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.