Friday, November 30, 2012
The Amazing Spider-Man
Superhero origin stories are easy enough to do. Take a charismatic but troubled/bullied/indifferent person, give them a power and a mission, and watch them go. We like our hero before they undergo their transformation, and we enjoy seeing them gather the strength and the experience to harness their power into battling for good.
Supervillain origin stories are a much trickier proposition. The superhero is an inherently good person, and when they transform they use their power to do good. But the supervillain with an origin story isn't the mirror image of that - they can be venal, or troubled, or lazy, but they are rarely sociopaths in their proto-villain state. We in the audience have to sympathize with their plight, because their transformation is the mid-point of an arc that will ultimately lead to some sort of redemptive moment. So their stories have to be sympathetic, with motivations that land, at the very least, in "there but for the grace of God go I" territory.
The fact that Curt Connors/The Lizard's (Rhys Ifans) motivations post-transformation don't make a lick of sense are not the only problem in The Amazing Spider-Man (Marc Webb's lackluster direction and ugly palette are another, off the top of my head), but it is a problem that does not have a solution, and it sinks most of the back half of the film. It is understandable that Connors, who lost an arm for some unspecified reason, would want to use his magical regrowth serum on himself; it is not at all clear why the injection of this serum turns a mild-mannered scientist into a homicidal maniac bent on infecting the city with the same serum, turning everyone else into an unholy monstrosity like himself.
There were things that I liked about the film, to be sure. Andrew Garfield makes a very convincing Peter Parker pre-transformation, enough that it's possible to completely forget about That Other Guy (it's impossible not to compare this film to the Raimi/Maguire movie, but this will be the only mention I make of it). The movie forgets Aunt May exists for most of its running time, but Sally Field is a nice steady presence anyway, and Martin Sheen makes a suitably gruff but kind Uncle Ben. I sort of think that Emma Stone had said all that needs to be said about high school life in Easy A, and the part of Gwen Stacy is a significant step down for her career-wise, but I like Stone enough that I'm still happy to have her on my screen. And the best part of any origin story film, the interlude between when the hero first gains their powers and when the broader story finally intrudes full-time on the way to the climax, is not a let-down here, with Peter Parker using his powers to stick it first to bullies and eventually to criminals. This is the one moment when a superhero gets to have some real fun, and Parker has a lot of fun.
But the story eventually intrudes, and The Lizard (a CGI monstrosity at that, and the ugliness of the effect is a major distraction) sucks the film into his boring and inexplicable orbit, leaving Spider-Man nothing left to do but defeat the bad guy, save the world, and hopefully swing into a future in which a villain shows up whose motivations we can either understand, or (even better) we don't need to know, because the best villains are simply malevolent forces of chaos, and no one cares why they do what they do. C