Friday, July 13, 2012

Spidey Is So Misunderstood

There was so much pissing and moaning when Sony announced Spider-Man would be rebooted. But by end of the third film, he’d married his sweetheart, beaten two generations of his greatest foes, and be embraced by all of New York. People wanted to see where that story went?  I understand the frustration. Despite the emphasis placed on them by the comic-loving crowd, origin stories are typically the least interesting, least thought-out, least fun of all the stories in any heroes cannon. Oh, but when I heard this new story would hew closer to the Ultimate story-line, I got terribly excited. I am of the opinion that Brian Michael Bendis has an intimate friendship with Peter Parker and writes stories about that young man effortlessly and neigh-perfectly. He doesn’t tell stories so much as relates details of an actual life. Without question, of all the different versions of Spider-Man, Ultimate (for me) is the best written, most fun, most pleasurable of them all.

The movie captures a good bit of that. The first act of the film, leading up to the spider bite, isn’t all winks to the audience about what’s to come (Yay). Peter Parker is completely redone and expertly so. Andrew Garfield played this Peter so god damn well I instantly fell in love with him. After Parker’s death in the Ultimate Comics, The Amazing Spider-Man was like seeing my best buddy again. Garfield did this little hesitation with a lot of his lines, kind of a “where to begin…” look that just fit. Bendis wrote Peter with loads of inner dialogue. Just pages and pages of Peter Worries, Obsessions, Errant Thoughts. To put it all in a movie one would have to pause the film regularly just to have Garfield rush through it. Or. One could have a excellent actor give a little pause and it’s all said with a look.

Every review I’d read has mentioned the incredible chemistry between Garfield and Emma Stone.  Not how I saw it. I was so tuned into facial expressions because of Garfield that I was really put off by Stone’s constant ugly and angry faces. Girl just has bug eyes. I couldn’t get past it. I want my boy to have a pretty girl.

I was happy as a clam watching Peter go about his life. There’s enough meat (and likeability with Garfield) in the human aspects to be an enjoyable movie, or at least the preamble before the conflict. Then, once bitten, it’s like the film spasms. None of the care of explanation is carried through the middle act. Peter is throwing himself off buildings to test his new powers (he just walked to the top? Does a smart guy conduct tests where failure is death?), the Lizard makes a lab in a sparklingly clean sewer (even though he could still conduct the same research in his nice office lab), Peter calls up Gwen to tell her the exact name of the antidote to Lizardness… which hasn’t been brought up before and Peter was only back in Oscorp for a brief visit... so I don’t know about that one… The screen fades a bit, the darkness of the theater creeps in, and the thought hits you “this is another bad Super Hero movie”.

Not quite because Holy Shit Martin Sheen is the best father (ironic…). He’s ideal but not a fantasy. Uncle Ben isn’t a caricature of Kindly Uncle, he’s what every man aspires to be. No, it isn’t flashy and I couldn’t give you any memorable quotes, but he’s so perfect the joy comes from just hanging out with him. Of having every moment of life be infused with thoughtful character.

That’s what this film is like. The big moments aren’t like The Avengers, little chunks of humor and fun that anyone could excitedly tell a friend that hasn’t seen it and have them share the moment more or less. “The Hulk fucking smashed the shit out of everyone and everyGod”. The big moments in Amazing are the emotional payoff that have been simmering from a beginning that doesn’t hurry. “Yo, remember when that construction worker totally had Spidey’s back and called in that favor!?”. It pulls together the rough public relations Spidey has, the feeling of actually saving real people (something only Spidey seems capable of. There was a scene in comics where Peter gets to see a beach full of all the people he was ever saved. Nobody else can pull something like that off. The culminative effort and effect of all Spider-Man has done hits you then), as well as providing a satisfying action sequence (the Hero limping on!). That isn’t a good promotional clip but when you’re in the theater it just feels right. It feels really good. Having Peter start wearing his father’s glasses without comment from anyone is another standout moment that doesn’t much standout in a highlight reel, but hot damn if the loss of a father doesn’t slam right into you. Fair warning: bite your tongue when Uncle Ben dies to stifle the cry.

The Amazing Spider-Man is going to get overlooked and passed off as “meh” or “nothing special”. Which I get. The Lizard fits the theme in theory as a villain but comes off as wildly inappropriate. What that dismissal misses is the essence of Spider-Man. Despite the outlandish source of power, Spidey has always felt the most real and honest of all Super Heroes. Decades of comics later, he still has the feel of a guy dressing up in a borderline silly costume and just winging it in real world conditions. Not only does Amazing respect that, it understands it. The middle act is flakey, but the beginning and end (where it matters most) are spot-on. I loved it.