Comic book movies have always been the target of discourse. For all those who loved The Avengers, there were those who had issue with it. For everybody (including me) that felt Heath Ledger nailed the Joker in The Dark Knight, some feel he completely missed the mark. Superhero films, for as long as they get made, will inspire some to applaud and others to stick up a pronounced middle finger.
What’s going on with the new film The Amazing Spider-Man is neither of those. This isn’t a well crafted movie that I have some issues with. This is a film that has decided, quite egotistically, that it can not only reboot Spider-Man but also toss out all that made the character so enduring. On top of that, the film is just poorly put together. A quick film made with the easiest cultural touchstones in order to bring in the tweens. Taking my comic book nerdom out of the equation, I’ve looked at The Amazing Spider-Man as a film and a comic property and found six comic book beats the movie missed completely.
1. PETER PARKER'S PARENTS
I’m not one of the comic book purists who feel that toying with the rather vague story of Peter’s parents is blasphemy. In the comics, there have been some great ideas bandied about for Peter Parker’s parents, but nothing incredibly solid. Creating a fresh cinema history for Richard and Mary Parker doesn’t go against any kind of comic book code. The problem is how the characters are executed.
In The Amazing Spider-Man film, Richard Parker is a geneticist who, along with Dr. Curt Connors, discovers that cross-species genetics may be the way to cure the physical ills of the world. The formula Richard Parker comes up with is the final piece of that and, for some reason; bad men want it for bad things. Here’s the first time the film goes wrong. The filmmakers are in such a rush to establish Oscorp as an entity of evil, and Norman Osborn as a future bad guy, that they have Oscorp people instantly out to hurt the Parkers for said formula.
Why? Why would Richard Parker not give up the formula? The only thing Norman Osborn wanted to do was cure himself of a deadly disease. There’s no reason under the sun that Richard Parker would become deathly afraid of that or try to keep it from Osborn. I was also confused as to why Oscorp didn’t already have the formula. If Richard Parker discovered it, he would have been excited to tell anyone he could long before discovering the nefarious plot. Not to mention, nothing comes out of a huge corporation without being locked down as soon as it is discovered. What did Richard Parker do, come up with the idea and then suddenly run away?
Later in the film, Peter Parker looks his father’s name up in an online search and discovers that his parents died in a plane crash and that his father was a famous scientist. Parker never did this before? As a child of the internet, who is obsessed with why his parents abandoned him, it never occurred to Peter to check the web? Does that seem odd to anybody else? Does it also seem odd that the Parkers would leave the only copy of the formula in a bag at Richard’s brother’s house? What crack team of industrial spies wouldn’t think to ransack Uncle Ben and Aunt May’s home? Why would Richard Parker leave the focus of the problem so close to his son?
From what I can tell, the mystery of the Parkers will be something that unfolds through out the upcoming films. Fair enough. I understand that everything need not be explained in the opening scenes in order to preserve some mystery. The problem is that the Parkers never act like parents nor scientists. They are never given real motives at all other than to do things to set up the rest of the film.
2. CAPTAIN GEORGE STACY
This is one of the characters that the filmmakers just decided to rearrange instead of just reboot. In the comics, Captain Stacy is a huge supporter of Spider-Man. He defends his actions and thinks of Spider-Man as a hero. He also strongly supports the relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen. Captain Stacy dies from falling debris that lands on him during a battle between Doc Ock and Spider-Man. The random and tragic way he died, plus being such a supporter of both Peter and Spider-Man, crushed Peter Parker and added a layer of depth to our hero.
All of that is wiped away in the film. Captain Stacy is another hard ass cop who views Spider-Man as nothing but a vigilante. The character is never given anything to do outside of be another stiff-mouthed angry guy character for actor Denis Leary. The filmmakers spend so much time carving out the angle of why Captain Stacy dislikes Spider-Man that his sudden decision to help him out once Peter Parker takes off the mask feels completely out of character.
Then there’s Captain Stacy’s death at the hands of the Lizard. In the comic, the death of Captain Stacy is tragic because of how random it is. The filmmakers could have kept that randomness; Stacy could have been killed by debris that fell during Spider-Man’s battle with The Lizard. That would have made the death so much more tragic. Instead, we’re treated to an easy pluck of the heart strings that has no real dramatic effect because Captain Stacy has been a one dimensional character almost bred specifically to die at the end.
The filmmakers could have also let Captain Stacy survive knowing Peter’s identity. That would have been great tension for the inevitable second film. Having Captain Stacy in the next film could have given his character time to evolve so when he did die it would have an emotional impact. Instead, like Peter Parker’s parents, Captain Stacy was just another plot point.
3. PETER PARKER
I don’t hate Andrew Garfield. I think the fact that he managed to stay likeable through a woefully average movie says a lot about his acting chops and charisma. The problem here isn’t with him, it’s with how The Amazing Spider-Man failed to make Peter Parker a likeable character we could relate to. Those who made the film didn’t even try to dress Garfield down; they allowed him to look like some kind of male model in order to bring girls to the theaters. At the same time, they expected us to believe that Parker was shy and couldn’t get a date. Nope, that doesn’t fly at all. In one scene, Peter Parker defends a bullied kid and gets beaten up for it. Now the good-looking kid is willing to be a hero? That isn’t Peter Parker.
I understand the concept of a reboot and I’m not opposed to updating the character, that isn’t what I’m talking about. Peter looked too preened and too well groomed to be a dork kid for a working class family in Queens. He might not have to wear the sweater vest and ask kids if they want to go to the science fair as he did in Amazing Fantasy #15, but nothing about the Peter Parker in this film said “underdog,” and that’s what we root for. Peter Parker represents the underdog in all of us waiting to make good. The movie missed all of that.
In the comics, Peter is a sensitive kid, a nice kid with great compassion. Somehow, in the film, that got translated to brooding. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker emoted to the point that I expected his eyes to always be moist. In every single scene, it looked like he was about to burst into tears. Why? Why all the brooding? This isn’t Twilight and it isn’t the place for the central hero to be a brooding kid who looks like he should play bass in Arcade Fire between modeling gigs.
I also felt a little less than satisfied with Peter’s love of science. In the comics, Peter’s exuberance towards the field is part of who he is. He risks ridicule to ask if any of the kids want to go to the science fair. At the demonstration, after being bitten by the spider, one of the staff recognizes Peter. It all goes in to showing us how science is his first love. In the movie, we are supposed to track that Peter liked science because he knew about plumbing and built an automatic lock for his door. Outside of that, until he literally yells out “I love science”, we have no idea. It made the entire idea of science seem like a plot point invented so we’d buy that he could create his web shooters. Again, the quick and easy path is taken instead of the slow and interesting build of the comic book.
4. VENGEANCE IS MINE?
This was one of my major problems with how the movie decided to botch the origin story. In the comic book, Peter becomes Spider-Man, the heroic Spider-Man, out of a sense of loss and guilt. He realizes through the death of Uncle Ben that he has a gift and that if he doesn’t use that gift innocent people will get hurt. That’s a huge life lesson for a teenager, one filled with real power and emotional impact. One mistake made in the heat of ego will forever haunt Spider-Man and keep him focused on living up to the legacy of Uncle Ben.
In the movie, Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man out of vengeance. He’s incredibly pissed that Uncle Ben has been killed but rather than take that sadness to heart and try to be the hero Uncle Ben wanted him to be, he becomes a vigilante that would make his uncle ashamed. In the film, it was still Peter’s fault that Uncle Ben died but without rising above to become a hero, Spider-Man just looks like a big jerk. It also seemed doubtful that a kid that smart would beat up multiple guys who look like his Uncle’s killer just after it happened.
Spider-Man is a hero; he’s not a vigilante. Sending him out as one misses the entire point of the comic book. I can hear people saying, “Well jeez Iann they had to change it a little bit. Who wants to see the same story we’ve seen before?” Okay, well, then why include it at all. If you want to really “shake things up,” then start Spider-Man when he’s already the wall crawler. Tell his origin in brief flashbacks and get right on with the story. If not, if the filmmakers felt a need to retell the origin, then try to stay with the spirit of the comic if not the exact word. The spirit of Spider-Man is tarnished with this vigilante mess.
5. CURT CONNORS
This is a character reboot I don’t get at all. In the comic, all the complexity of The Lizard came from the fact that he was a normal, nice, sweet guy who desperately wanted to fix his severed limb. When the serum he uses turns him into the Lizard, Spider-Man has a real issue to deal with. He has to stop the Lizard but he doesn’t want to harm his friend. That push and pull has allowed the Lizard to remain a top tier villain in the Spider-Man universe for decades.
In the film, that’s all flushed away. Rhys Ifans plays Connors as incredibly creepy, the kind of guy you might see at a playground taking way too many pictures. The film also sets him up to have some knowledge or understanding of how Peter’s parents died. Between the creepy exterior and the hint of having a working knowledge of the murder, Connors becomes just another easy bad guy. Another point in the comics was how Peter Parker saw Dr. Connors as his mentor, a man he looked up to and admired. That relationship is key to the comic book, but completely forgotten in the film.
I was also curious as to why Connors would never have bothered Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Here’s a man looking for a chance to be whole again. He knows that Richard Parker has developed something that could cure him but has vanished. Rather than becoming close to the family, he disconnects from them? That seemed completely out of character for the way Ifans portrayed the good doctor. Why would he not have gotten close to Ben and May and tried to figure out where the formula was hidden. Those who say “Well I’m sure Richard Parker warned them about Connors,” I say no! According to Uncle Ben in the film, he has no idea why Connors stopped talking to the family.
6. UNCLE BEN'S STORY
This was my biggest problem with the movie across the board. The entirety of Spider-Man, the linchpin to the story is Uncle Ben’s death. When Peter Parker first gets powers he tries to cash them in to get fame and respect. In one moment of ego, he allows a thief to get by him, one that randomly picks Uncle Ben and Aunt May’s house to rob. Uncle Ben surprises the burglar and pays for it with his life. The guilt of being the one man that could have prevented Uncle Ben’s murder, coupled with how Peter’s ego allowed him to let the thief run past, is what drives him to become Spider-Man.
I have no problem with updating the scenario, but The Amazing Spider-Man completely destroys it. In the comic the thief runs past Spidey backstage at a wrestling gig. In the film, that is replaced with a convenience store, which I was okay with. What I’m not okay with is how the convenience store clerk was such an asshole (he mocks and belittles Peter over two cents) that later when the thief takes the money, Peter’s reaction of not helping the clerk seems justified. The entire point was that Peter’s ego cost Uncle Ben his life. This way it seems like a case of bad luck.
In the comic, Uncle Ben surprises the burglar in his home, in the film, Ben is out looking for Peter after an argument. The thief comes running from the convenience store trips and falls down, losing his gun. Instead of running away or calling for the police, the elderly Ben gets into a struggle for the gun. The weapon then goes off and kills him. While that may be more “realistic”, it completely botches the story of Uncle Ben and Spider-Man’s motivation. In the comic Uncle Ben is defending his home, in the movie we’re supposed to believe that a guy would risk his life with his beloved wife and adopted son to play hero with some random guy who stole money from a store. It makes no sense and showcases Uncle Ben as an old fool rather than an iconic figure in Peter’s life who inspires him to become a hero.
There are lots of other problems with the film, both story and cinematically. These are just some comic book beats that The Amazing Spider-Man completely fails with. I have no issue with a new and updated Spider-Man that’s darker, hipper and edgier, but why this can’t be done whole still respecting the source material is beyond me.