Writing about the first Spider-Man trilogy, I realised that, through a mix of child-like love, present-day love, and the quality of the first two instalments even after all of these years, I am completely committed to Sam Raimi’s version of Spider-Man.
Flaws and all. There is a timelessness to these movie,s due to the director being at the peak of his powers, as well as the special effects continually pushing the boundaries for what a blockbuster film was capable of. Even Spider-Man 3’s action scenes stand up better than anything the DCEU has produced in the last decade. The trilogy was consistently pushing superhero movies forward while defining what they could do. The Amazing Spider-Man, the 2012 reboot of the franchise, feels like the exact opposite. Despite a huge budget, a capable star in Andrew Garfield, and being nearly two and a half hours long, The Amazing Spider-Man shows off nothing but the limits of the genre.
You can blame two movies for this: Spider-Man 3 and Batman Begins. After the disaster of Raimi’s third Web-head movie, Spider-Man 4 was put into production. It was supposed to right the many wrongs of the previous movie but Raimi was never happy with the results and quit the series to direct Drag Me to Hell instead. He was right to do it. Sony is a studio who like money and all of a sudden they didn’t have a new movie starring their most profitable character. Enter Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, the movie that proved that audiences would respond to a new origin story for an already familiar character.
To me, there is nothing in The Amazing Spider-Man that rises above the extremely cynical. It did well financially, leading to the sequel that is far too unwieldy to get into here (next week, I promise), but it’s a movie that feels like it was made by a committee of suits who knew their iconography, but didn’t know a story from a hole in the ground. There is a common misconception as to why Batman Begins worked in the first place. It’s simple, a Batman movie never focused on Bruce Wayne’s transformation into Batman beyond the memory of his parents’ murder. Nolan had new ground to cover.
The Amazing Spider-Man tries it the Nolan way, stretching the pre-suit up moment for over an hour. It was achieved in a fleet-footed forty minutes in the Raimi movies and those forty minutes here packed with wonder, comedy, and some endearing silliness. The pre-Spidey hour and change in The Amazing Spider-Man is painful to watch. This version of Peter feels like when Tobey McGuire was infected by Venom. He’s a bit of a dick, a bit of a creep, and he is so socially awkward at times (the content of those times never come close to consistency so I can’t tell you why he’s like that except “girl hot, must stutter”) that the reason this movie is so long is that this dude can’t communicate. I don’t want to knock Andrew Garfield too much: I personally think he’s a terrific actor, but his Peter Parker is far too inconsistent a character to take seriously. As a deeply uncool person, I felt insulted by this attempt to co-opt my experiences in such a uselessly empty way.
With the main character a complete dud, The Amazing Spider-Man tries valiantly to put it’s own spin on the origin story. This leads to scenes like uncle Ben’s death that, instead of being the emotional core of the story, make me laugh a little bit. The whole set up is comical. What isn’t comical is that this movie fumbles the “power and responsibility” part of the story. Spider-Man’s core belief as a superhero is cannibalised so that it isn’t said in the movie, but is instead waffled out by Uncle Ben, in a way that, like his death, feels like the people making this movie are afraid that they’re going to get sued if it’s too close to Raimi’s version. This is The Simpsons parody The Shinnin of superhero movies. Oh, and lest I forget, what power and responsibility nonsense we get is actually attributed to Peter’s father. Like I said with Spider-Man 3, don’t fuck with Uncle Ben – his death is the signal for Peter to become a hero, not to go out and torture criminals. That should be set in stone.
The Amazing Spider-Man is an attempt to make its hero darker, a Nolanisation if you like. But that’s not Spider-Man, not to me. There is a scene in these movie that does encapsulate what I think Spider-Man should be, the bridge scene where Spider-Man saves the kid from the falling car. It’s a segment that is so good, that showcases what Andrew Garfield is capable of in this role, that it sticks out so badly in a movie that doesn’t deserve it, that glows with compassion and humanity. The other problem with the Nolan influence is that all the hero scenes are shot at night and I can barely see the hero of the movie unless I’m squinting extra-hard.
While no director makes a movie alone (I believe auteur theory was just a bunch of French filmmakers giving in to their own arrogance), they have the final say in everything. Unlike Sam Raimi take on the hero, I cannot commit myself to Marc Webb and Sony’s version of this character and his world. The Amazing Spider-Man is trying to bend over backwards by chasing the trends of its time. That’s why Peter looks like the hero in a Panic at the Disco video, that’s why there is the baffling choice of Coldplay’s sweet but jarring “Till Kingdom Come” when Peter is testing his new abilities. That’s why it looks like Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are ad-libbing their romantic scenes so badly that I’ve still no idea why they hook up except for the fact that they are both moviestar beautiful. Marc Webb gained fame and respect for his anti-rom com, 500 Days of Summer, a film that put the clingy, obsessive romantic male lead under the microscope. In The Amazing Spider-Man, this fucker is the hero.
I will be perfectly honest. I hate this movie even more than I thought possible. Maybe it was revisiting the Raimi movies before it, maybe that Amazing version of the character is made all the more forgettable by Tom Holland. What is clear is that The Amazing Spider-Man was supposed to fix the public perception of the character after Spider-Man 3. Its mistake was that it tried to do this by changing up the origin story, forgetting that that’s the part we all liked.
Also what kind of Spider-Man movie has the web-shooters and not have a bit where the webbing runs out in mid-air? That’s how the nineties cartoon cut to the adverts. Bad show, everyone.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via IndieWire)