on the New York subway, asleep and woken up by some dickhead. Peter beats up a bunch of guys in this awkward and sincere way that makes me call the scene the word that has come to encapsulate the whole movie for me: charming. If there's one I think Spider-Man should be it's charming and from the get go the attitude and tone of the film strives for that.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'M SORRY!"

It should be noted that the "Amazing" in the title is a bit misleading and the film's arc doesn't move very close to The Amazing Spider-Man comics. Rather the film is closer related to the older Ultimate Spider-Man comics and one of the most striking ways this is apparent is just how much Peter takes off his fucking mask. I'm very conflicted about this in that it introduces interesting character dynamics between Peter and those close to him but it also feels somewhat hollow and overused by the end of the movie. It's a hot bit now for the hero's arch nemesis to know his identity because of the more complex inherent problems it presents but it kind of falls flat here since the villain is somewhat underwhelming. Ryhs Ifans plays Dr. Curt Connors who through sciency shit becomes the reptilian powerhouse The Lizard. Aesthetically The Lizard is surprisingly close to his classic look of wearing his tattered lab coat through his transformation, sans purple pants.  

Oh how I miss those purple pants.

Physically The Lizard is a foe that demands the attention of Spider-Man and the fighting between the two is for the most part enjoyable. However when it comes to just about everything else, our villain kind of feels like he's just going through the motions. The films climax amounts to Spider-Man stopping The Lizard from turning all of New York into Lizard human hybrids and replacing the intended biological agent with a 'cure' that changes a couple nameless cops back into humans. There is a wealth of interesting allusion posed as to Dr. Connor's involvement with Peter's father before his death but as this film acts as a set up to more exposition to come it has to be put on the back burner.
The Amazing Spider-Man actually employs a great deal of subtly in its handling of one of Spider-Man's biggest foes Norman Osborn. In this universe Osborn is near death and we only view his machinations through Oscorp from his position behind the scenes. This is admirable since Osborn and The Green Goblin can be bait for writers and directors to get hammy and heavy handed. Heavy handedness doesn't entirely escape the film however as there are some funny bits involving The Lizard very dexterously mixing and throwing combinations of chemicals.

"I'm a scientist! Get it!?"

This again can be excused as far as I'm concerned because the film tries so hard to do so much and most of it feels very genuine. As one of the biggest parts of Spider-Man's origin, Uncle Ben, receives reverent and effective handling. Martin Sheen conveys the wisdom and experience expected of the character without being pushy at all. Uncle Ben's character arc is one of the film's strongest aspects as it runs through the action when needed and under it when we need to focus on other aspects. And while it's strange that there is such a high frequency of crimes being committed by men with shoulder length blond hair, the Uncle Ben arc avoids being cumbersome by remaining an open thread at the close of the film. 

      Ok, here comes the stuff that has to be said. As much I liked the movie, I couldn't bring myself to be attracted to Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey. She emotes at about the same level as an actual stone, that or her 'movie-dad' Denis Leary playing Captain Stacey. You know that talk about being heavy handed? Enter Leary. At every instance he operates on the same volume of intensity, forcing you very shortly to decide to tune him out. Interesting choices are made about his death at the hands of The Lizard and his relationship with Peter but I have to say I wasn't saddened in the least to see the Captain die.  

Pictured: my favorite part of the movie.

While I'm still utterly baffled at Leary's inclusion in the film, I'm probably more baffled at Stone's. In what universe does she work as Gwen Stacey? She's every bit as clunky and boring as she is in every other outing she's been in. I know this is just my opinion but I think Emma Stone was the wrong choice for this role. Her bits with Peter serve their purpose in the film however and on the whole here character is considerably played down from what it could have been.

"My block like face and insectoid eyestalks should be most appealing to the nerds I seek to enslave."

Gripes with casting aside I keep coming back to liking the movie. I mean when you get over the fact that it's a reboot and that Spider-Man's costume looks like it was made out of discarded basketballs, it really works. The Amazing Spider-Man features the most enjoyable and well orchestrated Stan Lee cameo to date and that for me was a big enough redeemer to forgive many missteps. The film has laid the groundwork for very interesting explorations of Peter Parker's life that movie going audiences have not yet seen. Attention to details like math equations on spent skate board decks drive home the earnest attitude of approaching such a heavily licensed character in different ways. And while I would've loved to see a Spider-Man reboot starring Donald Glover, what I got was better than I expected.

    All in all, the movie is much like its star Andrew Garfield, a handsome hardworking kid without much innate talent but charming as hell. The treatment of the characters is solid and the ambition of the film is refreshing. Peter Parker's development is the most refined of any Spider-Man film and there are clever bits that have him working at his best: a hero of the people. Learning to web swing on garage chains is characteristic of the way Peter grows into Spider-Man in a gradual way throughout the film, he makes mistakes that reflect his character and we feel like we're learning with him. Annoying first person POV shifts slow the film down visually a bit but thankfully are kept to somewhat of a minimum.  I really came away from The Amazing Spider-Man with enjoyment. I immediately came home and dug into my comic collection to skim through issues of Amazing that I hadn't picked up in years.
The Amazing Spider-Man's gross to date of upwards of $621 million is proof that no matter how many times we see him on the big screen, audiences still see the appeal in the always lovable friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

I spared you from a spicy meatball joke. You're welcome.


Scott Speegle is a full time space cowboy and part time heartbreaker. 



  1. Andrew Garfield isn't talented? What the hell have you been watching LOL

  2. I'm glad that's all you took away from this piece...