Friday, December 14, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man (Review)

This was one of those movies that I didn't think I would like right off the bat. The first trailer I saw gave me a very bad vibe, but being a monstrous superhero fan I decided to try it before I made my actual call. For months I put it off, out of fear that it would in some way tarnish the memory of Raimi's first two Spider-Man efforts. However, after my family picked it up on Black Friday (er, I'm sorry, "The Event.") and my recent obsession with The Spectacular Spider-Man animated series (which I will get around to reviewing at some point. And boy, is that a good show!) I finally tossed it into the ol' PS2 (actually, my girlfriend's PS2, but you get the idea) and sat back to what my family had hyped as "An amazing adaptation."

They have almost never been more wrong. Almost. And I have never been more sourpuss. Almost.

This movie sucked egg sacs. I'm not just saying this as a jaded Spidey-Fan, because I can handle my share of "It's good as a movie" adaptations. To illustrate: I like the X-Men trilogy. Things need to change, at least a little bit, and keeping all aspects of a story one-hundred percent faithful is not how you progress culturally, nor does anybody want to reexperience the same damn thing forty-million times. Changes are okay. I don't care that they made changes to the story. So Parker didn't get bit while on a field trip, and so what that he didn't meet Betty Brant first (suck it, Janers.) That doesn't matter.

What changes do matter, however, are character changes. Now, I won't lie, this is probably the one thing you'll actually catch my being a hypocrite about. If the character ends up changed in some way that I find logical and sense-making and story-improving, then I'm all for it. Making Peter Parker a little more down-to-earth and modern-nerd? Sure go for it. That makes sense, especially since they're trying to portray a modernized story.

That's not what they did. Peter Parker is an asshole. There's really no other way for me to put it. Actually, every single person in this movie is an asshole except for Gwen Stacy, a character who is increasingly growing on me as all of her portrayals across recent media have added something to the stories, and I can't wait to get my hands on the original comics to see just how she was back then. Ben Parker? Asshole. Aunt May? Asshole. Dr. Connors? Asshole. Flash Thompson? Asshole. Oh hell, do I have something to say about Flash Thompson. Captain Stacy? Asshole. Every single character is an unlikeable asshole. I did not connect with or relate to any single one of them.

Peter Park is portrayed as a heavily depressed and brooding high school student, which he would be to an extent considering his background. However, what they didn't portray was a modern nerd. Parker comes off as a gross loser, the kind of person who uses other people for their things and then ditches them when he gets bored. As Spider-Man the writers replaced his fun and witty quips with malicious and not-even-passive aggressive disses. Everytime he opened his mouth, I wanted to punch him in it.

Flash Thompson, whom the movie decided to develop more than the previous adaptations had, has moved up from dumb-as-nails bully to dumb-as-nails literally-assaulting-your-ass-all-over-Gorilla. Early in the movie we see Flash literally beat Parker bloody. Okay, he's a bully, that's what bullies do. If that's all they were going to do with the character, that probably would have been okay. Make him the heavy-fisted asshole and move on with it. But not this movie, no sir. They attempt to give him a human side by making him pay his respects when Ben Parker is murdered. Solemnly he walks up to Peter at the locker, and after making a snide remark about how "it feels good" that Parker has him pinned up against the wall, he mumbles something about being sorry for Peter's loss. No. No. No. I mean, yes, that is true to Flash Thompson. Flash Thompson would feel bad for Peter, and about Uncle Ben, and he would pay his respects to Peter and his family. But the Flash Thompson they portrayed earlier in the film, who beat Peter Parker into a bleeding husk and was later humiliated by him in front of all the hot ladies? That Flash Thompson would pin Peter Parker to the wall and laugh at his loss. If you're going to change your characters, be consistent about it. Don't portray them as a truly dangerous asshat one second and a compassionate, caring acquaintance the next.

Ben and May Parker are the next two on my list of "Just shut up" character portrayals. They got Ben right some of the time, being an elder and kind-hearted man who appreciates his nephew's talents. However, the second half of the film sees him becoming a raging madman, again a total switch in characterization. Yeah, he'd be pissed off at Peter's recent actions and irresponsibility. But to undergo a complete personality change? Yikes. Ben and Flash need to check into an analyst's office and get themselves tested for bipolar disorder. Ben Parker was such an unsympathetic character that I hardly cared when he died. It almost made me happy. Finally that moron is gone.

May Parker didn't feel right, and was just downright annoying. The kindly old woman from literally every other interpretation of the story was reduced into a shrieking ninny with far too much emphasis on properness who felt it was her place to tell everyone in the household what, exactly, they could keep and what they could not and where they could be placed. She shows zero concern for objects which are clearly important to her husband, telling him to get "that junk" off her table while he's trying to rescue it all from their flooding basement. She passes off as uninitiated and self-absorbed, and that's just the kind of person that makes me want to flip tables and storm off.

Dr. Connors was a little grinding because, like everyone else, he was an asshole. He was extremely underdeveloped, and his motivations for basically everything weren't very clear. Because they weren't really there. He wanted to make the world a better place, to make people stronger and more capable creatures. To accomplish this, he kills a bunch of innocent people on a bridge in his mad attempt to... stop someone from leaving town. Okay, Lizard.

I get they were trying to do a Hulk/Banner thing with Connors and The Lizard, and that would be accurate to the character. But they just didn't do that. I was completely confused for the majority of the movie whether or not Connors was in control of what the Lizard was doing. It wasn't until the absolute end where he is sprayed with some kind of anti-lizard venom and becomes human again that you see that Connors wasn't really himself when the reptilian one took control. They play it far too ambiguously by having The Lizard as a coherent character whose thoughts and desires aren't too indifferent from Connors' own. Which really isn't any better than the mindless-reptile-predator route, because Connors was given almost zero depth as a character. He was literally "Scientist bad guy has an asshole boss (this movie has such a depth of character!) so he experiments on himself and turns bad." That's it. Awesome.

And how does Connors plan to make the human race superior? By creating a giant device that will transform everyone into lizard-men. Okay. Yeah. Okay. This is pretty comic book, which makes sense considering this is a comic book movie. And while when you say it in one sentence, it is really cheesy and corny, they can make it work. Anything can work if it's done right and given some care. This. This was not done well and given no care. They needed Lizard to have some kind of "master plan" so they just dragged something out of a Saturday morning cartoon show and glued it into the already undeveloped hodgepodge of bullcrap this movie streams at you for about two hours.

Unlikeable as they all are, there is some marked character development for both Peter Parker and Captain Stacy. Like, the natural sense-making kind and not the bipolar-attack kind that Ben Parker and Flash showed off. Peter Parker learns, after a scolding by Captain Stacy, that he can't just use his powers to get revenge on his Uncle's murderer, but that he has a responsibility to use his powers to help people. That would mark the change from average-asshole to asshole-superhero. Captain Stacy, the only other character to convincingly develop, learns (a bit late in the game) to trust Spider-Man. Of course, this gets him killed. Oh well.

Aside from piss-poor characters and a non-existent plotline, the movie suffered from weird visual decisions that made it pretty hard on the eyes. For one, I could not read any of the text they displayed on screen, and it wasn't because of my bad eyesight. All the text seemed incredibly, well, sharp. And I don't mean that in a visual-aspect definition, I mean it was sharp. It hurt my eyes to look at it. This is a growing trend in visual media, because I've had this problem with a lot of video games starting back around 2007. This seriously needs to stop, because in this film and in those games text is a pretty important aspect. I would like to read it without purchasing a new TV, because my current one isn't even ten years old yet, and it still works beautifully. Fix your font.

The other problem I had with the visual direction of the film was how indistinct everything was. There were lights all over the place, and it was not fun attempting to figure out what objects were as they whirred by at thirty miles an hour with everything glowing like freaking Las Vegas. Scenes that weren't overlit were super dark, and none of the characters could be made out except for fleeting glances. When it came to any action sequences, everything was far too fast and hard to follow. I mean, maybe they fastness wouldn't have been an issue if the visual work wasn't so weird, but it was, and everything was just an absolute eyesore from start to finish.

My girlfriend attributed this to all the colors appearing hyper-saturated, which is something I'm sure she would know much more about being an artist. And a damn good one. But that got me thinking that yeah, something seemed a little odd and familiar about it all. It was as though someone took the whole movie, shoved it into GIMP, and applied a very heavy burn filter to the entire film. This is not good.

But I can't trash the whole movie, because when it got good it got pretty good. Peter Parker revealing his identity to Gwen Stacy, roping her into a kiss with his spiderwebs, was a good scene. I felt the high school-age emotional angst like a wet blanket, which is exactly how high school-angst felt. So that was cool. That was a good scene. Spider-Man getting pegged down by the cops and sitting defeated while Captain Stacy rips his mask off, finding his strength only after stewing in mixing, putrid emotions and bursting out of confinement. Ultimately failing in his escape efforts and being found out gave that scene the fist-punching feeling every teen experiences of doing everything right, giving it your best, and realizing the world doesn't actually give a shit how hard you try and will make it all go absolutely horribly wrong anyway was one of the most emotionally compelling things I've witnessed in cinema in a long, long time.

Also, the part where he's waiting like a spider in his sewer-web and the lines start plucking but he's playing Bubble Bash. That was cool.

But that's it. Total accumulated time for the portions of these scenes which were good? I'd give it maybe three minutes out of the whole one-hundred and thirty six. For those of you good at math, that's about 2% of the entire freaking film.

I'll make that my official stance on this. 98% of The Amazing Spider-Man is really god damn awful, and 2% of The Amazing Spider-Man is really bleeding awesome. If you want to sit through 133 minutes of shite for 3 minutes of cool, this movie's for you. If you value your time, go watch something else.

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