(On Cable TV, January 2015) The biggest problem with the 2012 reboot The Amazing Spider-Man was that it was hard to justify its existence barely a decade after its inspiration. This sequel doesn’t have as much to do in order to justify its existence: We’ve been reintroduced to Peter Parker and now we get to look at how his story develops in a different direction. Andrew Garfield is still quite likable as the superhero in disguise, whereas Emma Stone also still coasts on her charm to sell an under-written character. The action sequences certain shows how progresses in special effects can allow filmmakers to present even bigger and better visuals on-screen: the opening chase sequence, taking place at breakneck speed in a brightly lit New York City, is a small marvel of super-powered heroics that wouldn’t have been possible even a decade ago. While the return of the Green Goblin as an antagonist feels safe and conventional, the use of Electro is a little bit more interesting. This film, of course, has to do what the previous trilogy didn’t want to in showcasing a traumatic moment in Spider-Man history and while it’s difficult not to applaud this difficult dramatic choice, it’s also one that is blatantly foreshadowed in almost everything that happens prior to it. You can almost count down the seconds before it happens. Does this in any way justify the film? Sure, but not too much: we could have gone without it, and (BREAKING GEEKY NEWS!) the announcement that the next few Spider-Man films, to be developed with Marvel Studios, will ignore this misguided reboot don’t do much to justify those instantly-disposable films. Director Marc Webb should be doing other better things with his time anyway. But such is the age of the mega-buster nowadays: full of wonders, empty of meaning and so scrapped and forgotten a year later.
(On Cable TV, March 2013) Here is the key to this film’s seemingly-pointless existence: A long time ago, before it took ownership of its characters’ movies rights (a process that eventually led to The Avengers), Marvel sold the rights to the Spider-Man character to Fox studios, with a clause saying that movies about the character had to be produced every few years, otherwise the rights would revert to Marvel. Combine that with the fact that the original cast members of the Spider-Man trilogy have all gone out of contract and into a much higher income profile and you get a perfect excuse for a reboot, whether you like the idea or not. Ten years is a long time when it comes to the teenage audiences at which the Spider-Man films are aimed. So it is that The Amazing Spider-Man is nearly a plot-beat-per-plot-beat rethread of 2002’s Spider-Man. You’d think that modern audiences, familiarized with superheroes through fifteen years’ worth of such films, could be spared another origins story… but no. Still, a reboot may be a disappointment, but it’s not necessarily a substantial knock against the finished film: it’s all about the execution, and a deft take on familiar ideas can outshine plodding originality most of the time. Sadly, the biggest problem with The Amazing Spider-Man is that it can’t be trusted to present a satisfying version of the Spider-Man mythology. It doesn’t do much with the expected elements of the Spider-Man origins story, and by strongly suggesting that non-nerdy Peter Parker is meant to become Spider-Man, it seriously undermines one of the charms of the everyman character. This, added to evidence of late tampering with the script (as in: the trailers show more than what’s in the finished film) and the obvious non-resolution of enough plot-lines to point the way to a film trilogy, make The Amazing Spider-Man such a disappointing experience. Oh, it’s not as if the film is worthless: The two lead actors are better than the previous trilogy’s lead actors even when they’re not given equally-good material (poor Emma Stone doesn’t have much to do than show off her knees), director Marc Webb has a good eye and the wall-to-wall special effects show how much the industry has improved in ten years. This Spider-Man has better quips (one of the characteristics that establish him as a distinct alter-ego from Peter Parker), Rhys Ifans is intriguing as the mad-scientist villain and the film is slickly-made. Still, from a storytelling standpoint, it seems as if all the worst choices were made in the service of a mechanically-conceived piece of pop-culture merchandizing. It’s entertaining enough, but it could have been so much better…
(In theaters, May 2007) I won’t try to pretend that I disliked the first two Spider-Man films, but it’s fair to say that I haven’t been as impressed with them as most other people have been. Partly, I mourn the Sam Raimi of the Evil Dead trilogy; partly, I can’t stand the lowest-common-denominator approach that has ensured the series’ success. So when Spider-Man 3 comes out and ends up annoying everyone, I’m left muttering “Well, what did you expect?” This being said, there’s no doubt that this third instalment is weaker than the first two ones for obvious reasons: too long, too scattered, too coincidental. Obviously, storytelling standards have fallen when, of all the possible places on Earth, a meteorite carrying an evil symbiont just happens to fall next to Peter Parker as he’s making out in the park. I happen to like the Venom plot thread, but it seems superfluous in a third tome of a trilogy chiefly concerned about the Parker/Harris/Osborne relationship. That it blows up the duration of the film well past its optimal time is just another knock against it. Without Venom, we might have been given a few more scenes fleshing out the Sandman character… although if the alternative is yet another coma-inducing speech by Aunt May, I’ll pass. No, Spider-Man 3 has obviously succumbed to the increasingly common self-importance syndrome of third-parters: the producers’ belief that it can do no wrong and audiences will lap it up any way. They may be right… but that won’t be of much comfort in a few years when hardly anyone will recall such movies with affection.
(In theaters, July 2004) Maybe I’m getting too old for this stuff; I wasn’t a particularly enthusiastic fan of the original Spider-Man (too dull, too ordinary) and if the second one is distinctly better, I’m still not all that convinced. Oh, certainly, I just love parts of this sequel: the operating room sequence is pure Evil Dead Raimi, the action sequences are directed with impressive fluidity and the villain is a lot of fun. Even the over-arching story makes sense and at least tries to reach above the usual superhero crap. But it’s not through dull romance and mortgage concerns that I try to escape reality, and so Spider-Man 2 just isn’t as much fun when it’s dragged-down to harsh reality, especially when it starts forgetting that there’s a super-villain running around. Worse is the heavy-handed direction and the on-the-nose dialogue, which makes sure to highlight every single emotional nuance to make sure that even the dumbest teen in the audience doesn’t miss a thing. By the time the crotchety old lady delivers her speech about the importance of heroes, it’s hard to tell if the filmmakers are laughing at the audience. Oh well; at least JK Simmons is excellent as J. Jonas Jameson and Alfred Molina gets to show that fat middle-aged men can be super-villains too! (Talk about an untapped segment for wish-fulfilment) Blockbuster-wise, it could have been worse. But it could have been better too, and it does no one any favour when the film’s aim reaches so obviously for the broadest common denominator.
(In theaters, May 2002) So everyone’s favorite web-slinging superhero swings in theaters, and even if I bemoan the quasi-absence of the classic TV show’s theme, I’m rather impressed with the rest of the film. Focusing as much on character than on action scenes, this is very nearly the ultimate comic-book film insofar as the “secret identity” passages aren’t deathly dull. Tobey Maguire transforms a potentially miscasting in one of the film’s greatest assets; Peter Parker, the geek-turned-superhero! Willem Dafoe is also excellent as the antagonist. (oh, that mirror scene… genius!) Kirsten Dunst, on the other hand, is blander than beige, giving us no reason why we should fall for her like our hero does. The few action scenes in the film really rock, thanks to the dynamite direction of Sam Raimi, who seemingly helms the film he’s been born to. Spider-Man appeals on several levels; if ever you’re bored, you can always watch for how it’s a curiously Catholic superhero film, as Spider-man is defined by guilt, celibacy and self-sacrifice. Good summer entertainment; I would have liked a few more action scenes, but now that the background’s been taken care of, maybe the inevitable sequel will be even faster-paced?
(Second viewing, On DVD, January 2003) This is pretty much the definition of a superhero movie for general audiences. Some adventure, some romance, some character development, some soap opera plotting, some special effects and some flashy colors. Sure, it made millions, but is it a film one can absolutely love? Eh. Shrug. The DVD is the incarnation of this eagerness to please everyone; two making-of are strictly pre-release promotional material (which isn’t appropriate material for the DVD, since we already paid for the damn thing; we don’t need to know how wonderful everyone was!) and the technical material is reduced to a strict minimum, safely tucked away in a “special feature” where only the die-hard geeks will look for it. The commentary track is okay, and so are the repetitive pop-ups. (Alas, the infamous first “World Trade Center trailer” is missing) Slick entertainment for the whole family, but a second look reveals the mechanical underpinnings of this lucrative enterprise.