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Spider-Man, you're no Jack Kennedy

Posted By Drew Zahn On 07/07/2012 @ 3:49 pm In Diversions,Front Page,Reviews,U.S. | No Comments

If “The Amazing Spider-Man” weren’t so easy to compare to 2002′s “Spider-Man,” it would probably stand on its own as an entertaining, exciting and values-affirming tale of a teen granted unusual talents and growing from childish thoughts of power and revenge to altruism, responsibility and self-sacrifice.

And for that, we shouldn’t be too hard on it.

But the problem is, this story was already told just 10 years ago … and it was told so much better back then.

Don’t fault the efforts to make “Spidey” more “amazing” and to use 3-D technology to help audiences feel like they were slinging webs themselves (though I confess, I was really looking forward to the first-person visual perspective on swinging through Manhattan and wanted the film to do more of it). For the most part, this movie is a step up in technological and visual wizardry from its predecessor.

But the story told by “The Amazing Spider-Man” was generic action-film fare at best, devoid of almost all the heart of the first film. The characters were left undeveloped and unsympathetic or reduced to cliché cameos, a problem only exacerbated by awful casting decisions.

Andrew Garfield had the potential (but not the script) to play Peter Parker; but Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy was flat, trite and boring compared to Peter’s love interest in the first film; and while Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris delivered iconic performances as Uncle Ben and Aunt May in the first movie, Martin Sheen and Sally Field in the same roles for “The Amazing Spider-Man” were cast, it appears, to merely lend star power … and little else. Only Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Connors really shined in his role in the reprisal, and … well, the first film had Willem Defoe as the villain, so … not really a point in favor of the new movie either.

Even the writing was subpar. Gone was the iconic line from the first film, “Remember, Peter, with great power comes great responsibility,” replaced instead with “If you could do good things for other people, you have a moral responsibility to do those things.”

Really?

That’s like taking John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” and replacing it with “If you can help out your countrymen, you know, you really oughta.”

I will offer this note of compliment for die-hard “Spidey” fans (and I admit, I was a Spider-Man Underoo-wearing fanatic as a child … besides, they don’t make Underoos in my size now), the one scene in the film where Spider-Man creator Stan Lee makes his trademark cameo appearance is almost worth the price of admission. I was laughing so hard, I nearly fell out of my seat.

And as for the film’s worldview messages, it still hangs on to the tragic hero mythos of the first “Spider-Man” (only, less tragic and less self-sacrificial) and still champions responsibility and altruism.

But here again, the film may have been less profound than the first, as Peter is told in his formative scenes, “I need you to be a good boy, Peter”; his father’s last words to him are “Be good”; and he’s told in the end, “If there’s one thing you are, it’s good.”

Yeah … “Be a good boy” is just a little too shallow of a message for a character who should be as complex and yet relatable as Peter Parker. Unlike Superman, “Spidey” is a flawed character, an everyday kid who battles to be heroic, though he doesn’t always feel it. There’s such depth there, which has made his story so beloved by so many fans – like me – and that just doesn’t come through in this newest incarnation.

In the end summary, I judge “The Amazing Spider-Man” all bells and whistles and summer blockbuster and too little of the heart that made the first “Spider-Man” films some of the best superhero movies made to date.

Content advisory:

  • “The Amazing Spider-Man” contains roughly 10, relatively light profanities and obscenities.
  • The film, naturally, contains a fair amount of stylized violence, mostly hand-to-hand combat between “Spidey” and various bad guys, or between “The Lizard” and various police officers. There is some blood and gore, more I think than in the 2002 version, but the film falls far short of being a typical, high-body count action or horror flick.
  • The movie’s sexuality includes some heavy kissing between high school students, a couple of bare-chested guys and a humorous scene, where Peter’s newly “sticky” hands get stuck to a woman’s shirt and accidentally rip it from her, leaving her in her bra.
  • The movie has almost no religious or overly occult content, save for a cross around a character’s neck and a song that sings vaguely about waiting “until kingdom come.” There are a couple of brief mentions of evolution, one a mere holograph of the “tree of life,” the other a statement from the villainous geneticist who wants to “enhance humanity on the evolutionary scale.”

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