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Comic Book Fans' Kryptonite: Faulty Assumptions

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by Matt Singer
July 6, 2012 9:45 AM
12 Comments
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"The Amazing Spider-Man."

I write this blog out of a small home office. Two of its walls are covered with four bookshelves; one of those bookshelves is filled from floor to ceiling with graphic novels. Strewn about those graphic novels are assorted Spider-Man action figures and a couple plush dolls. On the wall adjacent hangs one of my most prized possessions: an original piece of art from "Spidey Super Stories" #8, a back cover ad encouraging readers to watch Spider-Man on "The Electric Company," the early 1980s PBS children's show that, as an infant, helped teach me to read and introduced me to the character whose exploits I would follow for the next thirty years. In other words: I love Spider-Man and I always have -- and if I haven't stopped loving Spider-Man by this point, I probably always will.

That's why the situation I found myself in last week felt so surreal. I'd reviewed "The Amazing Spider-Man" for ScreenCrush and, to my surprise and disappointment, didn't care for the movie. And then to my smaller surprise and bigger disappointment, comic book fans began to attack me for it. I was called "pissy" and "an idiot" and "not a real critic." Several people insisted I had wanted to hate it all along because the film was a reboot. One guy said I "eat Chinese penis for breakfast" which is an absurd exaggeration of my eating habits.

It would not be an exaggeration to call watching Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" in 2002 the culmination of a lifelong dream. I saw it in the theater three times (there may or may not [or may] have been tears in my eyes the first time). I would call it a borderline orgasmic experience, but that would be disgusting. Accurate, but disgusting.

"The Amazing Spider-Man" gave me none of that. It has a few moments of visual bliss -- as a hardcore Spidey-dork, how could I not get excited about 3-D web-slinging POV shots? -- surrounded by a lot of uninspired repetition from Raimi's "Spider-Man." To be totally, brutally honest, during long stretches of this movie I was bored. And this is a Spider-Man movie! That should be impossible.

As a comic book fan, I've grown accustomed to buying the same stories over and over. My collection holds at least three different versions of Spider-Man's origin: the original tale, in a reprint of "Amazing Fantasy #15," a mini-series from the 1990s called "Spider-Man: Chapter One," and the early issues of a fabulous (and still running) ongoing comic called "Ultimate Spider-Man," first published in 2000, that successfully reinvented Peter Parker as a 21st century teenager. "Ultimate Spider-Man" is a reboot, and it is fantastic. The problem with "The Amazing Spider-Man" is not that it's a reboot, but that it's a bad reboot, more a rehash than a reimagining.

Maybe I didn't convey that well enough in my review. Or maybe some comic book fans, worried about potential spoilers, skimmed the piece and didn't process any of my arguments. Either way, a small group of readers were livid, and they went on the attack. 

I don't have a problem with anyone disagreeing with something I write. I love when commenters respond to my articles in rational, intelligent ways. But these comments were not rational or intelligent. Everything wrong with them -- and everything wrong with the way these comic book fans treat people who voice opinions they don't like -- can be summed up in one word: 

Assumptions.

Angry nerd commenters (commentnerds?) assumed that since I didn't like "The Amazing Spider-Man" that I must hate Spider-Man altogether. They assumed that since I didn't like this reboot that I must hate all reboots (guess I have to throw away my copy of "Batman Begins"). They assumed that since I didn't talk about the comic books in my review that I must never have read comic books and don't understand how they work.

Their assumptions extended from my review to the movie itself. They assumed something they read in a publicity interview was more accurate than my description of the finished film. They assumed that the hypothetical movie they've imagined in their minds is better than the actual one I've seen with my eyes.

So much of angry fanboy discourse on the Internet is fueled by faulty assumptions. The phrase "see it and decide for yourself" is kryptonite to these folks -- all decisions must be made in advance according to the commentnerd hive mind. Any deviation from the party line must be shouted down, belittled, rationalized, and dismissed. I didn't like this reboot hence I didn't want to see any reboot hence I eat Chinese penis. At that point the conversation is over -- and the movie hasn't even come out yet.

That's what I want: a conversation. I want to have long, intense conversations about Spider-Man (oh God, how I want to have long, intense conversations about Spider-Man). Tell me I'm wrong. But see the movie first. Then we can actually discuss whether this is really a super story about Spidey.

12 Comments

  • Brieftaube | July 8, 2012 5:51 PMReply

    Hi, Matt, here Jo, female Austrian movie-lover and small kine filmmaker. I am in my forties, and grew up with comics, and I have a very ... let's say "high tolerance" for movies. Which means, I love to be taken out of my reality by a story, and as long as it is not grueling violence or horror, I'd watch anything. Just because it enriches my inner world. "The Amazing Spiderman" as a hero enriched my world because he is in a strange way erotic and cute (remember, I am in my forties), and the way he is scripted, is lovely. Andrew Garfield has a darkish sexiness to him, but I knew that in reality he is 28, and that sort of irritated me all through the film. I didn't believe the school setting, really, because (as it turned out, Peter Parker has abilities that go way beyond his age and education, and ... why?). Further: Had Tobey Maguire had Emma Stone on his side, his "Spiderman" would have been sexier too, and if Kirsten Dunst had been with Andrew Garfield, I am afraid, she would have cooled down much of his appeal and make him look more childish. But Andrew got shot in very "manly" ways - which weirdly clashed with the school-boy character, but then, so what? It greatly enriched my world that Dr. Connors was played by Rhys Ifans - and it put me off greatly how little he was given to do. For comfort, sure, there was a lot of fun in watching Spidey move around. But there the enrichment ends pretty much here. The Lizard was the clumsiest, dumbest and worst rendered CGI-creature ever. His size was ridiculous, and altogether he looked like taken out of a Boris Karlow movie. Why? Folks, there was King Kong, there was Jurassic Park, there were gazillions of "Aliens", so why such a sleazy Lizard? A major plot-problem comes with Dr. Connors, and it has to do with Gwen and why in the world she of all people (a schoolgirl, no less) was "working" for that mysterious man and was an expert on things that were way beyond her age's grasp. Oh well, yes, it felt kind of stupid that she showed up there, and there really wasn't a good reason for that except another encounter between two love-birds. Can you say contrived? At the same time I was irritated, because there was no need for the two main casualties to happen, and the lose threads that kept showing and dangling keep bothering me inspite of the lots and lots of threads Peter Parker was slinging. The reason why he actually could do that and the way he did it, was interesting, but way underdeveloped like a lot of the plot. And again, Peter Parker's knowledge is just not right for a guy of his age and education. And to finalize my displeasure - after all, Spiderman really isn't that, but he is Spiderteen, and that's weird. Tobey Maguire was young too, but when he was Spiderman, he was an adult. The Amazing One is a Teen even when he is swinging all over town. Even when he is sexy. We all can guess what kind of a hot guy he'd be one day, but as we meet him, he is a typical teen, and a virgin in so many ways. Not sure what to do with that. And this was only the beginning of plot-problems equal script-problems. The director opened a lot of cans of worms and just threw them away, carelessly, as it seems. And did I mention that Rhys Ifans was put to not enough good use? His character had such a great multi-dimentional promise, which was not fulfilled at all. The entire backstory was just dropped without further notice, but the entire reason why Lizard-man came into being depended on it. So it seems like a trick to made people watch the sequel, because nothing is resolved at all. Finally: Any movie that plays with emotions so much like this one did, should really NOT let its heroes and heroines go through horrible tragedies - and slip out of them in a wink of an eye as if nothing had happened. Pain as a cause for action is no longer plausible when much greater pain does not evoke anything within the characters. Nuff sed ... on the surface and right after walking out of the theater, I felt "this was good", but seven steps further, I reconsidered. I loved Andrew Garfield as Spidey, loved the aunt and uncle couple, loved Rhys Ifans and loved a lot of the "heart"-scenes and the moving about town on strings. But a lot of the time during the movie I was thinking while I was watching, and that is a bad thing.

  • Daniel Bell | July 7, 2012 12:14 PMReply

    huh. having read your article on screencrush, i honestly say that i personally don't come away from it thinking you're hating or pissy or an idiot. being a comic nerd myself, and a bit of a film nerd for that matter, i don't dislike the review you wrote because i think you've made a snap judgement on the film as a fan, nor to i dislike the review you wrote because i did the same. i just think some of the points you make in the article are wrong.

  • Jeremy | July 7, 2012 8:34 AMReply

    Here's something I've been noticing as a sad trend equally across all the pages and geek communities as of late: the "actual" definition of a fanboy is one so deeply enthralled and loyal to a certain aspect of geek culture (rather it be video games, comics, movies, etc) that they are unwilling to listen to varying views rather it be simple opinion or use of logic arguing against the item they have latched their fandom upon. A fanboy of water, for exaggerated example, would argue water has more flavor than chocolate. Funny thing about fanboys. The word is passed around geek sites like weed at a Bob Marley concert. These days it's virtually impossible to not hear it used as insult at least once. However ironically enough your often called a fanboy by an actual hardcore fanboy him/herself. Fanboy is a veiled way of saying "I'm passionate enough to hate your differing opinion but inarticulate enough to actually voice my reasons so: you FANBOY!" I once heard the bible mentioning that the meek will inherit the earth. That time has come. Congrats, the geeks have taken over. The bad: geeks went from being ashamed of their geeky love to now acting entitled and arrogant and prissy. "Oh this guy clearly doesn't read comics!" (he does but...yeah), "you fanboys are always nitpicking!", (what's the opposite of nitpicking? Cause yur doing that. Same difference). "Oh what? We're not talking about She-hulk anymore? Cause she's the greatest like, EVER! Wait what? Ms Marvel? Oh she actually sux! Here are my opinions on why, don't interrupt me...." -_-

  • Mike M | July 6, 2012 9:53 PMReply

    Those must have been some pretty hateful comments. I read the ScreenCrush review when it was posted, and I thought is was a fair assessment of what this movie is -- an unnecessary reboot. The same old story carted out to the theater that would maybe offer up some nice new touches but nothing new or interesting in terms of story, storytelling or character. Also, I'm a nerd. It's tough to know that many intelligent people think of nerds as this nasty Borgy hive mind that spews vitriol all over the Internet. I'm not like that. I usually only comment when I have something nice to say, and the piece is so good or interesting that it makes me want to jump in and join the conversation.

  • Tars Tarkas | July 6, 2012 9:40 PMReply

    When they get it right, as Raimi did with 2 of his 3 films, I think it's hard to overcome our assumptions about any films that will follow. When you talk assumptions, when I saw The Amazing Spider-Man I couldn't stop comparing it to the original film. It's impossible. I made a lot of assumptions about it. I believe it's impossible NOT to carry that film's baggage - both good and bad - when viewing it. They're telling the same story, just in a different way. I think the only way to judge this film fairly is to see it twice. The first viewing is an adjustment to any fan of the original films. The second time, I think most of your assumptions will be gone and you'll appreciate the film for what it is, not what it is not. These are the assumptions that personally every one needs to get over. I think a lot of this would be moot if they did the origin in the first 10 minutes. But would we be emotionally invested in Peter Parker if they did? It's a tough call. Just imagine the bloodbath when WB eventually reboots Batman. How hard of a shift is that gonna be? Maybe they should forgo origin stories for all reboots that are made within 15-20 years of the original. Then again, a case can be made that this film is for THIS generation of fans. Maybe these stories should be told over again. I look forward to this trilogy and the next "The Sensational Spider-Man" directed by????

  • Lancelot | July 6, 2012 8:21 PMReply

    I didn't feel that it was boring at all. The lizard story did seem a little lacking though. I think this film was made mainly for the people who didn't care much for the Raimi ones. Obviously you're not one of them. I however am in that minority. Andrew Garfield just resonated with me as spidey so much more than Tobey ever did. There are so many classic moments like Peter taking pictures with a webbed camera, and Flash wearing a Spider-man shirt, that I just dont understand how a true fan can dislike it. I don't know matt. Maybe your brain is broken. :(

  • obiwen | July 6, 2012 12:06 PMReply

    So you *don't* eat Chinese penis for breakfast?

  • Kschenke | July 6, 2012 10:46 AMReply

    I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, even if it wasn't perfect. I liked that Uncle Ben's death didn't immediately get him on the side of good and that his first response was to make Spider-Man so he could get revenge ... even if that's the last thing Ben would have wanted. I loved the family dynamic of Ben, May and Peter and really all the actors were cast well. And I really enjoyed how Gwen was never kidnapped and actually had a huge part to do with saving the day (and helped save a crap ton of people in Oscorp). It was also great that we saw a lot of actual stunt work compared to him going right to the cgi costume (Andrew Garfield did a lot of the stunts himself from what I've heard).

    I also liked that Peter had a direct hand in the bad things that happened in the movie. His selfish behavior in gym made it necessary for him to pick up Aunt May, his selfish behavior later in the evening caused the fight between him and Ben and his selfish behavior not stopping the thief ... well, you know. And from how they set it up, it's looking like Peter giving Connors the cure will essentially lead to the creation of most of the Spider-Man baddies (at least the animal themed ones). And as a little detail, it was great to see some actual character depth from Flash.

    It certainly had issues with the goofiness and it's not a perfect film, but I enjoyed myself a lot. And yes, I'm a Spidey fan.

  • Jason | July 6, 2012 10:23 AMReply

    As a nerd who never comments, I read most of what you write and really enjoy it, even when I don't agree. It's some of the most entertaining critic-writing I've come across, so thanks.

    I often tell my friends that you get what you deserve if you find yourself reading comments on the internet. As a professional writer, you probably can't avoid it, but even so--you probably should. Good luck with that.

  • Austin Haught | July 6, 2012 10:12 AMReply

    I really loved The Amazing Spider-man movie when I saw it earlier this week. I wasn't expecting to, really, I really wasn't all that excited about it coming into the summer. However, I found the film to be a great surprise. It was really fun, light, engaging fare. The chief complaint of the Raimi era Spider-Man was the dull and lifeless romance between Parker and Mary Jane Watson. It was boring and lifeless except for one key upside kiss in the rain. The reboot seem has Stacy and Parker matched up, and I found the chemistry between the two to be rather thrilling.

    Really, that seems to be the understated strength of these Marvel films that people don't mention enough. Thor and Jane, Stark and Potts, Parker and Stacy...each of the female love interest in these movies really seem authentic, at least to me, and really deserve every minute of screen time they get. They all add rather than detract from the movie, and seem to be there for a more interesting reason than to give girlfriends someone to identify when their boyfriends drag them to the movie.

    Compare them with Blake Lively in Green Lantern, or Rachel Dawson from Batman Begins. Awful.

  • Erik S. | July 6, 2012 10:11 AMReply

    Matt, while I don't agree with you on the movie 100% (I really liked Garfield and Stone, who I thought helped carry the movie through it's less stellar bits), I do think this movie has brought to the fore a lot of interesting patterns of thought, both in fans, and in critics. You're right that many fans make assumptions and work from them as opposed to forming opinions based on the work itself--clearly, this is not good. However, I do think a lot of critics (not you, obviously--but others) went into this movie wanting and expecting to dislike it and throwing barbs at Sony for doing something (a reboot) that comics do all the time. The quality of the reboot, which is definitely debatable, wasn't the issue for them--the fact that it was a reboot at all was enough to damn the film, albeit sometimes with faint praise. So while clearly some Webheads went overboard, as we're wont to do, I think there was some cause for frustration.

  • Jonathan Sullivan | July 6, 2012 10:03 AMReply

    I love comics, but I always *hate* talking to hardcore comic book fans. I don't think I've ever encountered a more nitpicky group in all of my life.

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