I suppose I ought to join the chorus of the righteous who have used the occasion of the release of The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), a meer ten years after the release of Spider-Man (2002), to get indignant about Hollywood’s imaginative bankruptcy. It’s the summer and that means two things: it’s hot and a movie that didn’t need to be made is going to open on Friday. Every week this time of year a shopworn plot gets warmed over and passed off as something new in thousands of theaters across the country. What artistic hole in society is the appearance of Madagascar 3 filling? What cultural gap has been satisfied by Men in Black 3? I find it hard to get huffy about Sony/Columbia asking us all to see a movie that we all saw ten years ago when Fox just asked me to do the same thing with Prometheus four weeks ago. Where were the throngs of cheated movie-goers then, aghast that Tinseltown would dare ask us to pay for the same thing twice? Well, I hate to open your eyes, but Tinseltown doesn’t stop asking at two, it wants you to pay for the same thing five, ten, dozens of times and they do that because we’ve proven that we will. The three movies I mentioned above have made, on average, $283 million more than they cost to make and The Amazing Spider-Man, in six days, has made about $100 million more. True, it’s underperforming compared to Spider-Man 2 (2004), presumably because people don’t enjoy being abjectly told to forget about the things they liked last decade, but I think we can all agree that $100 million is a lot of money. Even the maligned “flop” Battleship, which isn’t a sequel or remake but is no one’s idea of an original story, grossed $100 million over the budget of production.
This isn’t me defending The Amazing Spider-Man, which is a pretty obviously a cynical money grab, but I’m just pointing out that it’s one of a dozen or so pretty obvious cynical money grabs that come out between May and September and I don’t understand why this one has received the ire of the film-going community. We got two different Hulk movies a scant five years apart, we’re getting another Superman next year just eight years after the last one, we’re hardly in uncharted territory here. Maybe it’s because I didn’t think there’s that much to write home about in Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man but I just can’t be bothered to get too up in arms about another forgettable comic book movie.
Perhaps some of that displeasure comes from the fact that more than most The Amazing Spider-Man is such a commercial enterprise that it almost fails to be an artistic one. Yes, all movies need to make money, but this one’s sole purpose seems to be to that end. In fact, the only reason the movie was made at all was as a measure to protect future earnings. If Sony/Columbia hadn’t released a Spider-Man movie than the rights to the character would have reverted back solely to Marvel Comics and would be on the open market and therefore subject to being snatched up by another studio. Combined, the three previous Spider-Man movies made around $2.5 billion so $230 million to put an extranous movie out there, one that will invariably make it’s money back and then some, was a small price to pay.
So therefore I am reviewing a product. That by itself is not a problem; there are many movies whose raison d’etre is wholely for profit, even good ones. Every creative thought in Avatar (2009) was at the service of its financial potential but that’s the difference; there isn’t much creative thought in The Amazing Spider-Man. The movie seems satisfied with good enough, shamelessly pleased to be nothing more than a boring retread of the movie it’s remaking. You’d think the studio, forced into making the movie, with almost no danger of losing money, would go a little wild with it, make a big diversion from what we already know but the movie feels like a C student rewriting a B paper, changing it just enough to where he thinks the teacher won’t notice. We noticed.
That this movie is a step-by-step rehash is digestable, that happens every week this time of year, but beyond that it underwhelms. Sam Raimi’s strength as a filmmaker is the juggling of disperate tones, typically, in his best movies, horror and camp. He was ideal for Spider-Man because it requires a sure hand to balance what is supposed to be a realistic teenage romance with ludicrous superhero action. Marc Webb with The Amazing Spider-Man is not as deft at making palatable a troubled teen that spends his days dealing with his abandonment from his parents, the death of his uncle and a blossoming romance and his nights battling a twenty-foot lizardman while wearing a red unitard. The script does him no favors, wasting a strong cast and giving us an amazingly inarticulate Spider-Man who gets the girl by fumbling and mumbling his way through unappealing dialogue. Worse, we aren’t convinced about the motivations of his leap from unassuming teen to vigilante. Worse even still are the vague reasons behind the villain’s desire for world destruction leading to more tensionless, consequence-free battles between two characters who can’t be killed and whose goals are defined the the broadest way possible. It’s hard to get behind that. So desensitizing is the rock ‘em, sock ‘em superheroes that when a character does die, we’re incredulous. All that happened to him was that he was knocked over by a twenty-foot lizardman, blows we’ve seen Spidey absorb with nary a scratch.
One last thing about commercial filmmaking; an assumption that producers dubiously make is that the appearance of children in action movies will make the movie more appealing to children. Children rarely identify with their on-screen counterparts, especially if there’s a Spider-Man in the picture as well. There isn’t a signifigant child character in The Amazing Spider-Man but there is a kid that needs rescuing midway through the movie. For complicated reasons it’s up the child to help Spidey save him and Spider-Man removes his mask and gives it to the child, to give him psychological courage. That serves the story if the kid actually does the trick that’s required of him but in the end our hero has to do all the work anyway. It’s simply an excuse to have the kid, which could be you, young ones, put on a Spider-Man mask, which incidently is available at Wal-Mart right now for $19.97.