I know, I know — it’s really not even fair, is it? To review director Marc Webb’s probably-happening-to-quickly relaunch of Marvel’s Spider-Man franchise in the wake of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises seems like setting this flick up for defeat. Truth be told, though, I actually saw this flick on opening night, and held off on reviewing it here on Through The Shattered Lens because, well — everybody else was already having a crack at it on here. I swear. I think this is the fourth or fifth review of this film to go up here. So I held off. And honestly, the fact that I wasn’t rushing home to sit down and review it right away should tell you something right there, shouldn’t it?
Not that The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t a perfectly decent little superhero flick, it is. But that’s all it is. I can’t find much fault here, really — Webb’s directive from Columbia seems to have been to, in effect, Nolan-ize the Spider-Man story with this reboot, and on the surface, he seems to have done that. The tone is darker and more somber. James Garfield’s take on Peter Parker is altogether more haunted and troubling than was Tobey Maguire’s. He’s less likable, too — a development I actually welcome. Emma Stone does a nice job as high-school love interest Gwen Stacy. Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben in an altogether more realistic and involving take on the character than we got in Sam Raimi’s first flick. Sally Field is great as Aunt May. Dennis Leary does a fine job as Gwen’s dad, police Captain George Stacy, who has a hard-on to arrest Spider-Man. Campbell Scott, in flashback scenes as Peter Parker’s dad, cuts both a kindly and haunting figure, and the decision of the filmmakers/studio to concentrate on the mystery surrounding the elder Parkers is a good one that gives the series a little bit more depth.About the only two serious knocks against the film are the normally-reliable Rhys Ifans’ take on the villainous Curt Connors/Lizard, his performance in both roles being of a distinctly lacking/mail-in-in nature, and the CGI effects in general, which are of middling quality, particularly in terms of their realization of Connors’ Lizard persona (or maybe that should be reptile-ona). They’re not bad, but they’re not up to the level we expect in our summer blockbusters at this point, and I would say they’re pretty of a piece, quality-wise, with, say, the second Hulk flick.
Anyway, by and large, the word we’re looking for here, across the board, is competent. Not inspired, by any means, and not groundbreaking — just competent. I’ll be honest and admit I liked this flick better than Joss Whedon’s Avengers, since it at least provided some level of human melodrama to back up the action, but it seems that the lesson studios have taken from Nolan raising the bar on the entire superhero genre is not that we want more complex, challenging, higher-quality, more technically-brilliant, more multi-faceted fare, but that we just want these flicks to be “darker” and “more realistic.” They “get” what the success of the Batman films means on a surface level, but they really don’t “get it” at all.
For those of you who are old enough to remember the “evolution” of the comics medium in the mid-to-late ’80s with books like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, assuming you were paying attention to comics back then, this will all seem terribly familiar — after the success of those two books, the “Big Two” publishers said they got the message and that people were ready for “superheroes to grow up.” And what did we get? Not more intelligent, thought-provoking, boundary-pushing, stories and characters that challenged the conventions of the genre itself the way those works did, but a steady stream of “darker,” more “mature,” somber, soul-less versions of the same kind of crap the industry was already cranking out — a state of “creative” affairs that continues unabated to this day. Nolan’s raised the bar on superhero storytelling on the silver screen the same way that Miller, Moore, and Gibbons did on the printed page, and Hollywood seems to have taken the same “lessons” from it that Marvel and DC did a quarter-century ago.
in other words, welcome to a new age of superhero sameness. On the one extreme we’ll have pure, unfiltered, two-dimensional, check-your-brain-at-the-door, CGI-heavy slugfests, a la The Avengers. Comics could always do these and do ‘em well, and now so can the movies. On the other hand, we’ll have ostensibly more “mature,” “realistic,” “darker” stuff like this. But don’t expect another series with the innate intelligence and willingness to push the envelope in new directions that we’ve gotten with the Dark Knight films anytime too soon. Meet the new boss — same as the old boss.
Mind you, all of this was pretty much written and ready to go before I saw The Dark Knight Rises — and now that I have, my initial view still stands. Reaction to one flick shouldn’t change one’s opinions on another, after all. So yeah, this is perfectly adequate, acceptable superhero fare — but in the wake of DKR , do “adequate” and “acceptable” still cut it? Should they ever have? And are we willing to settle for movies like The Amazing Spider-Man that think that all DKR and its ilk prove are that audiences want the same old stuff, albeit with “darker,” more humorless trappings — or are we going to reward work that does what Nolan’s done with his Batman series in terms of pushing the genre itself in directions we’d never before expected? Let’s vote with our dollars, and vote wisely.