Monday, July 2, 2012

Arachnid redundant

Coming to your friendly neighbourhood multiplex a mere five years after the termination of the successful Sam Raimi-helmed trilogy, this reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, while sporting a new star (Andrew Garfield), new origin story, new villain and new director (a guy named, I kid you not, Marc Webb), feels above all overwhelmingly unnecessary. It also feels about 136 minutes long—which it is. Yet again we get one of these superhero movies that feels obliged to include the protagonist’s origin story, the development of his social conscience, the introduction of a love interest, the introduction of a villain, the villain’s origin story, the villain’s plot to destroy New York/the US/the planet, and the villain’s undoing, all in one five-act mega-movie—the exact opposite of the experience of reading a fleet, diverting comic book. Though it has its moments of energy and excitement, The Amazing Spider-Man is ultimately an exhausting experience, one of diminishing returns, simultaneously over-stuffed with incident and far too compressed to satisfyingly resolve half of the narrative threads it spins.

The element that’s always struck me as novel about Spider-Man was the fact that before becoming a superhero Peter Parker was basically an ordinary, somewhat nerdy teenager, a character most comic readers could easily identify with. This Spider-Man, written by a trio of scenarists led by James Vanderbilt (whose wildly variable filmography includes Darkness Falls and Zodiac), divests Peter of any such quotidian roots. Peter’s background is indeed more Amazing: before he disappeared Peter’s dad (Campbell Scott) was involved is some secret project to splice various genes to “create a world without weakness.” By the time that Peter, a talented photographer and, we soon realize, a scientific genius, becomes a high school senior he discovers dad’s hidden files and tracks down Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), dad’s old partner, who just happens to be the mentor of Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone), the girl Peter’s in love with. Such Amazing coincidences abound: Gwen’s dad (Dennis Leary) just happens to be the Chief of Police, and, in a risibly contrived rehash of that already risible turning point in the Spider-Man legend, Peter’s Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) is accidentally killed by the very convenience store robber Peter failed to apprehend about 30 seconds earlier. (Vanderbilt and company refrain from regurgitating the “With great power…” line.) Peter discovers his superpowers after he sneaks into Connors’ high security laboratory (the words “BIOCABLE DEVELOPMENT UNIT” appear ominously beside the door) and gets bitten by that fateful radioactive arachnid.

Garfield’s fine so long as he refrains from excess emoting (see Never Let Me Go for a preview). Stone is a welcome presence, and not only because of her thigh-highlighting outfits. Neither looks much like a teenager, but we are in the realm of myth here. Not mythical enough however to forgive James Horner’s overbearing score or such silly, extraneous detours such as the bit where, despite the evacuation of Manhattan, city workers unite to help Spider-Man more easily access stuff to attach his webs to. Or to keep us from wondering why the Lizard (née Connors) decides to set up his laboratory in a sewer. Though, oddly enough, Spidey’s nemesis is finally the movie’s most sympathetic character, a sort of simplified version of Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. Connors’ ingestion of a super-serum gives him back his missing arm and grants him the strength of ten men, but in return makes him crazy, turns him into a lizard and takes away his penis. Talk about cold(-blooded) comforts.


Feminema said...

Well, this explains a lot. When I saw the preview I thought, why? And now I know that not even the director or screenwriters have the answer.

I did quite like Garfield in Red Riding 1973. One would hope that he's now made enough money with this that he can go back to interesting parts.

JB said...

I think the why needn't be explained beyond the $$$$$$ that will soon be appearing next to the film's name when the grosses hit. Which is, you know, fine if the artists charged with the task of bringing some integrity to this thing are inventive and rigorous. But there's a pretty even balance of problems with the concept and execution here, even if the result is reasonably entertaining (if only for the first half or so).

I remember liking Garfield in Red Riding too. I especially remember his excellent hair. Come to think of it I also retain fond memories of his hair in Never Let Me Go. Perhaps he is an especially expressive hair actor. I'm just beginning to become leery of his sniffing around for opportunities to flip out on screen.

Feminema said...

My memory of his hair from Red Riding was that it expressed even more clearly than his character did, "I am a cocky git." He does have such a very much lot of hair. I have a long and very much stalled piece of writing on hair in cinema -- a piece that I think about every once in a while when I see hair like Merida's in Brave or Michael Fassbender's in Prometheus. (And I'd previously thought of Fassbender's hair as unremarkable. I love being proved wrong.) I even wanted to write a long paragraph about how Brit Marling's hair in Sound of My Voice may have been the final straw that ultimately ruined the film for me, but I wasn't entirely sure my argument made enough sense.

Isn't it somehow reassuring that not all of these huge summer blockbusters are too big to fail, critically at least? I was surprised to find I enjoyed Avengers as much as I did, since going in it felt like such a craven attempt to squeeze more money out of viewing audiences. And I do so love hating a big summer blockbuster.

JB said...

Yes, you might have a higher tolerance for super hero movies than I do, so while I hope my thoughts on Spider-Man are useful they might not be a reliable way of predicting your own pleasure. (Especially for Emma Stone!)

Don't let go of that hair piece! Sounds to me like an excellent subject for your critical skills and wit. And be sure to make a note of Ellen Barkin's hair in the 1980s. Now that was one motherfucking mane!