Monday, November 19, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man on Blu-Ray, a Review...Maybe not so amazing

I recently received my four disc Spider-Man 3-D package. The movie looks great on Blu-ray, but my 3-D projector is still down so I can’t comment on 3-D yet. Before I get into the actual review of the movie, let me discuss the special features that came with it

First, as with almost all discs, there is a typical commentary by the directors and producers, in this case by Marc Webb, Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach. We first learn nothing unexpected: all the actors were great, all were fun to work with, all wanted these parts more than anything and they all did a fantastic job.  We also learn that most of the actors worked with these people on other movie and that Sally Field only worked ten days. More than giving the background on the scenes, they seem to be describing much of what we are already seeing.  I did enjoying hearing why certain scenes were shortened or eliminated, or placed in different spots of the movie than original planned. 

There is a bunch of features that can play like a documentary. They one hour and fifty minutes long and are entitled “Rites Of Passage.” This shows the creation of the reboot of Spider-Man.  They emphasis that they felt that the origin of Spider-Man had been told, but not the origin of Peter Parker, so there is special emphasis on the relationship between Peter and his parents. In fact the producers felt this was the focal point of the movie.  This, of course, was not ever a component of the early books, by Lee, Ditko and later Romita, which I loved. They also felt that the Gwen relationship with Peter was especially important because it was his first love. As an original reader of Spider-Man I am disappointed with this point of view. Gwen was not his first love, Betty was. This sadly shows an ignorance of the true history of the character. And while Peter did not know his birth parents; his parents were really Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Now their history might have been an interesting thing to show! I guess I am also am getting tired of long origins in Comic Book movies, especially, like in Spider-Man, we recently saw it.  X-Men First Class was an entire movie telling an origin and the next Superman movie will take a long time to tell his beginnings.

The documentary discusses the last three Spider-Man movies, and they show many scenes from them. They don’t quite resolve to my satisfaction why there was no Spider-Man IV. The producer does mention that the Lizard was always his favorite villain, so you have to wonder why they waited for the fourth film.

In the “documentary” there are segments on how they did the casting, the special effects, post and pre-production, filming in L.A. and filming in NY. They also showed how the costumes were made.

The 12 outtakes were interesting because they were basically completed. That is, they had music and special effects, most outtakes don’t. However, missing here was commentary on why these scenes were either shortened or not in the movie. That would have made them more interesting. The most interesting items here were the outtakes of Curt Connors.  I would have preferred that they had kept him a good guy like they did in the comics. Here some of the deleted scenes shows the hell he was going through and he would have made a much more appealing and tortured character.

I very much enjoyed the Pre-Visulizations: Revised Opening Sequence; Spider Room; The Subway; Birth of Spider-Man; Handstand; Roof Top POV; Overpass; Bridge; Love Swing; Lizard Sewer; High School; Lizard Ambush; Standoff; Crane; Oscorp Lab; and Oscorp Finale. Here we are shown the actual storyboards for the scenes and, in some cases, computer animation of what they wanted it to look like. It was very good and reminded me of the MTV Spider-Man cartoon. There is also a picture gallery of Prof. Connors turning into the Lizard.

Again with no commentary, but still fun to see, was the rehearsal for some very complex stunts in the movie. They showed Live Subway; Spidey Luis Sequence; Escape Under Bridge; Sewer Fight; Big Liz vs. Spidey; Lizard Attacks and SWAT.

There is a three minute segment on the Making of the Video game, which is more of a promotion than a making of segment.

Onto a review of the movie:

A reminder, my reviews are generally for comic books fans. In this review, the Spoiler section discusses many more issues in depth.

Once upon a time, at the beginnings of the 1960, there was a young high school kid, who lived in Forest Hills with just his mother. He was shy, wore glasses, and had photography as a hobby.
That boy was me and, in 1962, I bought Amazing Fantasy off the newsstands and later Spider-Man 1-160. I was excited but greatly disappointed in the TV show. I had to wait until 2002 to see a real movie. Despite some quirks, that was my Spider-Man up there, and I like that movie and especially Spider-Man II. Spider-Man III not so much. I felt the casting was mostly great.
Tobey Maguire was perfect as Peter Parker, Cliff Robinson was a great Uncle Ben and J.K. Simmons was perfect a J.J.J. Kirsten Dunst and Willem Dafoe were serviceable, and, but for me were not standouts. But Rosemary Harris, as Aunt May was. She brought great depth and strength to her character and shared that with Peter. In my day, Spidey was bitten by a radioactive spider, here a genetically altered one. It was probably better for the movies for his webs to be organic, and something the Comics Code might have stopped in 1962.

I wasn’t excited about a reboot. You see, today we use the term “reboot” as not starting over, clean, from the beginning, but just a rewriting what has gone before. To me, this is mostly what the Amazing Spider-Man is about, a mediocre retelling, adding nothing new or interesting. 

Amazing Spider-Man was a disappointment; this was not my Spider-Man. First, to “look” different they felt they had to change things. So Peter starts off in high school, where he should be 16 or 17. But they cast a 30 year old actor to play him! Andrew Garfield is not bad, but he does not fit the role. Neither does Emma Stone, who is ten years too old. Maybe I am too harsh here because here, Gwen is written to be a rather shallow character, with little depth.  Frankly, Sally Field as Aunt May is way too young! You see, as with Dr. Strange, Ditko’s other great Marvel creation; we are given an older, frail person who is a mentor to the hero. Frail is important because we know they won’t be around forever and our heroes, Peter or Stephen better learn now. Of course it also opens many plot complications. Sally Fields, a wonderful actress, (I like her, I really, really like her) but she doesn’t fit. She is not frail enough, with someone needing to care of her. You see they know Garfield is thirty years old and is not a kid. They know you know it. So even though they placed him High School, they have him acting as if that was his job, not his school. In fact, he needs no notes when he is late to class. And he apparently doesn’t live in Forest Hills anymore. He does go to Midtown High, which he did in the original comics. The scenes of Spidey, virtually flying though the city are totally realistic, they look so good. Spidey’s costume looks like it made of rubber and not cloth. And yes, the Spider bite also gave Peter the power to sew his own costume.

You see, it’s important to have the scenes where an expectance, older woman, comforts a 16 year old and tells him about life and girls. In fact their scenes don’t make senses. Peter comes home battered, and of course she is worried. But Peter is 16 and what is he doing out on a school night? And Ditko’s Aunt May would not let him go out again without telling her what happened.
Not that she or Martin Sheen is given anything real to do. Or say. There is no humor here (OK one good joke) and no humanity. They feel they are clever switching things, so it is not the same burglar that kills Ben. Nor does Ben tell us what comes with great power. Instead, they give him a silly unquotable substitute that makes no sense.

Gwen Stacy, as played by the very appealing Emma Stone, was not Spidey’s first girlfriend, Betty Brant was. But we will not see Betty here, as J.J.J.’s secretary because, he isn’t here either. Part of the lure of Spider-Man was his inaction in his first story, not stopping a burglar, which would have repercussions for Ditko’s entire run, up to issue #38. There are no repercussions here; Peter does not need a job after his uncle’s death. Yes, he fools around with a camera, but I noticed it was one that uses film in a world that has gone digital. The relationship with Gwen is accelerated and goes rather smoothly.

I have mentioned this before, but there now seems to be a formula for the origin in every super-hero movie, and since I know the story in most and have seen in here, I wished it was not rehashed. The formula:
  • We are introduced to the soon to be hero and the friends and family around him.
  • He gets his powers.
  • He usually loses a few friends or relatives (Jor-El and Lara, Martha and Thomas Wayne, Uncle Ben, Battling Murdock, Dr. Reinstein, etc.)
  • Hilarity ensures as the super hero discovers his powers, although we never learn how they learned to sew their costumes.
  • The villains go two ways. First, they usually follow at least the first two steps above. But, to save time, I notice in Batman Begins, The Fantastic Four and now here, the villain’s origin is tied into the heroes. Well, here we have the Lizard and, believe or not he gets tied into Spidey’s origin. In fact Peter actually shows more regret for helping create the Lizard than for the shooting of Uncle Ben. The Lizard is not the one we know from, the comics, he is more of a Hulk character here. And the end is just preposterous.

The Lizard here is computer generated and looks great. He is, mostly, three times the size of Spidey.

If you liked the first two Spider-man movies and were not thrilled with the third, I suspect you won’t like this one.

Spoiler Alert!

Parker here begins as not being the shy retiring and reserved type. In fact he searches out Curt Connors to find out what he knows about Peter’s parents. This is so secret that Ben and May don’t want to tell him. Curt Connors, who appeared as the Lizard only once in the Ditko era, was a friend and ally of Spider-Man, not so here, He was a sympathetic figure, with a wife and child, and a substitute for Uncle Ben. Here is a loyal, and evil employee of Oscorp trying to create a cure for the ill (but unseen) Norman Osborn, rather than a substitute to Uncle Ben. He also knows some terrible secret regarding the missing parents of Peter Parker, which again, is out of character for everyone.

Peter, at age 16, writes the formula that converts Connors into the Lizard. Unlike the original character, Connor’s likes being the Lizard, and keeps changing back.

Further, Peter kind of steals his web technology from Oscorp, where, apparently anyone can sneak in and go to restricted parts of the building.

Now, it’s bad enough that the plot has the Lizard inventing a “missile” that will; turn everyone in the city into a lizard. That is not a Spider-Man plot that is a bad Japanese movie. In fact the only good joke in the movie occurs when the Lizard is attacking, people are running and Capt. Stacy says, “What am I, The mayor of Japan?” But two things got to me. Gwen, a 16 year old, who serves as an intern at Oscorp has access to the entire building and can run any experiments in empty labs, comes up with the cure to the Lizard’s plan. Wow.

The ending just made no sense. Get this, the Lizard has taken over the city and is heading to midtown to launch his missile at the Oscorp building. The Mayor ordered an evacuation; everyone has either left or is leaving the city. OK? On the lower east side of Manhattan, captured by the police, Spider-Man is shot in the leg and is weak, limping and bleeding. (This is silly, we know he is going to win), and he has eight minutes to get there! So how does he get to the Lizard? A crane operator, who Spidey once helped, calls other crane operators to go to their cranes and line them up perfectly so Spidey can swing across the city and save everyone.

OK Let’s review: The city is evacuated, with trains, and busses travelling away from the city, and 25 crane operators are able to get to the top of their 100 stories buildings, turn on their cranes and point them in the right direction in less than four minutes. Remember time is “real” here there is a countdown.

Oh, yeah, after this scene, Peter doesn’t limp. In fact he doesn’t have to see a doctor to get the bullet removed.

At the end of the movie, after a minute of credits, we see Connors in jail (remember in the comic he was not evil and served no jail time) and a mysterious voice asks him if he told Peter about his parents! Wow, I guess will have to worry about that.

1 comment:

  1. I disagree with your assessment of Betty being Peter's first love. Betty was his first "girlfriend"; Gwen was his first "love." Big difference. As a teenager growing up, I had several "girlfriends" before I met my first "love." I suspect that's true of most people.