[Note: This review contains minor spoilers.] Anyone who even remotely knows me knows…I love Spider-Man. Old webhead’s always been my favorite superhero and I’m a big fan of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films. Of course, it helps that- to me -they were all enjoyable films. Cheesy, yes. But fun and emotionally involving? Absolutely.
And yes, I even like Spider-Man 3, despite its [many] flaws. (It would’ve benefitted from some severe editing and Raimi took the “cheese” factor to ridiculous levels. But, there’s plenty to like: the black costume design, the light versus dark battle of the “mirror” images of Parker and Brock, the score, and I easily identified with Peter’s struggle with his inner demons.) Some of you probably checked out when you read that last sentence. If you didn’t, thank you and enjoy the rest of the read.
A few years ago, when I first learned of the plan to scrap Spider-Man 4 and reboot instead, I was pretty upset. Despite the studios assurances that they wanted to “go younger”, I viewed it as simply a financially-motivated move. So, it was with great trepidation and hesitation that I attended a screening of said reboot: Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man. I’d read certain spoilers about the film and I found myself shaking my head in dismay and annoyance at some of the things I discovered. But because of my love for the character and comics, I went anyway, expecting the worst but hoping for the best.Now, if you’ve ever read my blog (100yearsofwaiting.tumblr.com), you know I’m a person who isn’t afraid to admit when he’s wrong. Take my attitude towards the casting of Daniel Craig as James Bond and the reboot of England’s super spy with the film, Casino Royale. I approached that film quite irritated with the idea of replacing the debonaire, dark Pierce Brosnan with a blonde Bond and even more upset with the notion of rebooting my favorite secret agent. Yet, I came out of the movie with a huge sh*t-eating grin and prepared to eat crow.
When the trailer for the latest Bond film, Skyfall was shown before Spider-Man began, I should’ve known it was a sign. So…am I prepared to eat crow again?
Well, yes…to a degree.
Let me make this perfectly clear from the start: I was absolutely correct in my apprehension towards the tone and psychology of the film. Peter’s new motivations for becoming Spider-Man and the idea of him using the persona as a method of seeking out PERSONAL justice just don’t ring true to the identity of everyone’s favorite web-slinger. Instead, it brings the character to a darker place that more resembles Batman than the Spider-Man I know and love. True, in the comics and the first Raimi film, Spider-Man seeks revenge…or at least confrontation against the man who gunned down his Uncle. But in those mediums, the confrontation is quick and the result changes Spider-Man’s life and leads to his acceptance of the creed: “with great power comes great responsibility”. In the reboot, Peter’s quest for justice (revenge) is greatly prolonged (much the same way “with great power comes great responsibility” is morphed into an elongated “motto” that I can’t even remember) and essentially becomes his reason for being Spider-Man.
And this choice to prolong Peter’s quest- the choice to make him darker and edgier -is an overall problem I have with the film. The producers and studio chose to make Spidey/Peter more “relevant” and “modern” by making him darker, grittier, and more “realistic”. The film’s look reflects this choice: it’s muted and filled with blue, grey, and black lighting…taking place in a “world” I’m not sure Spider-Man belongs in.Say what you will about the previous films, but Sam Raimi KNEW he was dealing with a comic-book character. And the look of his films reflected this: bright, colorful, vibrant, splashed with reds, blues, and oranges. The new incarnation seems to want us to believe Spider-Man could exist right alongside Christopher Nolan’s Batman and I’m not sure I want that Spider-Man.
I want a Spider-Man who fits into the world of Joss Whedon’s Avengers, and on that note, I applaud Joss Whedon and Marvel Studios for saying, “You know what? We KNOW the world loves Christopher Nolan’s Batman. And we know ‘dark’ is the new ‘awesome’. But…screw that. It’s The Avengers…and we’re going bright, comic-book ‘reality’.” Which brings us back to the big problem with this film: it seems to me that it wants you to accept the idea that this movie could happen in our world. And yet…the premises of the film are a boy who turns into a Spider-Man…and a scientist who turns into a giant lizard. You can’t have it both ways. It’s either real…or it’s not. Director Webb should’ve embraced the notion that this is SPIDER-MAN, not Spider-Bat-Man.Delving further into the “dark psychology” of the new Spider-Man…the film chooses to place GREAT emphasis on the mystery of what happened to Peter’s parents. I’ve got two words in response to this enigma: who cares? Peter Parker is an orphan raised by his Aunt and Uncle. They were his parents. The end. Now, the new choice makes for some great emotional moments (especially when Spider-Man rescues and returns a young boy to his Father), but…those moments could’ve been just as resonant if we had believed Peter was thinking about Ben…and not his “long, lost Dad”.
Believe me, I get it. The producers and director are trying to create a NEW reality for Peter and Spidey: one that is separate and distinct from the Raimi films. But, in doing so, they’re harkening back to some of the WORST years and stories from the Spider-Man mythos (just ask any avid Spidey fan how they feel about the return of Peter’s parents in the comic book). And I have to wonder…if they’re trying so hard to distance themselves from the previous films, then why are the opening 40 seconds of the film so similar to Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy openings (the music and images looked more like Spider-Man 4 than a reboot).
Maybe I’m too close to the source material and my problem is that I can’t just “let go”, enjoy the ride, and accept this new version of Spider-Man. But I refuse to believe that’s the case, because that is exactly what fueled my adoration of the aspects of this film that I absolutely LOVED.The web-swinging moments are a Spidey fan’s dream. They’re executed beautifully: a combination of practical stunts and CGI, some wonderfully-realized webbing, and no less than 5 (by my count) different camera techniques. When Spider-Man takes to the heights and soars…you soar with him in a way we really haven’t before. In fact, late in the film there’s a moment that elicited a powerful aesthetic reaction, sending goosebumps down my body, filling my eyes with tears, and shaking my emotions… Because the film nails the tone of these moments…and the scene is something I’ve seen in my dreams at least twice a week since I was a young boy. In that scene- just as in my dreams -you ARE Spider-Man, and the effect is simply breathtaking. Helping make these Spidey moments resonant is the score by James Horner. Filled with the usual and expected “Horner-isms” that any avid film music fan will recognize, the score provides Spider-Man with a theme that you might be whistling as you exit the theater. The “catchy” and easily-identifiable theme might be the result of a directive given to Horner by the producers, perhaps as a result of the many people who complained that the previous film incarnation of Spidey “had no theme”. Of course, this assertion is simply incorrect. The Raimi trilogy featured a theme by Danny Elfman that was quite distinct, but it was also quite complex in its melodic construction and employed harmonic progressions that perhaps only a studied musician would be able to recognize.
Horner’s Spider-Man theme relies on the “tried and true” method of keeping it simple but memorable. It consists essentially of a three-chord progression and a melody shaped with some of the oldest “tricks” in a composer’s book (based on the triads of the accompanying harmonic progression). The result is a tune many will be hearing in their heads days afterwards (the result is also a motif whose first two bars owe a GREAT deal to the Star Trek: Insurrection Love Theme composed by the great Jerry Goldsmith. But, hey…who’s keeping “score”?).
The cast is by-and-large quite fabulous. Each actor is given their turn to shine, and not only do we get a proper introduction to each character, we’re also given scenes in which we can grow to like and love them…to develop an emotional attachment in some way to every person who’s an important part of this story.
Garfield is great as Peter Parker…but he really dazzles as Spider-Man. He inhabits Spidey in a way that made me almost completely forget about the fondness I have for Tobey Maguire’s take. This new Spider-Man LOOKS the part (he’s long, lean, and sinewy) and SOUNDS the part (he cracks wise almost more often than Freddy Krueger or Roger Moore’s James Bond). But what’s most impressive is Garfield’s movement. Supposedly, Garfield’s intense love of the character lead to thorough preparation for portraying my favorite hero…and it shows. He literally moves like a human spider. The performance is so convincing that I found myself comparing it to Jeff Goldblum’s work in The Fly.Emma Stone is feisty, smart, and adorable as Gwen Stacy, her chemistry with co-star Garfield is strong, and for those that know the Spidey mythos, it’s almost unbearable to think about the reality that awaits these “star-crossed lovers”. Ifans makes for a terrific villain- although, like Spidey himself, his motivations have to be called into question (in the comics, he was fueled by his desire to fix himself…in this film he seems to be moved to action because someone threatens to pull his funding and take away his job. The tragically-noble villain of the comics is instead replaced by a scientist who seems to be motivated by…money). Leary is great fun to watch in his role as Captain Stacy and Sally Field brings a sort of lovable hipness to a younger version of Aunt May than we have seen before. But the real star of the proceedings is the presence that looms large over Peter Parker/Spider-Man and, indeed, the entire film. Martin Sheen is absolutely terrific- as always -in his role as Uncle Ben. He’s the kind of Dad that most men dream of having: tough-as-nails, but loving, understanding, wise, and patient. He’s the perfect Father for Peter Parker.
And that brings me back to why I had such problems with this film. It could’ve been better in so many ways had it simply chosen to not delve into needless Parker-parental plot points and kept the tone more…well, “Spider-Man”. Instead of being treated to a film that was “amazing”, I watched a film that I loved in spots and loathed in others.
But at the end of the day, I found myself asking, “How much can I really LOATHE this film? It’s my favorite superhero, for cryin’ out loud.” The film is different from what came before, and that’s not necessarily a BAD thing, depending on your point-of-view. Am I happy that instead of paying homage to the “Golden Era” Spidey, as Raimi’s films did, that this film draws from the material of the latter years and the “Ultimate Spider-Man” comics line? No, but…at the same time, I understand the reasoning in doing so. It’s a new era (sort of), so why not make films for the “next generation” of fans? It wasn’t necessary to reboot the franchise only five years since the last entry, but in the end…I have to judge the film as objectively as possible. It’s not as cerebral as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, nor is it as fun as Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. But it is successful as pure entertainment with heart.
In many ways, this film is much like many of its comic-book film predecessors: it’s not perfect…and it is flawed. But it provides us with a solid beginning from which the filmmakers have several interesting possibilities to explore next. Like Batman Begins, X-Men, and even Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man, I found myself exiting the theater and telling my wife, “You know what? It wasn’t perfect…it definitely had problems. But it was fun, entertaining, exciting…and I’m anxious to see where they go from here.”
And I suppose that’s what’s most important. With Garfield and Webb, my beloved Spider-Man is indeed in capable hands. Sure, there are some inane moments in the film, but despite my misgivings with these moments and my misgivings with some of the choices Webb made, he handles emotional scenes and character work in a way that invests the audience in the proceedings. Further, he knows how to make the us smile: especially at the end, when he sends the viewers home with an image that is ICONIC, brilliant, fun, and, in the eyes of this Spidey aficionado, beautiful.
And to that, I can only say…
Lito is an LA-based aspiring actor, writer, producer, and musician who studied at both Juilliard and the Indiana University School of Music. Lito had a featured role in David Mamet's film RED BELT, and also served as one of the producers of critically-acclaimed and award-winning documentaries such as NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY, MORE BRAINS! A RETURN TO THE LIVING DEAD, and SCREAM: THE INSIDE STORY, which have been featured on A&E networks and in Entertainment Weekly. He lives in the Los Angeles area with his beautiful wife and is just trying to live the dream…all the while staying one step ahead of the supposed impending zombie apocalypse.