Friday, July 6, 2012

The Amazing Spiderman

Alternate Title:  A film in which there are occurrences.

One sentence synopsis:    Peter Parker becomes Spiderman and fights the Lizard.

Things Havoc liked:  I'm not a hater. Stop laughing, damnit, I'm not. I'm not someone who actively looks for terrible movies to savage. My average review score in this little escapade is above five. The whole idea behind this ongoing series was to force myself to see new and different movies with the intention of enjoying myself. I know that it's fun to rip a bad movie apart, and to read the angry rants that accompany some cinematic disaster, but honestly, I don't do this because I hate. I do it because I like things.

I like Martin Sheen, for instance. I've liked him for thirty years (aberrations like Spawn aside). I like how he can play a character like Uncle Ben straight, avoiding most of the usual schmaltz that character usually embodies. I like that he can give a character advice without sounding like he's beginning the "designated advice scene". I like that when I watch him in a good movie I can enjoy his performance, and in a bad movie I can always reminisce about the West Wing.

I like Sally Field, despite the movies she's usually in being about as far from my tastes as possible. I find that I like her more recent work better than her older stuff, and I like that she plays Aunt May (an important character in the Spiderman mythos) with the right blend of motherly warmth and genre-savvy. The movie never actually comes out and says whether or not she knows that Peter Parker is Spiderman, but the hints are there to be seen. I like how most of her performance is implied rather than outright stated, and I like how she and Martin Sheen interact. They definitely seem like a couple that have been married for 37 years.

I like Denis Leary, even though he often picks bad movies to be in. I like his comedy and I like his TV work, and I honestly like him here, as Leary can portray a veteran New York Cop (or firefighter or whatever) effortlessly when he wants to. I like how his biting wit comes through even when operating under a PG-13 restriction, and I like that he gets the best lines in the movie ("Why don't you go talk to the mayor of Tokyo").

I even like some of the interesting touches the movie has regarding Peter's transformation into Spiderman. I like the panic he feels when he realizes that something is drastically wrong with him after being bitten by the genetically engineered spider. I like the mounting fear in the sequence where Peter, unable to control his suddenly-superhuman strength, begins breaking the appliances in his room, crushing doorknobs while trying to open them and shattering glass doors simply by closing them. I like the montage of him getting used to his capabilities, slowly pushing the boundaries of what this Spiderman stuff will let him do. I also like the progression he goes through as he hunts for Uncle Ben's slayer (this better not be a damned spoiler), taking on the attributes of Spiderman one at a time as he moves towards the figure we all know and love.

So please, stop accusing me of being a hater. I do not hate movies. I like movies. I like going to the movies. I like being told amazing and interesting stories through the medium of the movies. I like finding a movie that's a complete surprise, one that I had no idea existed, or one that I thought was going to suck. I like anticipating a great film, and going to see it only to find that my faith has been rewarded. I do this whole thing because I like liking movies.

Things Havoc disliked:   But sometimes I encounter a film like this. And all my protests are rendered weak and fruitless, as I have to sit here and tell you all the truth.

I hated this movie. I hated everything about this movie. This turgid, awkward, endless, brainless, soulless movie. This movie that took two and a half hours of my life and wasted nearly every second of them with tired, boring garbage that does not seem to have even held the director's attention. We live in a world where the studios have taken comic books and given us films like The Dark Knight, the Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and to turn around and try and pass a film like this off as acceptable is more than simply a slap in the face. If there is justice in the world, it will kill off any thoughts of resurrecting the Spiderman franchise, but no body count this film could engender would be enough to satisfy me.

You all have read my reviews. You know how forgiving I am with actors. Not here. Andrew Garfield might somehow (despite being 28 and playing a teenager) look like Peter Parker, but he is not Peter Parker. His attempts and pretending to be an awkward nerd look like a terrible caricature of high school nerds, stuttering whenever a girl approaches and wildly shifting in tone and emotion as though suffering from some kind of psychological disorder, all while blindly ignoring those around him in a narcissistic haze. I know teenagers are crazy, but Peter in this movie literally goes from mopey and sad to frustrated and angry to laughing and making jokes within the same goddamn scenes, utterly destroying whatever character credibility he had and coming across like a thin mockery of the archetypes at work. Peter Parker is a nerd, and if this is what the filmmakers believe nerds are like, then, as a nerd myself, I invite them all to kiss my nerd ass. Emo-Peter from Spiderman 3 was bad, but this performance is just insulting, and say whatever you will about Tobey MacGuire, he never managed to convince me that the filmmakers were trying to mock me through their performance.

Oh but Garfield isn't the only issue here. Emma Stone, whom I loved in both Zombieland and Easy A (and who, at 23, is more credible as a teenager than Garfield), here plays Gwen Stacy, about whom the only thing positive I can say is that at no point does Spiderman have to save her from the clutches of the evil villain. That cliche avoided, her character is left as a total non-entity. Yes, she's smart and beautiful etc etc, why does she like Peter Parker? If the film can neither answer that question nor give me a plausible reason to find on my own for it (which it does not), then I'm going to have trouble suspending my disbelief. More importantly, for all the screen time she's given, her character does nothing for the entire movie. Having decided not to use her as the typical screaming hostage, the writers clearly could not think of any other role that a female lead might serve, including her only because Gwen Stacy is in the comics and the love interest's presence is obligatory in movies like this.

And don't even get me started on Rhys Ifans' turn as the Lizard. It's well known that comic-action films like this often live and die by their villains. Consider Heath Ledger's Joker or Terence Stamp's General Zod, and then compare them to this dreary, CG-bloated excuse for a villain, and tell me what you think. Movies like this have great leeway with villains. They can be campy, serious, terrifying, noble, mad, driven, well-intentioned, monstrous, anything you want. But the one thing you cannot make a villain is boring, and oh boy did they ever pull that lever here. Conors' motivations are a total mess, going from hints of being a well-intentioned scientist to an abrupt and pointless about-face into the usual ranting monster-talk of how the world is full of weakness and everyone should die. Ifans' delivery is painfully stilted, growing worse as the movie goes on, and his appearance (entirely CG, of course) is generic to the point of ridicule. His first "appearance" is so anticlimactic that the movie glosses over it as though aware that it doesn't matter, and his motivations are so unclear that by the end of the movie I literally wasn't sure who he was and wasn't trying to kill anymore. Nor, must I admit, did I care.

And yet the problems with the Lizard are only the tip of the iceberg insofar as this movie is concerned, emblematic of what went wrong, and yet a tiny part of a larger whole. Every single thing about this movie is underwhelming, from the CG that looks eight years out of date, and laden with pointless first-person POV shots clearly designed to give the 3D audience something to look at, to the teeth-grinding pace of an already bloated 136 minute film (I could joke about how it felt like weeks, but I absolutely would have sworn that we had been in there for more than two and a half hours). Entire subplots are introduced, some elaborately, some almost perfunctorily, and then dropped as soon as the movie reaches another plotting beat, giving the unmistakable impression of a film produced by checklist. Fully half the run-time (more than an hour) goes by before we actually get to see Spiderman, and yet where I would applaud such restraint in a film that actually had something to tell me about the characters, here it feels like a shameless attempt to rip off Batman Begins without actually understanding what made that movie work.

And yet it's not really a lack of professionalism or understanding that dooms this film. I've seen lots of badly-made pieces of junk which were made earnestly but failed because of elementary film-making mistakes. That is not what happened here. What killed this movie is a lack of interest, a lack of passion, a lack of soul, to the point where I wonder if even the director had any interest in what was going on. Given the concept of Spiderman, and the freedom to invent a new take on the beloved story, the sheer poverty of imagination in this film is, for lack of a better word, gobsmacking. Not only is nothing new contributed to the story in this treatment, but the movie takes great pains to ensure that innovation is impossible within its framework. The entire third-act, a languid "crisis" involving the Lizard in an arbitrary plot to destroy New York, alternates between shot-for-shot ripoffs of Sam Raimi's version, pointless CG padding, laughably bad attempts at heroic pathos, monotonous "two men on a skyscraper" fights, and some of the most shameless 9/11-style working-class-hero flag-waving hoo-rah crap I've ever seen, and yes, I saw Spiderman 3. There are no stakes in this movie, no characters to identify with, no journey to accompany the hero on. It is a road leading nowhere which we are obligated to follow until it is over, hitting all of the contractually-obligated points of corporate-approved "story" along the way. There is no reason to care about anything that happens in the film, and as a result, unsurprisingly, we don't.

Final thoughts:  In my review of Real Steel, I quoted Alfred Hitchcock, who said that the soul of cinema lies between the shots. That movie and this one are a study in fascinating contrasts. Real Steel had tired villain stereotypes, a hopelessly pedestrian plot structure, thunderously unsubtle cinematography, and a script that was stolen wholesale from a Ryan O'Neal film. And yet Real Steel positively overflowed with charm, with love and care and blood and sweat and soul, resulting in a film that reduced me to tears at points (shut up). Every frame of that film was plainly someone's childhood dream brought to life, and the sheer wonder of the whole project swept all my objections aside.

There is no wonder in this movie. No earnest joy at the spectacle of amazement brought to the screen. There is no sense that the filmmakers wanted to tell a great tale or bring their secret imaginations to life. We have no sense of all the reason why Spiderman has been a beloved character of American pop culture for nearly fifty years, no hint of why he captured the imagination of so many children and former children. To paraphrase a fellow critic, this movie was not made to tell a tale or show a spectacle or even to make a lot of money. This movie was made because a committee sat down three years ago and arrived at a consensus farmed out to the scheduling directors that a Spiderman movie should probably be made sometime in the middle of 2012. This movie was made on autopilot, and has all the creative spark of a cereal box. It is a waste of time, a waste of money, and a waste of electricity. And if I never see or hear anything about it again, it will only be fitting. Indeed, I suspect it will be the response the filmmakers intended.

And now, to cleanse my mind, I present to you more creative effort than was utilized for the entirety of this movie:

Spiderman, Spiderman
Exceeding my attention span
Turns your brain to marzipan
I'd rather see Twilight again
LOOK OUT! Don't go see Spiderman!

Final Score:  3/10

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