This is pretty close to my feeling after my first viewing. Full review/re-write to come.
In this extended analysis, I’m going to look at several things that are keeping The Amazing Spider-Man from really blowing us away, and how I would’ve fixed it.
I really wanted to love The Amazing Spider-Man. Many people complained that it was too soon to reboot the franchise as the original came out only ten years ago, etc., etc., but I – being a lover of all super heroes and Spider-Man in particular – was firm in my belief that if a reboot had a new, interesting spin to bring to the character and could deliver a great Spidey story that the Sam Raimi films couldn’t, why did we have to arbitrarily wait longer for a good show? Did TASM deliver on those fronts? Did it justify the rapid reboot? Well, yes and no. At the risk of engendering the ire of Film Crit Hulk*, I feel like this movie had problems with it’s ‘second act.’ Let’s examine what TASM brings to the Spider-Man legend, and also what it needed to change, story-wise, to justify the sudden reboot.
Marc Webb’s reboot of Spider-Man definitely explores some new angles to the character; the mystery about his father’s work, his parents’ death, and what’s going on at OsCorp is instantly intriguing. In addition, you’ve got an understandably broody Peter Parker, who shows the wear-and-tear of having his parents leave and then die as a child, then growing up as an outcast. That, connected to the ‘who am I?’ theme, is a great new interpretation of Spider-Man.
Andrew Garfield really pulled off a lovable Peter Parker, despite – or perhaps because of – spending so much screen-time fumbling for words. As Spider-Man, he does great as a new, uncertain super hero, except when he’s an obnoxious, wise-cracking super hero. Unfortunately, that latter end is kind of unacceptable for Spider-Man; he has to be funny, not obnoxious. When Peter was wracked with emotion, though, Garfield delivered a visceral, satisfying performance. As high school student Parker, Garfield gets lots of hesitant, awkward glory, especially when combined with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy.
Stone’s Gwen was bright, assertive, and beautiful. Their chemistry was positively tangible, thanks both to their talent and Marc Webb’s directing chops, but I still felt like their relationship lacked depth. Yes, she kind of sticks up for/befriends him at the beginning and he likes to show off the super powers for her, but I don’t know what they find interesting about each other, besides Gwen’s eyes and Peter’s smile. I feel like they only got together because the writers knew they were supposed to. Not that real life high school relationships don’t form based purely on physical attraction sometimes, but those are dumb; I mean, sure, every guy in the audience would’ve loved to make out with Emma Stone, but that’s not engaging enough for a real story.
It’s not like there’s a lack of opportunities for them to spend time together and, y’know, actually talk to each other, either; they’re both brilliant high school scientists, and they clearly think the other is cute, they just needed to show a scene or two of them working together/flirting in science class before they jump to dating each other. These are two talented actors and a great director, this should have been the best super hero relationship yet, but for all the charm of the scenes they have, the script needed another scene or two between “awkward classmates” and “boyfriend-girlfriend” to really bring the audience all the way in. You’re not engaging the audience, not making us care about the story, with “They kind of know each other, and then they start going out, and they’re adorably awkward about it until the important stuff happens in the last 20 minutes.” I am paying you, you can do better.
Leaving aside the two leads, the supporting characters are brilliant, as well. Uncle Ben by Martin Sheen had that great blue-collar working man dignity and knew just how to come down on Peter for shirking his responsibilities and bullying at school. Sally Field’s Aunt May was solid, if not quite as extraordinary as Uncle Ben. Though I liked Rosemary Harris’ quaint, wisdom-spouting Aunt May from the Sam Raimi trilogy, Sally Field’s version was far better for this interpretation of the wall-crawler. Finally, Denis Leary’s Captain Stacy was a great foil for Peter; he was the embodiment of power & responsibility which Peter was still struggling to understand.
But again, an opportunity was missed here. Captain Stacy was convinced Spider-Man was a dangerous vigilante and was determined to bring him in. In the comics, George Stacy is a supporter both of Spider-Man and his daughter’s relationship with Peter Parker, whom he guessed was the aforementioned wall-crawler. I think they were kind of trying to have him kind of go there by the end of the movie, it seems kind of muddled. But let’s assume those were the two endpoints.
Right now, the end of this plotline makes no sense; Captain Stacy, a by-the-book cop, has been trying to apprehend the vigilante Spider-Man the entire movie. Mind you, Spider-Man has still done very little to look like anything but a vigilante, at least that the public has seen. However, when it is revealed that Spider-Man is Peter Parker – the disrespectful punk kid his daughter is wasting her time with – then he realizes the city needs Spider-Man…because…well, huh. He’s not even aware of the situation with the Genali device, he had no idea that Peter actually had a plan. In fact, Stacy is the one who saves Spidey from the Lizard a bit later anyway, so I don’t know how he determines that Spider-Man is needed from all that.
Once again, we needed some transition steps here to really build up to that conclusion; Peter and/or Spidey needed to interact with Capt. Stacy a few more times. After Peter realizes he’s just out for revenge after getting chewed out by Capt. Stacy at dinner, Spidey should have gone on a ‘friendly neighborhood Spider-Man’ tour, stopping all manner of petty thieves and crimes, maybe even leaving notes to the police. Stacy can’t make sense of it initially, until the possible connection between Peter and Spider-Man dawns on him.
To test it, have him drop some important police info, like about another sting or something, in front of Peter and mention that the police can’t take the next step for whatever reason, and then have Spider-Man act on it. This would confirm in Stacy’s mind that 1) Peter is Spider-Man, and 2) he can and will be a benefit to the city. Stacy then turns into a subtle advocate for the web-slinger, redirecting police resources away from pursuing him. He also tries to mentor Peter as much as he can, trying to give him tips or hints whenever he runs into him. Spidey should then be seen applying some of these. Now their relationship is established, and the audience gets a real sense that Stacy will be an ally for the foreseeable future.
This way, when Stacy is killed by the Lizard, he’s not just the love interest’s dad, who didn’t like him anyway; he’s a surrogate father figure, a man who is looking out for him both privately and publicly, and who is helping make Spider-Man the hero he is. Judging by the final words scene and how much his death seemed to affect Peter, I’d say the writers wanted that kind of emotional punch, but didn’t know how to make it happen and made the mistake of assuming we would care because we’re supposed to. This is how you make us care; make him an emotional and crime-fighting asset, and then take him away. It worked for Sirius Black, it’ll work here.
Part II, where I talk about the Lizard – and oh is there a lot to talk about there – among other things will be up in the next day or two, so check back soon!
*Film Crit Hulk wrote an eye-opening article on the Myth of the Three Act Structure, in which he…well…just go read the article, it’s that good.
OK, it’s been long enough, time for my Dark Knight Rises review:
- Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle was a pleasant surprise; I remember all the apprehension I felt when I heard that casting decision, but she really nailed it.
- This is Michael Caine’s best performance of Alfred by far. I’ve never looked at Alfred as so human a character before.
- Christian Bale has a great understanding of the Batman/Bruce Wayne dynamic, and continues to drive that one home. This film lets him shine as Bruce Wayne in a way the others didn’t.
- Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Blake are also really engaging; I felt for the former when he was explaining the “structure as shackles” thing to Blake and for the latter at the bridge scene.
- The gadgets, the Batpod rolling over itself, the Bat being all…cool…and all that stuff was good. This movie also has possibly the best fight scenes of the trilogy.
So, all in all, definitely worth seeing for these performances and the sheer marvel of film that it is.
I have to say, though, that the writing for this movie was mediocre compared to the other films. The Dark Knight had clear themes it was speaking to and got to some gripping conclusions about them, and, most importantly, every scene helped to build to one of those conclusions. It was solid. TDKR, on the other hand, definitely has themes it explores, but it doesn’t commit to them the same way TDK did. I’m just going to focus on one theme, and ignore some others for brevity (other problems include this movie’s villains and plot being nothing more than the first movie with new paint, the way it referenced the Occupy movement but said nothing interesting about it, and the sudden disinterest in the goodness of Gotham’s citizens): Bruce Wayne’s struggle to get past being Batman is the focus at the beginning of the movie, but its then subverted with the appearance of Bane and Gotham being plunged back into utter peril, proving that Gotham needs Batman; all the scenes in the prison of him working himself back into Bat-shape and “getting angry” is just him turning Batman up to 11. At the end, though (huge spoiler here, stop and go back until you’ve seen the movie, I’ll wait!), Bruce Wayne gives up being Batman as if he’s reached some kind of resolution.
Well, if he did, I didn’t see it. It was hinted at, but it seems like Bruce Wayne’s important character development doesn’t really get very much screen time. He ultimately chooses to stop being Batman so he can live a real life as Bruce Wayne, and ends up dating Selina Kyle. This is a great ending, but it’s not built up throughout the movie very well. While it’s definitely the ending we want, there’s scant evidence that it’s the ending Bruce ever wanted. Bruce’s relationship with Miranda Tate, the first time he’s opened up to a woman since Rachel Dawes, ends up being a bad, bad decision, but he just gets over it and starts smooching Catwoman, who has never shown any interest in him until that scene? Yes, I realize that all of a sudden they were faced with the possibility of never seeing each other again and that does bring stuff out that wouldn’t otherwise come out, but while that is a perfectly realistic explanation, I’m not talking about real life, I’m talking about the conclusion to a cinema epic 7 years in the making; you can’t spring a love story on me like that essentially out of the blue.
The worst of it is that it seemed like they had all the pieces to make a poignant resolution to the whole trilogy, but instead of coupling these pieces together they left them separate and just sprinkled the whole thing with vapid spectacle instead. The conversations between Bruce and Alfred (my favorite scenes) put it perfectly; Bruce wanted to die for Gotham City, in a selfish way which, in his torn mind, seemed like self-sacrifice. But what he needed to do was find something to live for instead. If Bruce died fighting Gotham’s battles, then ultimately Gotham’s problems overcame him. But if Bruce saved Gotham and then reclaimed his life – actually overcoming the grief and rage he had harbored and fed since his childhood – then the victory was truly Bruce’s.
While they played this up well during the first half of the film, once Bruce was thrown in the prison, the only motivation Bruce ever mentions is wanting to throw himself back into being Batman. The doctor guy in the prison was right there talking about how he needed to fear death in order to have the strength to get out. He was just a hair’s breadth away from saying what needed to be said; that something to live and fight for is more important than not fearing death. Instead of making that connection to life, though, they left it at “you need to fear death.” Period. They didn’t bring it full circle to what Alfred and Lucius Fox talked about in the first hour of the movie.
Had that point been made, then the relationship he had randomly begun with Miranda Tate could have been much more important. Bruce’s desire to get out wasn’t about Bruce getting angry, it was about him realizing that he had a life to go back to that he actually wanted, and that he needed to fight to save that opportunity now. That would have given the whole final conflict so much more emotional punch, and the betrayal by Miranda would have been that much more treacherous. But the best part of that would be that when Miranda explains how she really just wanted revenge on Bruce, he could then turn around and – instead of flatly-delivering some one-liner about slow knives – say something profound about how he knows revenge inside and out, and it will never satisfy her, it’s a loser’s game, or something much better than that but to that same point; he could invite her, even at that stage, to overcome that grief as he had and redeem herself. Of course she wouldn’t, and that’s fine. Because then, when Catwoman does come back a moment later, it proves that she’s actually the one with the kind of heart that Bruce could love.
Ideally Bruce and Selina would have had a tad closer of a relationship, then he would consider both Miranda and Selina in the prison, and ultimately choose Miranda as his motivation, then reverse that when their true colors are shown. Then when he says he’s going to sacrifice himself a couple scenes later, there’s a real emotional tug because we actually know that at this point he and Selina were on the verge of a great relationship, but he’s sacrificing that for Gotham, and Selina would know that, too, and actually be sad with us. Instead of watching their attraction to each other go from 0-60 at the speed of plot, we would be cheering for this relationship as it developed more organically and felt how much Bruce’s sacrifice would really hurt. Then the reveal with the auto-pilot would have sent us through-the-roof crazy with cheers because we were emotionally invested, instead of just being “cool.”
So, in the end, TDKR is fun to watch, but really it’s only a wild success based on the momentum of TDK; the narrative fails to get us sufficiently invested in the characters, relationships, or even the themes it explores. I’d say it’s at the high end of average, but not truly exceptional like TDK or even Avengers is.