THRILLVILLE: Will "the Thrill" Viharo's weird, wild world of Pulp Fiction, B Movies, & the Lounge Lizard Lifestyle.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Thrillville Reviews: "The Amazing Spider-man"

The Spidey I know and still love
I was really looking forward to The Amazing Spider-man, mainly because it finally featured my favorite Spidey villain, The Lizard, who is not only a super-foe, but a '50s style monster. I was a fan of all three of Sam Raimi's films and strongly felt starting over from scratch, for whatever corporate bullshit reason, was totally unwarranted. I was right. The new movie, directed by the aptly named Marc Webb, is very good, but hardly "amazing," and owes a great debt to the other films for breaking all that special effects ground to make Spider-man a credible cinematic being. It apparently references the Ultimate comics series, which is way after my time as an actual purchasing patron. My era as a regular reader of comic books was the 1970s, and Raimi is my age, so his Spider-man was pretty much my Spider-man. He even incorporated the famous theme song from the 1960s cartoon series, which, if only for nostalgic reasons, remains my favorite screen incarnation of the character (just can't beat that jazzy underscore, either.) The new movie is very concerned with being "current," even though that's the quickest way to date any product. The classic comic books are timeless, and to a much lesser extent, so are Raimi's Spider-man movies, because they take their inspiration directly from those classics. The new movie may go down as a classic, too. But for now, it felt more to me like the somewhat tired fourth film in an aging franchise than a re-energizing if premature reboot. Maybe it's just me, as I'll explain later, but the latest film, despite its many admirable traits, lacked the sense of fun and wonder that characterized Raimi's trilogy. 


Here's how it breaks down for me, bullet point-wise:


- Andrew Garfield is an excellent Peter Parker: moody, volatile, introspective, geeky but not nerdy. He's not necessarily better than Tobey Maguire, just different. His wiry physicality really suited the character, too, even though visually it reminded me a lot of the Todd McFarlane/Mark Bagley visages in the later comics, and I'm strictly a vintage John Romita Sr./Jr.-Gil Kane-Ross Andru guy. Though an argument could be made that Garfield also recalls the original scrawny Steve Ditko Spidey. Overall, excellent casting call.

- Emma Stone is not the ideal '60s/'70s style fox I envision as Gwen Stacy, but her earthy-woman's-voice-in-a-cute-girl's body is irresistibly sexy, and I also like her personally, since not only is she adorable, she is also very witty, at least in interviews.  She has great chemistry with her co-star, too, which apparently extends beyond the sound stage. This natural rapport was generously evident on screen. I dug her knee-high boots as well. That was a great go-go Gwen touch. Her wardrobe was definitely cooler than Parker's emo-slacker skateboarder look, which is probably fashionable amongst teens these days. Whatever. Yawn

- Dr. Curt Connor's modernist home and lab were very retro-stylish. If only he'd kidnapped Gwen and brought her back to his space age bachelor pad for cross-species mating purposes...

- Stan Lee's cameo is priceless, one of the best yet.

- The customized web shooters are back, yay.

- Parker taking inspiration from a lucha libre poster for his mask was personally gratifying. 

- The action sequences, from the swinging around the city to the various fight scenes, were all very well staged, and overall the film was beautifully photographed.

-After the obligatory mid-final-credits "tease" scene, a kid nearby blurted out, "What the fuck does that mean?" To which his pal instantly replied, "Nigga, that means there's gonna be another movie!"

- It was way better than the short-lived 70s TV series...


- The latest version pointlessly reinvents the origin story, which takes up way too much of the movie, wasting time that could be spent kicking ass.

- Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) never actually utters the iconic phrase, "With great power must come great responsibility," though I liked him in the part. Sally Field was a surprisingly effective as Aunt May, too, even though she still looks like a slightly geriatric Gidget.

-The bridge scene was a watered-down rip-off of a similar sequence in the first movie.

-J. Jonah Jameson does not make an appearance (hopefully he will in the inevitable next movie).

One of these pictures is not like the others...
- Curt Connors/The Lizard (Rhys Ifans, who is excellent) only wears his lab coat after transformation for a few seconds before ripping if off and running around bare-tail naked; he has no snout; he's as big as the Hulk, which means he's too big; and he doesn't hiss when he speaks. Otherwise, I liked him well enough, pretty scary, though Raimi would've done the character better justice, I believe, with poor Dylan Baker, whose plug was pulled before he got the chance. To be fair, I didn't like the evil RoboCop take on the Green Goblin (the otherwise ideally cast Willem Dafoe) in the first Spider-man movie at all. This Lizard was definitely better than that, though Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) in Spider-man 2 and especially the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) in Spider-man 3 were damn near perfectly realized. (I find Venom to be a boring villain anyway so I can't fairly comment on his relative celluloid authenticity via Topher Grace in #3).

- Not only did they not reprise the "Spider-man" theme this time, but I can't remember any of James  Horner's score. Danny Elfman's theme from the prior movies was at least memorable, if not particularly unique. 

The Amazing Spider-man is akin to The Incredible Hulk "reboot" of 2008, which I also liked a lot (even though my favorite Hulk villain Abomination looked wrong, sort of like this movie's Lizard, actually) - but then I loved Ang Lee's much-maligned Hulk from 2003, and didn't understand the need to start all over again in that case, either. I loved both recent versions of The Punisher, even though they're totally unrelated (I am a bit partial toward War Zone, though.) I guess my point is, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, but if you go ahead and fix it anyway, don't expect me to get all giddy about it, since  I was already happy. Stop trying so hard. Every time someone reinvents something, taking pains to distinguish and contemporize their "fresh take," they either purposely or inadvertently lose a piece of what made the original so appealing to begin with - even if the new version is perfectly fine on its own overly-polished merits.

Just stop with the remakes and retakes already. Let us have some time to appreciate what's already been achieved. 

But then blockbuster moviemaking has never been about aesthetics. It's all about commerce. And nostalgia just isn't a marketable commodity for the coveted youth demographic. 

As underwhelmed as I was walking out of the midnight premiere, I definitely plan on seeing this movie again on the big screen before I eventually buy the Blu-Ray. I have a feeling that despite my reservations, I will like it more and more upon each subsequent viewing. For now, the film just didn't live up to my high expectations. But maybe that's my fault. Maybe I was expecting too much. And as someone who doesn't actually read comic books anymore, I'm simply not the target audience. It could also be I'm just really more of a hardcore sexy pulp/dirty noir guy nowadays. This is why I lean more towards Christopher Nolan's dark, gritty Batman films, since they're essentially modern neo-noir classics in the same league as the crime films of Michael Mann, but comic book movies in and of themselves just don't appeal to me as much as they did even ten years ago - when the first Spider-man movie came out, and truly blew me away. I think that must account for much of my somewhat satisfied yet still ho-hum response. Despite the spectacular theatrics, something was definitely missing from The Amazing Spider-man. It could be that something was me.

Comic books and comic book movies have evolved over time. So have I. Maybe I've finally outgrown them. I doubt it. Can't wait for The Dark Knight Rises in just a couple of weeks. Check back here for my review of that one, too. Movies featuring my top two favorite comic book heroes don't happen every year, much less every month. I'm having fun. Cheers.