Review/RANT – The Amazing Spider-Man: Where It Went Wrong (and Why You Probably Don’t Care)

For the record, I did not think that The Amazing Spider-Man was a terribly good movie.  I thought it had promise.  I was incredibly excited to see it based on the strength of the cast and the interesting choice for director.  I think that, with a little hard work, the inevitable sequel could be fantastic.  But, as a film by itself, The Amazing Spider-Man just flat-out didn’t work on a lot of fairly basic levels.

I’m open to people trying to argue the point.  In fact, a lot of critics and fans whose opinions I really respect seemed to enjoy the film quite a bit.  But I’m far from alone in leaving pretty dissatisfied, either, so I want to discuss a little bit about what worked, what didn’t, and what I hope to see from the sequel.

Part One: What Worked

Stone. Leary. Fields. Sheen. Sheen.

The cast – with one exception – worked extraordinarily well.  Emma Stone was just the right combination of witty, lively and vulnerable.  Sally Fields played the nervous but understanding aunt to a tee.  And Dennis Leary was surprisingly restrained as Captain Stacy, the police officer who first sought to capture Spider-Man before coming to an understanding with him.  These were all well-played roles that felt like honest takes on interesting human beings.

And Martin Sheen, oh, Martin Sheen.  That was as good as we can hope to see for Uncle Ben, really it is.  Uncle Ben is not an easy role to make interesting – like Aunt May, he’s the moral center of the Spider-Man universe, but unlike Aunt May, he’s dead before he can shade his character in much more than that.

And yet, Martin Sheen brought him to life.  Despite having a very small amount of time to play a fairly wide range of conflicting emotions, Sheen did a fantastic job humanizing Uncle Ben while keeping him firmly as Peter’s moral center.  The cast did a very good job, and I’m sad that two of the best parts of it – Sheen and Leary – won’t be able to come back for a sequel.

But they can make it work.  Though I think Captain Stacy and Uncle Ben were given the most interesting material in the movie, that doesn’t mean that Aunt May and Gwen can’t step it up in the inevitable sequel.  Emma Stone is one of the most engaging young actors working today – if they can’t find a way to give Gwen Stacy some better material next time around, I wouldn’t be surprised if she just reached out and took it.

Part Two: The Garfield Problem

Andrew Garfield is a solid actor.  He was excellent in The Social Network, and he did a legitimately good job with a lot of his individual scenes here.  He was charming, he was mean, he was hurt, he was… well, he was interesting to watch through most of the movie.

But he was not Peter Parker.

It blows my mind that the fandom that rejected Donald Glover – a genuinely hilarious guy who looks like a nerd and could pass for high school age – has seemingly embraced Andrew Garfield, who looks and acts like the coolest kid in school, has delicately coiffed hair, and is seemingly Midtown High’s biggest bully.  This is a bone-deep change to the very core of the character of Peter Parker, and one that doesn’t really sit very well with what Spider-Man is all about (responsibility, sacrifice, maturity).  It’s ‘cool’, but it’s also shallow.

Now, I fully believe that Garfield could do a good Parker, but everything about his design and writing was so far off that I doubt the greatest actors of all time could have done much to salvage the role as it was presented.  He wasn’t the nerdy kid who got picked on or the sensitive nice guy girls wouldn’t acknowledge – he was almost like the Venom-influenced version of Parker from Spider-Man 3 except without the sense of humor and with more sex appeal – he taunts Flash (who is actually a super nice guy in this film for no reason at all after his incredibly mean introduction) before actually stepping things up to physical violence, and the way he treats that carjacker (even ignoring the police sting he botches) is frankly inhuman, a scene that shows that this Peter Parker is not even remotely a decent person.

And he doesn’t get better.  He literally ends the movie breaking a fairly serious promise to a very good man who died saving him, putting that man’s daughter in mortal harm.  Think about how similar his actions throughout this film are to his actions in Spider-Man 3, except Spider-man 3 at least had the sense to show how ridiculous a ‘bad boy’ Peter Parker was with its amazing ’emo’ sequence.

What’s more, it doesn’t really give him a lot to do.  If Peter Parker was already standing up to Flash without powers, giving him powers doesn’t change anything.  If Peter Parker was already getting the girl without powers, it gives him nowhere to go, dramatically.  Garfield’s Peter Parker, through no fault of his own, is given no arc.

Part Three: What Conflict Thing?

I’m not going to go into too much depth about how hacked-up this film is in the editing room – it’s been covered in much more detail elsewhere.  So, no, I’m not going to talk with much depth about Mr. Ratha, a villain who completely disappeared and, we can only presume, has successfully poisoned dozens of veterans as he was planning to do.  Or about the search for Uncle Ben’s killer, which took up a huge amount of the film (to give it the illusion of a plot that didn’t actually exist) and then promptly vanished.  Or about the Lizard’s frankly nonexistent motives. Or about the Lizard SWAT Team that was created and then promptly ignored.  Or about the somewhat bipolar reaction Peter has to his parents’ death/disappearance.

No, I’m going to talk about conflict, which is something almost every story needs and this story in particular largely lacks.

Let’s look at the romance.  Peter Parker – an outcast, a nerd, a guy who doesn’t have any friends and doesn’t particularly want any.  Gwen Stacy – a well-off, incredibly smart, seemingly popular, gorgeous young woman.  The story of their romance goes like this: Gwen and Peter meet, they like each other immediately, they start tentatively dating.

On the one hand, that’s realistic – Garfield is giving off some serious James Dean vibes with his Peter Parker, playing him as a sexy, damaged-but-vulnerable young outcast who just needs the right woman to fix him, and that’s a type young women have been drawn to for a loooooong time.  And they’re in high school, so it’s not like this is necessarily a serious relationship.

On the other hand, it’s also incredibly boring to watch.  It is, as Film Crit Hulk put it, equivalent to “watching beautiful people flirt.”  They don’t really like each other for any reason we can see on the screen (other than that they are attractive), so everything about them feels hollow. Witty, yes. Charming, sure. But emotional? Memorable? Honest? Not a chance.

And the dedication to avoiding conflict, to eliding the difficult scenes that take us from Point A to Point B, extends throughout the film.  How does the Lizard discover that Peter Parker is Spider-Man?  Peter conveniently left his name on the camera he left at the Lizard’s lair!  Rather than crafting a character-centric way of having the brilliant scientist deduce Parker’s identity, Peter just tells him.  How does Peter know what the Lizard’s master plan was?  He saw the first X-Men movie The Lizard left a video detailing his plan looping conveniently on his computer, cheesy graphics included.  How did the Lizard get a high tech lair set up in the sewer so quickly?  What happened to the cannibalistic lizard-mouse?  Ben’s killer? Why was there already an antidote to a formula that hadn’t existed until literally minutes before? Who knows!  Certainly not anyone who watched this film.

It’s lazy storytelling that prizes spectacle over depth.  Just like with the Parker/Stacy romance, it’s all surface, a rush to get to the ‘cool’ parts of the film without having to deal with the messy human stuff.  But the messy human stuff is where the characters live!  It’s that last-minute, brilliant idea from Peter when he pulls together little things he’s heard from the Lizard and clues he’s found to deduce his master plan, rather than coming across a powerpoint slide containing it.  It’s that chilling sequence where the Lizard tracks Spider-Man back to his home through guile and cunning, building tension and showing us that the Lizard is an enemy to be feared.  It’s the moment where Peter lets a enough of his (nonexistent in this film) Spider-Man wit through and charms a previously disinterested Gwen Stacy, or where they bond over a shared interest, or where they do ANYTHING except ‘be pretty together’.

This is where story comes from!  These are the little moments that we should be able to build together into a coherent picture of the characters and the big moments that we should be able to build together into a coherent plot.  But those moments aren’t there.  The conflicts between characters, the ones that build plots… they just don’t really exist.  And that’s a pretty huge problem.

Part Four: And Why You Probably Don’t Care

Be honest: did you tear up a little during the crane sequence at the end of the film?  Nevermind the fact that it made no sense whatsoever.  Nevermind how emotionally manipulative it was, especially when you think back on it.  I’d  be willing to bet that, for most of you, it worked.

Did you smile a little when Peter made his first tentative steps towards reuniting with Gwen at the very end?  Again, ignore the fact that this is a huge douchebag move, with our ‘hero’ breaking his promise to a man who sacrificed his career and his life to save him so that he could score with the hot blonde.  Ignore how shitty Peter is acting, and how he only decided to let Gwen back in his life after he abandoned her through the death of her father, the wake, the funeral, etc….  Caught up in the emotion of the moment, I bet you grinned right alongside Peter, there.  Because, again, the moment worked.

The movie has none of the internal consistency, storytelling, or genuine emotion of the Raimi films, but it also doesn’t have Raimi’s sense of camp.  Fans were angry at Raimi because he didn’t treat their material with the reverence they felt it deserved – and so we have Webb’s take, which doesn’t make a lick of sense from the plot or character perspectives but which tries to ground the film in the angst Spider-Man fans crave for their hero, succeeds, and wins them over.

And there’s nothing wrong with that!  Though as a writer I’m bothered by a sloppily-constructed narrative and as a movie fan I’m bothered by a sloppily-constructed film, I fully recognize that a lot of people don’t go see a movie in the theater every week, or have a personal library so big it may require me to get a two-bedroom apartment in the near future.  Everyone likes some things with fairly severe design-flaws, because films can touch us all in fairly personal ways.

So, I’m not really trying to change your mind with this rant.  If you like it, you like it.  But I think even the most ardent fans can admit the film had some pretty glaring problems, and that the sequel can and should be better, because you should never settle for ‘just okay’ when it comes to your choice of entertainment. And even if you loved it… why wouldn’t you want to love the next one even more?

Part Five: What Comes Next

So, I’ve talked a lot about the problems I had with the movie.  But that’s kind of negative.  So I wanted to end by giving some thoughts on what I’d like to see from the sequel.

First, the dropped plots. That shit can’t continue.  It’s legitimately terrible storytelling on every level.   It angers people who do notice and frustrates people who don’t.  And it’s unforgivably lazy.

Second, Webb needs to find a way to ground the action story in the emotional one.  One of the biggest failings of The Amazing Spider-Man by my mind was that the emotional story (Peter dealing with Uncle Ben’s death) and the action story (Peter fighting the Lizard) were completely disconnected, which made the movie feel disjointed and awkward.  The villain had nothing to do with Peter’s emotional journey – he would have, if they had kept the plot about Peter’s parents… but they didn’t – and the fights illustrated nothing that Peter learned or struggled to achieve.  There’s no depth to this film, no subtext.

Most importantly: Peter Parker needs to grow.  My absolute biggest problem with The Amazing Spider-Man was that Peter started off being an adolescent dick, and ended the film being an adolescent dick, and spent the bulk of the middle being an adolescent dick.  He needs to learn something.  He needs to move forward.  And we need to see that on the screen, not hypothesize about it later.

I think this team has a decent Spider-Man movie in them.  If they relax on the self-seriousness a little and commit themselves to telling a good superhero story rather than trying to tell a story and then tacking superhero bits on, I think there is some potential there.

I’m sure I’ll get a fair amount of disagreement here.  Keep it civil, keep it respectful, and let me know what you thought of the movie!

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24 thoughts on “Review/RANT – The Amazing Spider-Man: Where It Went Wrong (and Why You Probably Don’t Care)

  1. The Amazing Spider-Man was awesome! And, as a reader of the comics, believe that he portrayed Peter Parker perfectly! I was emotionally touched by the movie, from the sadness of Ben’s and Captain Stacy’s deaths to the awesome crane scene which showed how much the people of New York believed in Spidey and what they were willing to do to help him. And, as a writer, I found that the plot made a lot of sense and was realistic about it. The story was perfectly paced and left plot sequences for sequels, such as tracking down Ben’s killer (Really dude? Did you think finding one man in NEW YORK CITY was going to be easy?) to Peter’s parents and Oscorp. And this Peter Parker is still young and inexperienced! He’s going to make mistakes and wrong choices, which will probably lead us to Gwen’s death at the hands of the Green Goblin which will start to make Peter grow up! And that scene with the carjacker was where Peter was still in his crusade against Ben’s killer stage, before he came to realize there was more he could do with his powers, what responsibility he had to the people. Try reading the comics! I swear! Your review has stirred up some dark emotions in me! And the time frame of the movie was probably weeks at most, so not much time to go through a total change in growing up! That takes months and years, good and bad experiences, successes and failures! You need to consider these things when reviewing Spider-Man!

    • Thanks for reading, Eric, and sorry I upset you!

      I totally get that this is a young, inexperienced Peter Parker, and for the first half of the movie, that (kind of) worked – making him a bully has nothing to do with his youth or inexperience, though, that’s a character trait that was made up here and that REALLY doesn’t sit well with me – but, and here’s the thing, that’s not how stories work.

      And note, I did not say Peter Parker had to go from callow youth to responsible man in a single film, but he doesn’t even go from callow youth to less-callow youth – his final act in the movie is breaking two promises he made to men who died because of his selfishness, and we are asked to sympathize with that decision. He gives no indication that he is a redeemable human being. Even Flash has a bigger narrative arc in the film – he’s a huge bully, but when he hears that Peter’s uncle died, he realizes that Peter is human too, and starts to treat him with a modicum of respect. With 2-3 minutes of total screentime and no background, Flash learns more in the weeks we see on the screen than Peter does.

      If you think you want stories NOT to have that narrative push, not to have character arcs, try watching some extreme mumblecore films (this was almost a mumblecore film with superheroics tacked on in post-production) or really out-there art films like Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle. Trust me when I say that narrative momentum and character arcs are crucial to having an engaging story.

      But you know that, because you argue that he will slowly become more mature over the next few films. You have no evidence of that from this film – you merely say it because you know that’s how narratives work traditionally. You’ve probably seen a lot of movies before, so you instinctively understand that already.

      So what you are arguing is that we have, in effect, only seen a part of the story, and thus cannot judge anything yet. But that’s inherently flawed – The Amazing Spider-Man was written as a single film, shot as a single film, marketed as a single film and presented as a single film. Yes, there will be sequels – if Sony isn’t actively pursuing a Spider-Man film with some regularity, the rights revert back to Marvel – but they will be different films, possibly/probably with different creative personnel. And if the writers and director got away with being lazy for this film, what motivation do they have to make a better film next time?

      No, you have to judge the movie as a movie. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy didn’t make boatloads of cash because it was wholly satisfying as a trilogy, but because each individual film was in itself wholly satisfying, and it happened to come together very well overall, too. Nolan didn’t leave major bits of character development

      I have read the comics – I’m a big, big fan of Ultimate Spider-Man (if you go back and look, my Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2011 had Ultimate Spider-Man: The Death of Spider-man in it) and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane – but that doesn’t mean I can forgive a lackluster narrative for the film just because I enjoy the comics. I understand Peter Parker’s journey, but this film did not.

      Sorry it took so long to reply. I wanted to make sure I had the time to write as thoughtful a reply as you did. Thanks again for reading!

      • I guess all we can do is disagree on certain parts and wait to see what they’re planning. Also, if you think about it, Aunt May kind of pushed Peter into deciding to break his promise even though she knew nothing about it. I guess his aunt’s words (combined with his own emotions) were more powerful than his promise to Captain Stacy. I just believe that the breaking of the promise will help when(if) they decide to kill Gwen, because Peter was warned about it but he still let it happens. That will help in his growing up. I know you think differently, but this is just what I think.

      • Oh, I actually agree with you – if they stick to the comics and Gwen dies, her death will be a very moving scene. Whether or not Peter will learn anything from it, well, he didn’t when Uncle Ben died and he didn’t when Captain Stacy died, so who can say… but it will still be a powerful scene.

        But that doesn’t make THIS movie any better. In fact, it actively harms the narrative in a way it wouldn’t if their eventual reunion were pushed back to the second film. Here, Peter breaks his promise almost immediately – there’s no weight to it, and no sense that Peter even gives a crap that Captain Stacy is dead, and this promise needed weight for it to have the proper effect.

        But imagine if the film ended with them separated, Peter bemoaning what he did – that would be a more powerful ending, and more in line with traditional Spider-Man stories. He could come back to Gwen next film, with a legitimate excuse – perhaps OsCorp has modified Doctor Connors formula and created some sort of monster – and Peter brings Gwen on so she can help make a new antidote. But it slowly comes out that Peter himself was capable of this, he just wanted an excuse to have her back in his life, and this was the one that let him do it guilt free. They slowly begin to get comfortable together again, but, BAM! Gwen gets killed.

        That’s a stronger narrative that gives both Peter AND Gwen agency in the story, gives each film a clear arc, and lets Peter actually learn something.

        As it is… why does Gwen immediately get excited that Peter is back? After all, it’s his fault her dad is dead, AND he skipped the funeral. He skips the funeral that’s his fault, then blatantly says that, now that the emotionally tough part is over, he’s willing to take her back? That’s downright… jeez, that’s either unbelievably cruel and controlling or hilariously immature and cowardly. Which, of course, is why it’s a problem.

      • Sigh. I have another response but I won’t bother. We won’t convince each other on the matter. You think what happened doesn’t work while I think it’s perfect. We’re just two very different people who like the same thing but have different perspectives on it. One of us may be right or we both might even be wrong or both of us could even be right. If we were given a topic and told to write a story on it they would be the same and completely different at the same time. Our ideas are just too conflicting and have chosen our own paths. We’ve both voiced our opinions; now we just have to keep following them.

  2. I agree with a lot of your points, Cal … especially about plot holes and the overall weakness of the Lizard plot (an inference from the fact you praised Sheen as Ben and noted the disconnect between it and the Lizard storyline). The only positive I could see in the Lizard storyline was that it conceivably sets up many of Spidey’s other animal-esque villains and gives him the “it’s my fault” motivation. Mind you, I’m not sure I want to see Rhino, Scorpion, etc as primary villains (fine as henchmen, though).

    I thought Gwen was a great character and very well performed by Stone – it made me think back very uncharitably about Dunst’s MJ.

    Perhaps the part I enjoyed the least was the start, just because rehashing the origin was dull and awkward. They obviously wanted to differentiate it, but in doing so it felt like a crappy imitation. Uncle Ben needs to say “With great power comes great responsibility”, but he has to say it in a different way that just came off as a bit weird. I would have preferred a softer reboot approach, with a short origin recap. The Incredible Hulk had its flaws, but I thought it did the origin recap pretty well.

    Besides Gwen, some of the other things I liked was the use of webs, the rescue of the young boy and a decent foundation – I hope – for sequels (I think they should pursue a four or five movie arc … especially because I don’t want to see another Spidey reboot until my three-year-old son is old enough to drive).

    All in all, I enjoyed the film, but it had some serious issues.

    • Yeah, I was rather upset at the lack of the actual “With great power comes great responsibility” quote. I know they wanted to change things up from the 2002 Spider-Man film, but changing that bit was almost like a kick in the nuts! I mean its like the driving point of why Spider-Man does what he does! It even shows up in New Avengers when Spidey becomes the teacher of Hope Summers!

      • They used the one from the Ultimate Universe. Peter’s dad’s philosophy about great responsibility.

  3. Pretty sure its Dr. Ratha, not Mr. His sudden vanish I think was actually the worst bit of the missing plotlines. Peter at least got something else to do than trying to hunt only for Uncle Ben’s killer midway in the film. The Lizard Swat team… well they vanished almost as quickly as they showed. Woulda been neat to see a bit with them, but I’m not sweating that one. The lizard lack of motif was a bit annoying, they sorta though get it set up as the serum messes with the brain (and it ends up a lot like the Goblin in the 2002 Spiderman’s in terms of motif). So while I wish that one was better, they somewhat handle it. So yeah, Dr. Ratha’s sudden vanishing is the most annoying to me.

    Maybe it was a cop out to do it this way, but they expand a bit more on the relationship in the 2 part comic tie in. The comic tie in also helps to show why Gwen is dealing with Flash in the first place and that while definitely not a nerd, though not necessarily the most popular in school. In terms of them getting back at the end though, I’m with you that it seemed… quick. I mean they had that big emotional bit after the funeral showing why he wasn’t beside her there, and suddenly though he decides to take her back in and she’s just fine with it? I wouldn’t mind them getting back together, but it could’ve been better done. Maybe part of the freaking plot point of movie 2, or a reason to sneak in Mary Jane or another love interest into movie 2…

    I think you at least partially get what somewhat bothered me on Peter at least though that I didn’t quite see myself. Garfield never did quite come off to me as Peter Parker. He never really came off too nerdy to me in the film, while that is one of the bigger spots Tobey shined. He worked for me as Spidey for he got a bit more of a mouth I thought in the costume, and I mostly ended giving Tobey a win more so for he got I thought a few more lippy lines and the effects were better which allowed to give him a bit better feel of Spider-Man’s movements.

    As I put in my own review, well I enjoyed the film, but was never “completely blown away.” While some parts I knew why, I think you at least helped point out bits I noticed, but never really quite saw at the same time as to why it never quite blew me away.

    Oh, and did you notice that they managed to sneak in an American flag? I believe it was “That Guy With Glasses” who ranted about all the American flags they put into the first trilogy of Spider-Man films and how it was over done.

  4. My thoughts (especially after my second viewing on Tuesday) is while Garfield didn’t feel like the classic Peter we’re use to, or even as nerdy as Tobey’s version (which was far closer to the more nerdy version I think), well Garfield’s was kind of a remaking. Its Peter Parker updated a bit for the 21st century.

    • See, I think Ultimate Peter Parker is Peter Parker updated for the 21st century. Honestly, The Amazing Spider-Man (and especially this version of Peter Parker) seemed to be hardcore trying to cash in on Twilight money. Visually, casting, even the lack of conflict – it’s all EXTREMELY reminiscent of the Twilight films.

      Which is fine. I don’t really hate on the Twilight films or their fans. But this felt like the male version of Twilight to me.

    • I admit there was a moment that his hair style made me think of the Twilight films and how Ed’s hair was done up in those films. I also noticed (despite my lack of knowledge, as noted by someone pointing out they took more an Ultimate quote for Ben than the typical ‘great power…’) this film seemed to take a Marvel movie approach by making it its own, while also combining elements of 616 and Ultimate in with it.

      I also linked this in “Geek Orthodox Church” on facebook as someone posted my review, and I figured you at least point out some reasons why the film never blew me away. I’ve gotten one response that I figured I’d quote…

      “This guy forgot he was watching a comic book movie, it seems. No one will every be the perfect Peter Parker, because he is a personal experience as a reader. Has ANY superhero truly been done right? If they drop all the plot points, yeah there were some problems, but there are another 2 movies to go, so it’s tough to say they were dropped, but on the other hand a giant lizard man interrupted his search for killer, which the police can’t even find, so dropping it makes sense. Then he learns about his father’s mysterious death–how would that NOT sideline you? The author seems for forget that we are all emotionally immature as kids. Breaking the promise? Please. Every person knows forbidding someone to not date another draws them together like magnets–and the father of Gwen knew that. I did hate the crane scene, though.”

    • First off, yeah, plenty of comic book movies have done some great casting. RDJ as Tony Stark? Perfect. Ruffalo did a fantastic Banner. In fact, most of the Avengers film is impeccably cast. Same with The Dark Knight – Ledger as Joker, Eckhart as Dent, Caine as Alfred, Oldman as Gordon, all fantastic casting. And you know what, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Cera and the rest of Scott Pilgrim were similarly fantastic in their roles. They all did jobs that I really can’t find much fault with as a comics fan or as a fan of good acting in film. Garfield did not.

      Also, I’ve already dealt with the other part of the person’s response: namely, that he is willfully misunderstanding the way film works to forgive a movie simply because he likes Spider-Man and wants to like the movie. You CANNOT just say, “Oh, well, I’m sure they’ll take care of that in the sequel.” It forgives bad writing, in fact, it encourages bad writing. It encourages bad direction and it encourages bad acting.

      I’ve already dealt with the fairly inane claim that “Peter’s young so who cares?”, because, again, that’s not how fiction works. And no, we haven’t seen “one third of the Spider-Man saga” because maybe there will be only two movies or maybe there will be four – we don’t know and neither does anyone involved with this film, including the writers. We are seeing the complete “The Amazing Spider-Man” and absolutely nothing else, and to claim otherwise is purposely misleading.

  5. I will always hold it against a film when it fails as a stand-alone viewing experience, because that is a huge sign of a terrible film. It’s a waste of my money, it’s a waste of my time, and it’s offensive to all the writers and directors out there who could tell five times as much story in half as much time for a quarter of the money.

    X-Men: First Class worked as a stand-alone viewing experience. So did The Dark Knight. And the Avengers. And all the films building up to the Avengers. And Spider-Man 2. And… well, every other really legitimately excellent film in all these ‘superhero epics’.

  6. Some really interesting observations. Many I would agree with. Others, not so much.
    As one who read those early Ditko Spider-man books in the early Sixties [The only REAL Spidey stories, IMHO] let me just say…
    I didn’t really feel Sally Field as Aunt May. Excellent actress, good performance, but not the May Parker I know.
    I liked Garfield’s take on Parker. The fact that he could assert himself in that poor lower classman’s behalf [and at the risk of getting his butt kicked] even before the powers showed up was a plus. And his temporarily becoming a dick right after is certainly in keeping with the origin story. The point is, the powers are not what make the character who he is. And Peter’s potential, good and bad, was there from the start.
    I agree about the editing flaws. The resolution of the Ratha subplot was sketchy, though I was pretty sure he was dead at the Lizard’s hand. [Weren’t those vials that Lizard used to transform the cops the same ones Ratha was taking to the VA hospital?]
    The dropping of the “Uncle Ben’s killer” plot may be sloppy plotting/editing but I’m not so sure. In the origin story Spidey catches the thug but that is not the real point of the story. The point is that he finds out that he could have prevented his Uncle’s death had he been less selfish. Movie Spidey makes this discovery when he connects the killer’s star tattoo from the news report with his memory of the convenience store robbery. Mission accomplished.
    The subsequent vigilante montage then serves several purposes:
    It shows us the Spidey that could have been [more like Batman, it seems].
    It gives us a chance to see Spidey develop and use his powers. [This is kind of important really as he spends the rest of the movie being continuously out-classed in the power department by Lizard]
    It sets up the real “creation” of Spider-man. When Captain Stacy explains to Peter the difference between revenge seeking and responsible use of power, Peter ‘s response to this [as shown by abandoning the chase of the Lizard to save the child] marks the true climax of the evolution of Peter Parker to Spider-man.
    Ergo, the actual capture of the thug is rendered a moot point. Perhaps not cinematically satisfying but an oddly realistic twist on the plot.
    Again, this is not to take anything away from your excellent analysis. Just putting some thoughts up there.
    Finally, I have to end by saying that I found it much easier to suspend my disbelief about a spider bite or lizard DNA-based serum turning someone super than I could about a dozen or more construction cranes being equally and conveniently placed along a three mile stretch of Broadway in New York City.
    Now, THAT was a little much.

    • The problem with the ‘realistic’ plot point goes to the way stories are constructed. See, no one actually wants real, genuine realism in their stories. It’s boring. Human beings are wired for narratives, and we generally have to massage real life a bit to work out narratives.

      This movie, however, condenses a few weeks worth of time into 2 hours. That means that the filmmakers have to decide what should be in and what needs to be cut. What events of those two weeks are worth telling? Why are they included in the film? You have to admit, at two hours and sixteen minutes, this was not a short film. Spider-Man finding the person, then choosing not to kill him is dramatically sensible; Spider-Man learning from the dramatic events of the film that it isn’t worth tracking him down is also dramatically appropriate (this, by the way, is what would have likely happened if they’d tied the Lizard plot into this plot AT ALL – if the Lizard is motivated by vengeance and it destroys his life, Peter learns the devastating effects revenge can have first-hand).

      As is, however, the plotline just… peters out. On top of the story portraying Peter as not intelligent enough to find the man, we’re supposed to believe that a single 2-4 minute long conversation with a man he’s never met before is enough to dissuade him from vengeance? That’s all it took? A stern talking-to from the first handy adult?

      That’s not realistic AT ALL! Have you ever been seriously wronged? Did you harbor those feelings for weeks and weeks… and then just stop as soon as someone suggested you should? That’s just… not how human emotion works. It’s also insanely reductive to Peter’s struggle.

      What’s more, it turns what could be an internally dramatic moment – Peter realizing he wants to do the right thing or Peter realizing the destructive nature of revenge – into a child getting lectured by an adult, briefly, and that changing the child’s worldview.

      It’s a small point, but it’s just a symptom of a film that doesn’t understand how to tell a story. There are SO many dropped plots and questionable motives, it feels like the script was written by a robot who has heard of people, like, in the myths of his people, but never encountered one before.

  7. Fully agree with all of your points, Cal, with a couple of small exceptions.

    Did I tear up during the crane scene? No, I burst out laughing, and not good laughter. More like disgusted laughter as the full weight of what I just spent my money on came over me.

    Did Peter’s revelation to Gwen at the end make me smile? No, it made me want to punch him in the face.

    I’m not normally picky about movies. I can find something to enjoy in just about any film I watch. Not this one.

    No part of this film worked on me. In terms of basic storytelling, every part of this movie failed for me.

    The opening was purposeless, serving mostly as an introduction to Mr. Parker’s briefcase/plot device. It dangles the idea that Peter’s parents will be important, but nope, you have to see the sequel for that. Basic guideline of story telling, answer the question you open with. Screw your sequel bait.

    There is no rising action. The characters move listlessly through the first hour of the film, carrying out whatever action is necessary to drive the meager plot forward. Peter suddenly wants to learn about his parents, which clumsily leads him to Connors and Oscorp, where he conveniently has free reign to wander into rooms containing multi-billion dollar genetics experiments and products.

    The treatment of the bite and Peter gaining his powers felt bland. He’s discovered he has superpowers, but it feels more like he just discovered he didn’t need glasses to see clearly anymore. I half expected him to just shrug and say “cool.”

    Peter acts like a selfish jerk toward his aunt and uncle, and as a result, his uncle is killed. Peter goes on the standard search for revenge until the writers decided they had enough of that plot. (In no way do I think Peter’s argument with Captain Stacy explains Peter seeing the error of his ways. Five minutes later he’s up the roof revealing his secret to Gwen in a desperate bid for approval. Yes, that’s what I got out of that scene, and that’s why I don’t buy the “Captain Stacy talked sense into him” explanation. I see no evidence of that.)

    Thanks to Peter’s equation, Connors creates his limb regrowing formula (seriously, that’s not on par with what lizards do. A tail is nothing like an arm) and turns not only into a lizard man but a megalomaniac, because the movie needed a villain.

    Out of necessity, the movie limps its way toward the climax. A mutant Lizard is rampaging the city with biological weapons, but Stacy is hellbent on catching one vigilante, because the script demands he and Peter talk things out and settle their differences so they can fight Connors together.

    Peter is shot, which is apparently a major inconvenience, until the script decides it can be a minor one. A bunch of crane operators who apparently have nothing better to do decide to help out some guy who calls them up out of the blue while the city is under attack and says “turn your cranes out. Spiderman needs help.” Was that guy the chief of all New York City crane operators? Did none of those men have families they wanted to be with during such a chaotic time?

    The climax falls flat because Connors’ motivation feels forced. These are not fleshed out characters but archetypes of good and evil. The selfless hero and the soulless villain. I don’t care about either one of them, because they are constructs rather than real characters.

    Peter wins, because what else could possibly happen. Connors returns to normal, not only physically, but his personality is apparently cured as well. Stacy, showing why he’s the best character in this scene, acknowledges that the city needs Spiderman, but Gwen deserves to be safe. Peter promises to break up with her, because the last part of the movie needed a bit of angst.

    The falling action really has no where to fall to at this point. it’s pretty much been plateauing since the opening. Peter broods, breaks things off with Gwen, who conveniently knows why he did it (she pulls that conclusion right out of her posterior, and frankly, I felt it killed the little tension created in the scene) Not that it matters, because after Peter gets bored brooding, he decides keeping promises is for losers without kickass superpowers.

    The movie ends right about where it started. Peter started out as a moody teenager, and he ends as a moody teenager. He just has superpowers now, and apparently a huge chip on his shoulder. My hero.

    Thinking about it now, maybe Peter did change over the course of the movie. For the worse.

    Nothing about this movie resonated with me. It all felt forced, bland, and just plain not Spiderman. At least, not the Spiderman I loved from the comics. I was excited for this movie. I liked the Raimi movies, but I was looking forward to a more serious take on Spiderman. I went into the theater ready to forgive this movie many flaws. Sadly, for me at least, there were too many to forgive.

    Just my two cents. Feel free to argue any points with me, but I have a strong feeling any debate on this movie will boil down to “What movie were you watching?” Clearly, this was a polarizing production.

    • Hey, I won’t argue with you – I actually agree with many of your points, though I didn’t have QUITE as negative a reaction as you did. The reactions to the crane sequence and Peter breaking his promise came from friends with whom I saw the film, and, unfortunately, many of them enjoyed themselves.

      This will probably be a VERY polarizing film… for about two months, when it completely exits the public consciousness. Unlike the Raimi films (which had huge problems, yes, but lack of heart and coherence weren’t among them), unless the sequel to this is one of the best superhero movies ever, I suspect this will quickly disappear down the memory hole. There’s nothing to hold on to, no meat to the film. It’s all market-tested ‘cool’ – and it doesn’t even do a great job at being that.

      But I do stand by liking most of the cast.

  8. When I came out, I was so taken in by its shallow charm that I didn’t stop to question many of the finer points you’ve touched upon in this article. I still think it’s a legitimately good film, but you’ve opened my eyes. Congratulations sir, you have a new subscriber.

    • Thanks for reading! As I say above, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the movie, and it is not without its charms – all I want to do is get people to think a little more about what they saw, what it means, and what they’re looking for in a movie in the future, which is why my favorite part is hearing what people have to say in the comments.

      So again, thanks!

  9. Pingback: Spider-Man match up! Tobey/Andrew comparison | xxadverbxx

  10. why doesn’t the antidote work on peter parker at the end of the movie? he clearly keeps his powers yet Dr connor loses most of his? i like the movie till that part! but the ending is pretty bad anyone has an explanation?

    • Been a bit of time since I saw it, but it probably is due to the fact that their powers were different. While it could be similar things that gave Peter and Connors their powers, the difference between it being a spider and lizard could be why the antidote doesn’t change Peter back to “normal”.

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