The Great Responsibility of Spider-Man

Two things, to start: 1) If, when you’re making a new Spider-Man movie, you decide it’ll remind everyone too much of the old Spider-Man movie to have any character speak the words, “with great power comes great responsibility,” then that’s a good sign your new Spider-Man movie doesn’t need to exist.

And 2) For fuck’s sake, Peter Parker is not a brooding, dickish, ridiculously coiffed, skater-dude cool guy.

“But Peter’s not cool in this movie, he’s an outcast!” you protest. “He’s picked on! Bullied!” Yeah, sure. Because everyone knows that in the real world, this guy:

Peter Parker

…Would totally have a hard time in high school. Shit, this guy doesn’t look like a nerdy outcast, he looks like the fucking singer from hit indie pop band Fun. If The Amazing Spider-Man is distinguished by anything, it’s that it’s given us the superhero movie equivalent of every high school rom-com that dressed a beautiful 20-something actress in overalls and glasses and pretended it wasn’t ridiculous when all the guys in the movie didn’t immediately want to fuck her.

Which, I suppose, is a weird and long-winded way of saying Andrew Garfield – as much as his heart was in it – is wrong for this role. But let me back up for a sec.

I skipped The Amazing Spider-Man in theaters, mostly because I thought it looked lousy, and a little bit out of smug protest against the idea of perpetual franchise reboots. Having finally gotten around to watching it on Blu-ray, the movie has confirmed both of those impulses were correct.

There isn’t a single thing this movie does better than Sam Raimi’s original. It’s as if the guiding principle behind it was, “Let’s re-do all the broad strokes of Spider-Man’s origin story that were already in the first movie, but make every detail less entertaining!” Even the tortured way they crammed in Peter’s culpability in not stopping the crook who’d eventually kill Uncle Ben screamed, “Wait, why are we bothering with this shit again?”

Amazing Spider-Man bridgeSpider-Man 1 bridgeSo they couldn’t have Uncle Ben say “with great power comes great responsibility,” but they had no problem with this?

How about the charming love story between Pete and the girl of his dreams? Well here’s Gwen Stacy, looking remarkably like in the comics but barely given anything interesting to say (as the perfect video above notes, most of the dialogue between her and Peter is mawkish mumbling), and there’s no moment nearly as iconic as the first Spider-Man‘s upside-down kiss.

The Lizard? Jesus. Has there ever been a superhero movie with a less interesting villain? As Curt Conners, he’s just a guy missing an arm (where are his wife and kid from the comics?), and as The Lizard he’s a lumbering raptor with Killer Croc’s face. And his motivation? “Grr, now everyone must also be a lizard!…for some reason?” Sure, why not. That weird montage of him tweaking out in his sewer lab while explaining his plan in rushed voice-over totally sold it.

This is a dour, joyless, dark movie, which may make perfect sense considering how hard it tries to be Batman Begins – complete with flashbacks to Little Kid Peter and a villain whose master plan is to disperse a toxic cloud across the city – but it’s completely, utterly wrong for Spider-Man. Even Spidey’s wisecracks during crime-fighting come off less as playful fun and more as mean-spirited anger boiling over. Maybe that was their intent. But it’s not Spider-Man.

And therein lies The Amazing Spider-Man‘s greatest sin: its idea of Peter Parker. I get that they wanted to “modernize” the character, and that what it means to be a “nerd” nowadays is different than when he was created in the 60s. And maybe much inspiration came from the Ultimate Spider-Man comics, unread by me (would it be too crazy to expect a movie titled The Amazing Spider-Man to be based on the original Amazing Spider-Man comics?). But the moody, quirky, stupidly-haired, hip, skateboarding version of Peter this movie gives us bares no resemblance to any Peter Parker I’m familiar with. There’s a quick scene in the movie where Peter is walking behind a couple of actual nerds who are discussing the aerodynamics of Spider-Man’s web-slinging, and I thought, “Why didn’t they give the role to one of these motherfuckers?”

Peter and GwenYup, that sure is the very visage of a hard-luck social outcast.

That was always the entire point of Peter Parker: a superhero who in his alter-ego was unpopular at school, brainy but awkward, and had to struggle to even get the attention of the pretty girl he had his eyes on. And even when he got his superpowers, and fought off Doctor Octopus or the Green Goblin or Sandman and saved the day, he often still didn’t get the girl in the end. This is what Raimi’s first two movies (the less said about 3, the better) captured so perfectly. They gave us a Peter Parker who rarely had anything going right for him in his life, who was convincingly overlooked and picked on, and who shouldered the burdens that came with his powers, and all without succumbing to shallow angst or moody temper tantrums.

What I always took out of Spider-Man growing up – and why, I suppose, it’s always meant a lot to me – is the message that life rarely hands you what you want, and doing the right thing often means making tough choices that may cause short-term suffering, and you’ll rarely even get much credit for it, but you don’t despair because with those choices come dignity and character. It’s a remarkably sober and mature lesson to embed in otherwise escapist entertainment, and Spider-Man 2 is my all-time favorite movie because it captured it with warmth and eloquence:

Or, fine, maybe that’s just a highly dysfunctional martyr complex talking. But while it must be said that The Amazing Spider-Man is not a catastrophe on the order of Spider-Man 3 (really, what ever will be?), it still falls far short of living up to the – ahem – great responsibility of what Spider-Man stands for. It does a disservice to anyone who became a fan of the character growing up because they saw some part of themselves in Peter Parker, and it’s sad to think that now a generation of kids may themselves grow up never even bothering with Raimi’s first two movies, thinking this is what Spider-Man is all about.

Oh, and one final thing to add to the list at the start of this piece: If you go through the trouble to introduce mechanical web shooters in your pointless new Spider-Man movie, you must include a classic scene where Spider-Man runs out of web fluid and/or has to change cartridges mid-fight. Seriously, what the fuck? Raimi’s trilogy gave Spider-Man organic web shooting, and Spider-Man 2 still managed to figure out a way to have him run out of web fluid! God.

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