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The Unbearable Sadness of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

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by Paul Meekin
July 27, 2012 12:36 PM
5 Comments
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The Amazing Spider-Man is shockingly terrible, a glorified cartoon with black skies and a black heart. Everyone dies, or is sad about someone dying, or will surely die in the sadly inevitable sequel.

And when an action movie is so grim, and so dark, and so bathed in grays and blacks and the shiny metallic skyline of New York City, it's almost impossible to enjoy the film, due to the fact the characters are miserable, graphically injured, or close in appearance to a big green version of Voldemort. Here is a super-hero movie that is neither noble or enjoyable.

This is a summer blockbuster in which the action scenes are gratuitous and useless, and it’s amazing (ha) any of these characters were able to stay on their Prozac long enough to take any sort of action. This is Kafka’s Spider-Man.

Peter Parker is sad for the entire movie! What follows is a spoiler-laden summary of the film from Peter Parker’s perspective.

First he’s sad his parents left.
Then he’s sad everyone picks on him.
Then he’s sad he’s bad with girls.
Then he’s sad he was bitten by a spider.
Then he’s sad about his parents again.  
Then he’s sad about the fact he created the lizard.
Then he’s sad Captain Stacy won’t listen to him.
Then he’s sad because Captain Stacy dies.
Then he’s sad because he’s not allowed to see Gwen Stacy anymore.

Then, a useless final shot of Spider-Man pointlessly hanging upside down, keeping watch over a city he has now made more dangerous than ever; Having learned nothing from an ordeal that culminated with Peter Parker alone and miserable and beaten to a pulp, along with the crippling emotional weight of knowing he inadvertently caused the death of his Uncle Ben along with Captain Stacy, his ex-girlfriend’s dead father. The movie is all one terrible downward spiral, and this is supposed to be a summer tent pole summer action blockbuster movie, based on Marvel Comics’ signature hero? At this rate, they could have kept Tobey Maguire in the movie and made it about his mid-life crisis.  

This is a Spider-Man movie that is so meekly trying to emulate the style of The Dark Knight, it hurts. The Dark Knight took a grimly dark atmosphere and infused it with three-dimensional characters, excellent writing, a flair for tension and gritty realism, and wrapped it in the grim themes of sacrifice for the greater good and the unrelenting fight against crime. The Amazing Spider-Man is a deadly serious and graphically violent affair almost completely about death and sadness, involving 24-year-old high-school sophomores.

Uncle Ben is graphically shot and murdered, and bleeds profusely; Captain Stacy is painfully impaled, presumably suffering tremendous pain as he waits for Spider-Man to come back and listen to his over-long death monologue. Even the lab rats are cannibalistic killers in this flick. Going beyond just violence, there are about half a dozen disturbing scenes involving biting, swollen faces from fights, and a bunch of lizard-related ickiness. How is it that The Amazing Spider-Man is more visually gory than the Dark Knight films?

Now I know what you’re saying: Spider-Man, in the Tobey Maguire version, has some grim stuff in it too. Willem Dafoe impales himself; Uncle Ben dies again; Spider-Man has to wrestle Macho Man’s ghost, and worse, kiss Kirsten Dunst. There’s also the scene where Oscorp is pumpkin bombed during a parade and some skeletons are shown. But that was deliberately cartoonish in nature, a rollicking good adventure, a little bit scary on purpose. The Amazing Spider-man is shocking and grotesque, filled with graphic violence and intentionally disturbing images. There’s a difference between a movie like Mars Attacks and a movie like Independence Day, and even Independence Day didn’t have a scene of a graphically bleeding chest wound with a high-school-aged boy futilely attempting to put pressure on it, covering his hands in blood.

Then, to make things worse, this movie dares to feature the obligatory post-9/11 “Americans Are Heroes Trademark Moment,” including a cliched low angle shot of a blue-collar American saying something like “he’s one of us” while the camera holds on an American flag in the background just a half second while the music swells. This, of course, is opposite the general mood of the rest of the movie, which is horrid doom. If this is your idea of an American hero, there’s something wrong with your movie, or something wrong with America.

I know Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man have been compared with each other a billion times, but at least the earlier Spider-Man had a style to it, and despite some flaws, the cinematography at times made you feel as if you were sweeping through New York City. The Amazing Spider-Man is largely shot from afar, moving into and out of the frame, like a multi-million dollar version of a PC animator from 15 years ago.

As well, the fights in the first two Spider-Man films were, at the least, emotionally motivated. Spider-Man, Maguire edition, fought with all he had in the first Spider-Man. After Norman Osborn kidnapped Mary Jane and attacked Aunt May, he was angry. The emotion and tension between the two characters came to a head in a brutal hand-to-hand battle during which an entire wall came down on one of the characters. And while The Green Goblin’s outfit looks too much like a shiny Power Rangers zord, the emotion and tension of this scene carry it. The Amazing Spider-Man, on the other hand, features a sophisticated and drawn out fight scene between characters using the best in computer generated imagery, but is almost entirely devoid of emotion..

Batman and Robin is probably The Amazing Spider-Man’s closest cousin, in its color coding and cartoonish masquerade as an attempt at gothic themes. Batman and Robin was bathed in neon and cliches. The reality of the world was unimportant beside the terrible puns and flimsy action scenes. Actually, Batman and Robin gets points for not taking itself very seriously. The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t get the same points.

I guess I’m confused and angry, infused with a bit of curmudgeonliness. This is an appropriate take for the Spider-man Mythos? Where everyone is dark and pitiful? Aren’t heroes meant to be looked up to? How many grade-school recess conversations have been focused almost solely about which super-hero you most wish you could be?

Do people want to be this Spider-Man? Depressed and miserable at all times? God, I hope not.

Paul Meekin is a Chicago based writer, television producer, and movie critic for Streetwise Magazine. He can found on Twitter at @MeekinOnMovies and Facebook at www.facebook.com/MeekinOnMovies. He also stars and writes the hit web-based sketch comedy show, "FatMan and Little Girl" on YouTube Channel: ANTVGM64.

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5 Comments

  • Dood | August 6, 2012 5:49 PMReply

    I think you've missed the point. Spiderman is a sad character. He is also a teenager. You've also neglected to mention the most redeeming relationship in the whole movie, Gwen Stacy. This is a teenage love story. It is not a super hero movie. The super hero stuff comes second, after the Gwen Stacy part.

  • Noel | July 30, 2012 7:44 AMReply

    I agree that this is just a really bad review. The movie's characters are sad, so this = dark, which equals the dark knight. That was the logic behind this review. This indicated that you obviously know very little about movies. There is a reason why we don't talk about sad in a critical analysis, because sad is subjective and a product of the viewers experience and not the filmaker's. If you accused the film of being sentimental, that would be a valid accusation. But this is a sad film in the way Pedro Almadovar's movies are sad, which is to say it really isn't. Of course there is no comparison, this is pure campy super-hero movie stuff, as where Almadovar is a modern auteur filmmaker, but the point critizing this kind of movie for being sad doesn't hold up to logical scrutiny. Almadovar has made a career out of challenging the ideas of sentimentality in films, using death and sadness to to add layers of color to his otherwise bright and optimistic films. Studies have shown sad movies actually make people happier. Again This is not the same thing, but the same kind of thing. A light movie made for pop-corn and soda, nothing like Nolan's heavy dramatic and serious comic book films.

  • F.P. | July 28, 2012 3:50 PMReply

    Bravo - couldn't have written a better article about the depressingly bad, poorly acted, listlessly shot, phenomenally awful scripted mess of a film, made with all the style of teenager's scribbles in a notebook, or a studio head's checkbook. A 17-year old HIGH-SCHOOL STUDENT as the head of intern research, in the center of New York City? If you defend this dull, stultifyingly stupid, and, yes, profoundly anti-heroic film during a summer of better-than-usual fare, you owe your soul an apology and you should be forced to watch films from before you were born, Clockwork_Orange-style. The Amazing Epic Fail. Thank you Paul Meekin.

  • Jan Ken Po | July 28, 2012 5:14 AMReply

    Your review could be accused of the same issues of which you accuse The Amazing Spider-Man: it's miserable, neither interesting nor enjoyable. Don't confuse my disdain of your review as a defense of the film (I hold no strong opinion of it) but am rather shocked at its inclusion here; Press Play is the worse off for it (though obviously the staff disagrees; heaven knows why).

    Spoilers are a crutch but the point of including them is to describe the situation so as to support your observations; here your spoilers do twice the harm by spoiling the facts but offering none of the detail. Your descriptions of the events were so poor that the spoilers it makes me wonder if you only did it out of contempt for your audience but if, for some reason, that was your intent, you needn't have bothered with a 'spoilers ahead' warning and you could have just gone ahead and completely screwed them over.

    The trouble is your review (nearly every fiber in my being objects to me calling it a review instead of a long-winded rant or whine-fest) lacks fire and wit but neither is it cold and spiteful--it is dull, uninspired, and unconvincing.

  • Wietze | July 27, 2012 1:38 PMReply

    This is the worst review ever! Have you even watched the movie? There are lots of happy moments! Especially when Peter gets a girlfriend. But a very important thing is that this new Spider-man has the same kind of humor that we know from the comics. "Oh no, you've found my weakness: small knives!", now that's the kind of humor that I missed in the Tobey version. No sadness at all. This movie has nothing to do with the Dark Knight franchise. It's a totally different kind of movie. It looks like Paul Meekin had a bad day and decided to bash a movie, no matter how good it was. And this movie is good, I can assure you that!

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