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Two more opinions of one more Spider-Man

“The Amazing Spider-Man”
Directed by Marc Webb
Review by Malcolm Maclachlan & Tony Sheppard

Malcolm: The best thing I can say about this version of Spider-Man is that I liked it a lot better than the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire films. But I would have liked it a lot better if the Raimi/MacGuire ones had never been made. After the film, I keep hearing other people in the audience talked about what a “great reboot” it was. Which left me wondering why we aren’t being offered more original software.

Tony: I hear ya! But Hollywood is a risk averse place and these comic book movies generally sell pretty well, with this new one already beating records for similar opening days/dates. That said it’s often tough to compare with past films, on a dollar for dollar basis, as the newer releases cost more per ticket with even higher premiums for 3D screenings. And as for the past films, I heard another reviewer say something along the lines of “I was worried about how I would feel about the Tobey Maguire films and now I’m thinking Tobey who!?”

Malcolm: To back up, a lot of the ingredients are there. Relative unknown Andrew Garfield has been getting raves for playing a more vulnerable, troubled version of the hero, a kind of Peter Parker meets Holden Caulfield (a line I plagiarized from EVERYWHERE). Emma Stone is always good, this time as original heroine Gwen Stacy. But when the pair start dropping hints about the coming films in the franchise shortly before the closing credits, I found myself thinking that I won’t be there. I’m happy to watch them both—in something else.

Tony: Well, they’re coming – it was announced yesterday that there will be two more films in this series. In an odd way, I liked it enough to almost want it to fail, to avoid bad sequels. But I’m OK with seeing them back together – they have far more onscreen (and offscreen) chemistry than most matchups. And Andrew Garfield has been around, he’s just easy to miss at times because he tends to change his appearance and accent at will and is proving to be pretty versatile.

Malcolm: If this had been a terrible remake, I could have just written it off. If it had been a brilliant recasting of the basic story— something truly troubling, like Spider-Man as an idiot savant or vigilante killer, or better yet a middle-aged Spidey as Michael Corleone, wanting to hang up his Mexican wrestler mask but not knowing how—that would have been something. But instead it’s “darker” without being truly dark. We get the cinematic version of comfort food: even if it’s a noticeably better telling than the most recent big-budget versions, it really is the same old origin story told basically the same way. I found myself having a decent enough time, but I never stopped wondering why this film had to be made, especially given that the last Raimi/Maguire sequel came out only five years ago.

Tony: Then again, if all reboots were this good, I’d be asking for more and sometimes much sooner. How about a better “John Carter”? It’s only been a couple of months but I’d welcome a better retelling of that story. And “better” would be my main descriptor here, rather than darker, it all just seemed to work so very well. It seems more natural with better character development – especially as the super powers kick in. And Sally Field and Martin Sheen add a certain quality/gravitas in quite small roles as the Parker grandparents. It was like hearing the same joke from a better comedian – it just worked. It also looked a lot better than the previews and early glimpses, many of which looked horribly artificial.

Malcolm: I think the hint as to why we’re getting a new film comes in the repeated refrain we’re hearing that this version is “more faithful to the original.” Think about that for a minute: we’re judging a $215 million movie on how faithful it is to a 50-year-old comic book most viewers have never read, and won’t. Maybe the nostalgia we’re being sold isn’t Spider Man, but 1962 (insert your “Mad Men” reference here, because I won’t).

Tony: I’m one of those non-readers of the source material, so I always feel a little out of the loop on those comparisons, but I’ve seen and heard the same thing being said – both in analyses and from audience members leaving the theater.

Malcolm: It looks modern, of course, all smartphones and racial diversity (mainly among the minor characters and extras). But the ethos is something else, a democratization of morality as the working people of New York rebel against the authorities and declare Spider Man a hero, not a vigilante. Meanwhile, the plot, lacking a true bad guy, really centers around biotechnology run out of control in ways that eventually evoke 9/11 and the heroism of the husky urbanites of yesteryear.

Tony: I think there’s more of a clear villain here than in some other recent movies, such as “Brave” or the aforementioned “John Carter” (in which the onscreen villain is a minion of some force we never meet). But I agree that we do get to champion the working man/woman – from Sheen and Field’s grandparents to the crane operators of Manhattan, led by C. Thomas Howell, who might once have donned tights himself for an equally mythic role (and who has an amazing actor-man 149 titles in his IMDB profile).

Malcolm: Superhero flicks almost inevitably go for the mythic, but we seem to feel like we now live in a fallen age where we can’t make any new myths. Heck, we can barely make cars anymore. Spider Man isn’t just a time traveler from a time when we had a strong industrial base, he’s an excuse to indulge in the kind of gee-wiz idealism that might feel forced and hokey on the shoulders of any truly modern hero. But I wish someone would try. In the real world, such people still exist.

Tony: Or try telling a story in its own era – as with the remarkably successful “Captain America.”

Malcolm: In short, it’s an update so timeless it didn’t really need to be made. Though I suppose that $215 million had to have created some jobs somewhere in the good old U.S. of A.

Tony: True. Plus all the Chinese workers who are churning out plastic 3D glasses so that, amongst other things, movies are harder to pirate and bootleg. After all, if we’re going to stop Chinese bootleggers from manufacturing DVD’s so we can control more of our copyrights, we can at least keep them busy crafting our stylish cinematic eyewear.

"The Amazing Spider-Man" is currently in wide release and can be found at multiple local theaters.

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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