Wednesday 11 July 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

Pale Spider

The Amazing Spider-Man 
2012 USA 
Directed by Marc Webb
Playing at UK cinemas now

Warning: Okay... so there will be some slight spoilers in this one but, be warned, they may well be spoilers from what happens in the sequels to this film. If you’re worried about that, then come back and read this in a few years time.

I guess, since I’ve never reviewed a Spider-Man movie on this blog before, I should probably give you a brief history of my reactions to the character in various forms over the years. That may give you some idea of where I’m coming from with this review.

Also, I will say now, right up front,  that this actually isn’t going to be a bad review of the movie. I kinda liked it, to be fair. I will almost certainly, however, be a little negative in my outlook because... oh, wait. I’m getting ahead of myself here...

I always loved Spider-Man as a kid and began reading his adventures when I was five years old when the "UK printed" Spiderman Comics Weekly first came out in this country in 1973. I remember these were black and white reprints of the original US 1962 Spider-Man comic book with, I think, a The Mighty Thor back up strip (?). What really made these special and “glam” as a kid, however, was that the first 6 pages or so, which featured the main Spider-Man strip of the week, predated the colouring style of Frank MIller’s Sin City years later in that there was also a third colour, a traditional Spider-Man red, run as a special hue in the print set up. This really made the look of the comic stand out (any of my readers remember this?). I remember the first issue had a free paper mask in it which I used to wear while pretending I could climb walls.

Pretty soon, UK television began running episodes of the good old original Spider-Man cartoon show. I used to get a bit miffed, even at the age of six, that the animators couldn’t be bothered to draw all his webbing on except for the mask but the neat voices, action and, mostly, the distinctive jazzy scoring (the music masters now lost to time due to studio stupidity, is my understanding) was a seductive combination and I was an avid watcher whenever I knew it was on. Many cartoon adaptations followed over the years but none of them were ever as cool as this one.

Then, in 1977 (although I seem to remember it as being much earlier to be honest) there came The Amazing Spider-Man live action TV series with Nicholas Hammond in the title role. This was pretty bad and came to us first over here as one of three motion pictures which hit our cinemas comprising “sewn together” episodes called The Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man Strikes Back and Spider-Man and the Dragon’s Challenge (which was the best of the three in that it at least had some decent fights in it). They were often quickly re-released as parts of double bills with the likes of such movies as Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger. This practice of giving the UK “movies” made of stitched together US TV shows is something which happened relatively quite often over here... with the likes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E, Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers also following the same basic release practice. I didn’t feel so bad about it just recently when I realised we were doing the same with some of our TV shows in cinema releases in other countries (such as The Avengers).

To be honest, the live action TV show was pretty dire and made in a time when DC comics scored big as films and Marvel comics were the kiss of death in big and small screen adaptations... something Marvel have really turned around in the last ten years or so. But it was an attempt and that was good enough for me.

What wasn’t good enough for me was the disappointment I experienced when Sam Raimi directed the first of his recent Spider-Man trilogy. They took enormous liberties with the original 1962 source material and even went so far as to make Spider-Man an X-Men-like mutant in that he could spin his own webs from his body. A logical extension of the character, perhaps, but not what Spider-Man was all about. At least not to this, less than avid, viewer.

And Betty Brant didn’t feature! She was kinda in them but she’s supposed to be Peter Parker’s love interest long before Gwen Stacey or Mary Jane were on the scene and a few cameo appearances really didn’t make up for this... especially since, if memory serves, the whole Doctor Octopuss storyline in the original comics initially started with the involvement of her character.

But as the series of movies progressed, I found each successive Spider-Man movie a lot easier to stomach and thought they got progressively better. Alfred Molina’s turn as Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2 was pretty standout and by the time Spider-Man 3 came around I was actually rooting for James Franco’s Green Goblin character by the end, just like I was supposed too (even though I’d hated him in the first two movies... I now, strangely enough, respect him much more as a fine actor than I did when I first saw him).

Which, if you’ve not forgotten the point of this post, leads me to the new reboot.

Now I have to admit to some excitement because they were titling it after the original comic that Spider-Man made his second appearance in, The Amazing Spider Man (the title being a nod to the original Amazing Fantasy Issue 15 comic in which Spider-Man made his debut appearance). And I’d heard they were ditching the mutation and going back to the science-based web shooters from the comics. This was sounding good... except. Well I have to say that, now I’ve seen it, it takes even more liberties with the original source material than the last trilogy did.

The Peter Parker’s parents storyline is slotted in there and I can’t say how accurate that part of the movie is since it didn’t appear in the comics until... ooh... at least three decades into its run I think. But I do know it shouldn’t be slap bang rubbing shoulders with the “origin story”. Secondly... no Liz Allen, no Betty Brant and no J. Jonah Jameson (although JJJ is at least mentioned I think). Well... I say no Liz Allen but the version of Gwen Stacey they’ve got in this one does seem to be playing a mongrel/cross breed version of both Liz Allen and Gwen Stacey... go figure.

There are a lot of negatives about the quality of the adaptation part of the writing and I could go on for hours, I’m sure, if I didn’t mind writing pages and pages here. What I will say though is that the Curt Connors character when he takes his Lizard form, looks much more like the old Spider-Man character The Scorpion than he does The Lizard. They’ve lost the snout (not very visible, adsmittedly, on the cover of his first appearance pictured above) and you rarely see him keep his white lab coat on (again, purple on the cover for some reason) as The Lizard because they’ve also got him growing in size and splitting his clothes Hulk-style. So there’s that.

And there’s also the fact that Spider-Man doesn’t kill Gwen Stacey... at least not yet. While he was blamed for the death of her father Captain Stacey in the original comics, she lets him off the hook here and doesn’t go down that route with him in this movie, although her father does meet his death in this one (though not in the same way as he did in the comics). But the fact that Gwendy doesn’t die in this one was somewhat disappointing to me. I’m thinking that maybe they’ll save that one for the sequel? In the original comics, the Green Goblin throws Gwen Stacey off a bridge, just as he does with Mary Jane in the first Sam Raimi film which was transplanted wholesale from that issue of the comic book, until they wimped out on killing off Mary Jane at this point in the movie in the same way Gwen dies in the comic.

In that comic, as Gwen Stacey falls to her certain death, Spider-Man catches her by webbing her foot, only to find that the act of stopping her in this manner snaps her neck and she dies. It was a death which ended her 8 year run in the comic (1965 - 1973) but which was so shocking at the time that it echoed throughout the storylines right through until the present day, with various Gwen Stacy clones turning up over the years (and I do mean actual clones and not just stand-in characters people!).

Now that doesn’t happen in this latest movie either... and as I said earlier, I can only hope they’re saving it to be the dramatic impetus of the inevitable sequel to this one (something I’m hoping they’ll call Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man after one of the many other Spider-Man comic titles over the years). If not, I’m probably going to be a bit more upset about the way they’re treating the characters, I suspect.

Right then, so after all that griping, what did I think of the new The Amazing Spider-Man movie.

Well I kinda really liked it actually. It was a shock seeing former Doctor Who alumni Andrew Garfield in the role of Peter Parker since he looked nothing like the character as he did when I used to read him in either the 60s or 70s artwork in the comics. I do seem to remember though that he did look a lot like the way he looks in this movie in the 90s or later, so I think I can let the people behind this one get away with that. Especially since, adaptation problems aside, the dialogue and storyline is actually pretty good and the performances of Garfield, Emily Stone (as Gwen) and all the rest of the supporting cast are all pretty... well... amazing.

It’s quite frenetically edited but not frenetically paced... so I think some of the audience for this one are going to get a little restless as they wait for Spider-Man to actually suit up for the first time. Gone are the days, alas, when a contemporary cinema audience didn’t need an origin story before they could emotionally invest in a super-hero character... at least that’s the verdict the film studios seem to have decided. And I think some of the people going to see this will find it a little slow compared to what they are used to... at least in terms of “getting on with it”. I know this is how the people I went to see it with perceived it and, to be fair to them, it does seem to take at least half of the fairly lengthy running time to get to a point that took only the first few pages in the original Amazing Fantasy comic issue.

But this kind of slow burn really doesn’t worry me and it certainly gives some time for the drama to play out and develop at its own pace. It also builds up a certain amount of anticipation to the first time you see Spider-Man in his proper costume and doing some characteristic web slinging... a point which is killed completely for me by the scoring, as it happens.

Now I’m not going to bash James Horner too much here because I used to like him a lot in the early stages of his career and, also, I do think he’s given this movie a really wonderful musical score... except for that one moment. I’m sure you all know the reactions to Horner’s... um... well loved ability to repeat himself (and others) in his work, constantly... and I state this is only as my opinion (a popular one though, it seems to me). There’s a big moment in this film where you see the full costume as Spider-Man lands on a window and the music suddenly goes into Prokofiev-mode, filtered through Star Trek 2: The Wrath Of Khan (and filtered and filtered through many other Horner scores) and, for me, this really popped me out of the moment of the movie when I really didn’t need it (they might have just as well played the theme from Star Wars or the stab music from Psycho here and it would have had the same result). This movie wasn’t directed by Godard, so I’m assuming that wasn’t the intention here.

Saying that, however, it’s not always the composer’s fault when these kinds of things happen. If they’ve been asked, say, to stick to the original rough-cut temp track, for instance, then a composer’s gotta do what a composer’s gotta do. Don’t shoot the musical messenger. And as I said, I really liked this score, I think it’s one of Horner’s best efforts of the current millennium and I shall be giving it quite a few spins on the CD player before the rest of the month is out. Power to him.

My only other real criticism of the movie is that the action sequences are extremely fast... you can just about follow them though. Just don’t accidentally blink during them or you’ll be lost. Especially during the Stan Lee cameo appearance which, to be honest, is one of his best appearances in a Marvel movie. It works really well.

And that’s all I’m going to say on this subject for today I think. The Amazing Spider-Man movie... if you’re a big fan of the original 60s and 70s comics then you run the risk of maybe hating it... or at least being quite a bit irritated with it. Similarly, if you’re someone who likes to get to the point early on with a movie, then you’re probably not going to dig this either. However, if you’ve got no real stakes in either of those camps then you might just find that this is one of the better summer studio tent peg movies of recent years. You might get a kick out of it. I know I did.


  1. Brilliant detailed review ... Loved all aspects of it. I do have to say that my review and thoughts are as a person who has never read Spiderman comics. Also, surprisingly till recently I was under the impression that he did have "powers" to shoot the web from his hands, so that's why the earlier Spiderman seemed fine to me.

    While this movie was average in my book, the reason I found the earlier one better is because it is more complex in all aspects and especially the relationships be it the love triangle, the friendship, or even the father-son relationship in case of Franco. This one was a lot less layered.

    I obviously cannot compare it to the comics and this cannot say how true they are, but it was quite nice reading your review which gave me a better insight into the story of Spiderman.

    1. Hi Raghav,

      Thanks for reading.

      Yeah, there's room now the origin is mostly out of the way, for the arc to get a little more dense. If they're going to bring the Bugle in then they'll hopefully tackle Betty Brant (they've obviously jettisoned Liz Allen completely) and they're going to have to bring in Mary Jane at some point to take over from Gwen, I guess.

      This movie was pretty much setting up the goblin... which is why I was surprised that Harry Osborne didn't show up.

      Anyway, thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment.

      All the best.

  2. Cool review! Good to see the film viewed through the history of the comic and earlier adaptations. I will say that I'm glad they didn't kill off Gwen, though, and in fact I kind of hope they don't? I know it's a huge thing in the comics and it might be inevitable, but I'm tired of superhero girlfriends always being victimized and thrown off of buildings and whatnot. I liked how self-sufficient and smart Gwen was in this movie and I don't want that image turned around by a big death scene at the hands of some brawny villain. Wishful thinking, I'm sure, but I can't help it.

    1. HI Alex,

      I know what you're saying, I think, but it would be nice for a movie to actually kill one off for a change... and if you like her this much then, all the better for the dramatic weight I'm guessing. Besides, how are they going to have The Marriage of Mary Jane and Peter Parker if they don't get rid of Gwendy first? ;-)

      Thanks as always for reading.

      Hey folks who read comments! Alex is the one and only "filmforager" and you can read her review of the movie right here...

    2. Oops. Sorry... I don't know why that last line isn't in a link form but just copy into your URL tab and it'll take you straight there.

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