Spider-Meh, Spider-Meh

07/03/2012 4:00 AM |

The Amazing Spider-Man
Directed by Marc Webb

Everyone loves an origin story. And some such stories are so familiar and sacred—be it the nativity and passion plays or Superman’s life in Smallville and the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents—that their repeated retellings, aside from being acts of devotion, allow the faithful to focus on the differences between the original and new versions. (While this may seem like borderline blasphemy, Stan Lee was really onto something when he referred to his readers as “True Believers.”) Each offering is potentially a delightful affirmation or a profane bungling, though even the most “perfect” retellings have moments that fail.

I belabor this point because, when the announcement was made that they were “rebooting” the Spider-Man franchise after an unbelievably bad third installment (see also Batman & Robin in 1997, and Batman Begins eight years later), I wasn’t terribly surprised—if even non-nerds got that upset, it had clearly hit epic status. Until ten years ago, Spider-Man (and his origin) wasn’t nearly as well known as the aforementioned capes. Speaking as someone who grew up a comic book fan, the difference before and after Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man was striking: chumps who’d easily derided “that shit” for “being gay” previously now proudly wore Spider-Man Under Armour shirts; girls who listened to Moz idolized Peter Parker, the emo hero. It inaugurated this century’s endless onslaught of superhero movies, proving that they really could be for everybody.

With a terrible script that contains very little of Peter’s trademark humor, this tedious reimagining is undoubtedly for the fan class of 2002. He’s persecuted being a nerd as Peter Parker, he gets bitten, gets persecuted for being a vigilante as Spider-Man, the whole city of New York rallies to help him defeat a mad scientist/giant lizard. In between, he kisses a doe-eyed Emma Stone and tries to avoid Aunt May’s persistent ball-breaking.

Most of the new variations seek to downplay Spider-Man’s eccentric origin—what makes him charming and unique—and align it with what an action movie “should” be like. In an over-long sequence on the Williamsburg Bridge, Spider-Man saves a small child from a burning minivan with dialogue so ickily touchy-feely that Mother Teresa would cringe; Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard, a classic villain from the comic, is British in the movie because… the accent carries natural, evil gravitas? Even the more inventive alterations to the original story ultimately lead nowhere revelatory: instead of delivering the classic “with great power comes great responsibility,” Uncle Ben leaves Peter a long-winded voicemail; Gwen Stacy is swapped out for Mary Jane as love interest, but Gwen’s character is so underdeveloped that it doesn’t matter; Spider-Man takes his mask off to win over a police captain who formerly wanted him shot on sight—and the captain is immediately won over.

Apparently, only heroes who are in The Avengers get decent writers. The plot holes are numerous, my favorite being the question of how the one-armed Doctor Curt Connors managed to move his entire lab down into a sewer. Or power it. (Also: after transforming into The Lizard, he can summon fellow reptiles a la Aqua Man… though he never has them do anything. Are they his new interns?) All that said, however, Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spiderman gives an impressive performance. With great lightness, his small gestures and subtle verbal tics he create an authentic teenage presence that you want to be around—even some of the jokes seem slightly less flat. Truly, what he did was so little was amazing. Can someone call George Lucas and get him digitally inserted into the original trilogy? That pudding-faced turd Tobey Maguire never did it for me.

Opens July 3