|Posted on May 7, 2014 at 6:55 AM|
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
I dragged myself to the theater this past weekend to see the newest superhero movie blazed across the screen. We get one a month over the summer it seems like, and more often than not they’re really good and enjoyable at best, and at least entertaining at worst.
Then along comes a Spider-Man...
Unnnnggghhh....stop the train. I want off.
I suppose the one thing I took away from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (you can read my review here) is that they took one step forward and two steps back. Rather than taking the elements of the first film that worked and streamlining them, they took those elements and just threw in more and more things. Things that worked: the actors are strong. Real strong. Garfield may not make the best Peter Parker, likely because the writers aren’t sure how to write Peter Parker or just a well-rounded character at all, but his scenes with Emma Stone are natural and organic in nature. Jaime Foxx has some great moments to shine and Dane DeHaan absolutely steals the show.
Thing that didn’t work? All those actors are really good despite the blandness of their characters. Gwen Stacey has little to do, Peter Parker is all over the map in terms of characterization, Jaime Foxx starts strong then turns cliche and undercut by Dane DeHaan who, honestly, should have been the main focus for the entirety of the film.
Something that did work: great action sequences. Spidey looks like Spidey, moves incredibly well, the effects are great, the brief showdown in Times Square is solid and gorgeous looking as is the final fights in their fluid nature. The opening, especially, is strong. Actually, the opening is probably the best action scene in the movie.
What didn’t work? The fact there’s only about three major action sequences in a two and a half hour film. Everything else is awkward conversations between Stacey and Parker. That’s fine to an extent, but the on-again-off-again relationship focus stagnates the entire film to the point where they couldn’t put more action scenes in it if they wanted to. I love character stuff in superhero movies, The Winter Solider and The Wolverine succeeded in that element - but succeeded with balance, not with the belief that more is better. Especially when that “more” is just repetitive stilted tripe.
I know, right?
Something that worked: The final moments. No spoilers here, if you know the comics you know what the focus is, but it’s a strong and suspenseful climax. They didn't "nail" it per se, but it worked.
What caused that to end up not working? It’s lost in the turmoil of the half-dozen other plot threads (most of which are dropped at some point). There’s no impact, it’s just another plot thread. There’s no focus. It’s just another plot thread. There’s no passion. It’s just another plot thread. It’s treated no differently than Electro being tortured or Harry realizing he’s dying or whatever the point of Peter learning about his dad was. It was just another element on a list of many, and because of all that excess it falls flat where it needed it most: to be emotionally impactful.
Want an example of them desperately trying to find a sould or heart in this movie. There's a sequence at the end about two planes colliding. It offers nothing to the film. Two planes. Full of people. They try to get the human factor shoved in there, but it's as callous and uninspired as ever. Plus, nobody knows about it, not Parker, not even JJ Jameson (who never shows up), so why bother?
That's kind of a running theme...why bother? Focus on the important stuff more and maybe you'll craft a great movie. Then add in those smaller moments...because you'll likely remember those just as much. This has been known for a while now guys...
Something that worked: aunt May. Sally Field is really good in this role. She has the gravitas and the passion to deliver the angle that is needed for a strong authority figure that Peter needs to ground him.
What didn’t work? She’s there solely for exposition. At first, I thought there was going to be something for her to do here, and to keep Aunt May relevant throughout the entire film (seeing as how, apparently, Uncle Ben no longer is in terms of character motivation). It’s a great early scene with May and Peter arguing over laundry. It felt natural. Organic. Real. Then she just disappears for a good chunk of the movie, only to show up again to read cue cards about Peter’s father and then appear later on with a brief moment with her in a hospital (one of many plot threads that are never resolved or just shoehorned in).
No it's not, James Franco. You be quiet.
So, in other words, that “grounding” for Peter never occurs. He’s just kind of aloof and she doesn’t wrangle him back in, but instead tells him a story that exasperates his aloofness and aimlessness even more because, for some reason, Peter has to be “destined” to be a hero because of his father’s blood…or something. Boy, the movie got cluttered around that point. Killing spiders, but the venom is still around, but it only works for the Parker bloodline or something…sorry, where was I.... Where May could have brought in that “heart” and “emotion” that the film needed, like with those final moments mentioned above, it just gets lost, then overlooked, then tossed out completely and never is able to find itself.
Something that worked: Harry Osborne. I really like Harry, played by Dane DeHaan, in this flick. He’s charismatic, a bit crazy, and has a convincing character arc.
What didn’t work? The fact that the villain had the best character arc in the movie. Peter Parker is rehashing the same elements from the first film, Stacey has none whatsoever, Max has none whatsoever (though his “turn” is rather well done…fanboy gets angry, I can relate)…why? Here’s why: Harry is the face of the future of the franchise. Pretty shitty if you think about it. You have a young star like DeHaan and the Spider-Man/Sinister Six franchise. Garfield is only doing one more movie. So, as expected, it’s all business.
This theme is what the original trilogy was about, and it stayed consistent with that focus for all three movies. This has yet to appear in the latest movies.
And that’s where I find The Amazing Spider-Man movies. They are films with no identity. They can’t figure out what kind of movie and angle and approach they want to take - a fault of the studio, the screenwriters and the director. So I ask again: “What was this movie about?”
The answer is actually simple, it’s right there in the last element I brought up: It’s about the studio showing they have toys and a franchise to play with. It’s not “about” anything we see on screen, but off-screen as Sony plays catch-up with the superhero franchise they own. That’s it. There’s no concern about “telling” a story when you can “show” people all the cool stuff you have.
Kind of like how Warners treated the Batman movies in the 90s. "Guys…look at all these toys and fun characters! Let’s put as many in the movie as we can!"
I’m a lenient viewer. I don’t sit around and compare to the comics (because I don’t care) and moan and complain about Superman casualties or odd Tony Stark motivations. What I want is simple: a well-made, solid and enjoyable movie experience. I don’t care about your Sinister Six foreshadowing, I don’t even care about the Marvel post-credits sequences that get people riled up. From the opening credits to the last cut to black, that is what I care about.
In a world where we can have a movie like The Winter Solider that just nails every single aspect of enjoyable, entertaining yet character-driven filmmaking, or where we can actually have a character-study placed in the realm of a superhero ala last year’s The Wolverine, or where even the most average Marvel movie is still a structurally sound, humorous, fun and often charming romp…the fact that these Spider-Man movies are boarder-line awful is inexcusable.
This isn’t 1997, the comic book movie went through its growing pains. There is no reason why they should be as inept as they are. There’s nothing left that you need to “learn” or “experiment” with because by 2008, the books were closed with Iron Man and The Dark Knight.
Now we have The Amazing Spider-Man movies six years later and they’re still struggling to figure it out? Raimi already did.
Though...he danced his own two-steps back as well.