DOOM DELUISE: So, it’s been awhile since The Amazing Spider-Man came out, and we keep coming up with excuses to put off our review, but I think the day has finally come to throw down our opinions on it.
I thought the special effects are great in this thing, better than they have been in any previous Spider-Man movie, and I like Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Peter Parker / Spider-Man. However, the small tweaks they made to the plot leave this movie as possibly the worst adaptation of Spider-Man in any media I’ve ever seen. Not only do the tweaks change the entire origin story, but they do so in a way that removes nearly all of the appeal of the title character. If I were to sum it up in one sentence, it’d be this:
They introduce midichlorians to the Spider-Man origin.
Would you care for me to explain that, for the uninitiated?
JIM DOOM: I do want you to explain what you mean by that, but before we jump too far into specifics, I just want to open by saying I enjoyed this movie quite a bit, but I have probably an odd way of assessing that, which I’ll happily go into later. But yeah, overall, I liked it. And now I want to hear this midichlorians thing because I’m intrigued by where you’re going with this.
DOOM DELUISE: So, in the original Star Wars movies, the Force is explained with very broad, non-scientific speeches. Obi-Wan Kenobi says that it’s an energy field created by all living things that surrounds us and penetrates us. Yoda says that it binds us together. And the Jedi are able to tap into that power through faith. It’s referred to as a hokey old religion by Han Solo, at one point, even. When Luke Skywalker comes along, he shows that he has this potential. He taps into the Force, and, at the end of the first movie, he shuts off his targeting computer, “uses the Force,” and blasts the Death Star to bits.
In Star Wars: Episode 1, they introduce the concept of midichlorians. They’re described as intelligent, microscopic lifeforms that survive in the bloodstream of all potential Jedi. Anakin Skywalker is brought in front of the Jedi Council and tested for his midichlorians. His blood is full of them! Perhaps he’s the one who the prophecy speaks of – – the one who will bring balance to the Force!
Now, you see, that explains something that didn’t need to be explained, and it does it in such a way that it limits who can and can’t use the Force. In the first movie, Luke was a character that was super easy to relate to for the viewers, because he was a normal, everyday farmboy, but he had potential, which he later tapped into through sheer faith, and he was able to, over the course of the movies, become a Jedi.
You take away that broad appeal, though, when you make it specific to people who have these microorganisms in their bloodstream. All of a sudden, your average viewer can’t put himself in the shoes of the protagonist, and nearly all of the appeal of the Force is GONE.
And that’s what they did with Spider-Man. His origin is that he was bit by a radioactive spider, and then he gets super powers. His uncle dies, so Peter realizes that he needs to use his new powers for good. Anybody, any pimply-faced geek off the street, can look at that and instantly relate to Spider-Man and put themselves into his shoes, to live vicariously through the character. That’s the appeal of Spider-Man.
But if you introduce midichlorians, that is, if you introduce the fact that Peter Parker’s dad is responsible for all of the research and development of the aforementioned radioactive spider, and Peter’s really the only person alive who could ever stumble upon it (since he was actively looking for it), it takes the broad appeal out of the character, and we’re left watching somebody else’s adventure, unable to put ourselves into the role.
JIM DOOM: While I can see the point you’re making, I have two responses to that:
First, isn’t this basically Peter’s origin from Ultimate Spider-Man? Isn’t he following his father’s research in that comic? I read those years ago, and I might be wrong, but if that’s the case, it’s not fair to blame this movie for adapting a revised origin from more than a decade ago.
Second, while I agree that it does shift the focus of relatability, I don’t think it eliminates it. It becomes a story about a boy trying to find, understand, relate to, and ultimately earn the projected approval of his father. While that’s clearly different from what makes Spider-Man Spider-Man, I don’t think it destroys the relatability of the character, especially not in the way that midichlorians do. It just changes it.
DOOM DELUISE: In Ultimate Spider-Man, Peter follows his father’s work on adhesives, which helps him create his webs. That’s all.
JIM DOOM: But doesn’t he end up finding more later about his dad working with Eddie Brock’s dad or something like that? I thought Peter ended up finding out more later, like they were both working at Oscorp and it was all connected. Again, it’s been a long time since I read it, so I will definitely acknowledge I could be wrong. But I thought it went further than the webbing.
Regardless, whether it was this movie or Ultimate Spider-Man that introduced the connection to Peter’s father’s research, the second point still stands.
I did remember thinking while watching it that the two first-chapter Spider-Man films from the past decade have made puzzling decisions about what elements to draw from the original character and what to draw from the Ultimate universe.
Even though it’s kind of gross, I find the gland-based webs far more plausible than the manufactured ones, considering we see these other physical mutations. And then you don’t have the awkwardness of explaining mechanical web-shooters.
DOOM DELUISE: That’s a very good point. And, yeah, I don’t mean to overstate this, but regardless of who changed the origin story, it, in my opinion, takes away a lot of the appeal of the character. And that’s kind of the whole point of most Marvel characters. Look at the X-Men or Captain America, for instance. You have these weaklings or outcasts who are at a rough stage in life (usually adolescence), and then they find out that they have potential to be so much more. That’s what makes comics so appealing to awkward teenage boys in the first place.
But let’s table that criticism for now. Another thing that I really hate about the movie is the motivation behind the villain.
Great comic book movies, hell, great movies in general that pit hero versus villain, almost always have a villain that you can understand the motivation of, and you know that that villain truly believes in his or her rightness.
So, in that regard, the Lizard starts off properly. He is missing an arm, and he wants to cross breed his DNA with a lizard’s DNA so that he can regenerate his arm. Makes sense.
But when his plan falters, and he becomes a giant lizard, his plan changes into something new: Kill Spider-Man and turn the entire city of New York into lizards.
JIM DOOM: Well, in fairness to the Lizard, wasn’t part of the point that the error in judgment wasn’t the biological design flaws, but that the power was distorting his judgment?
I mean it’s not like he just rationally decided to change motivations. It was affecting more than just his body.
DOOM DELUISE: That’s always been the point of the character before. Dr. Connors has always been shown to not even remember his stints as The Lizard, so maybe you were giving this movie some credit based off what you remember from other times you’ve seen The Lizard. It makes no mention of that in this movie.
JIM DOOM: And therefore, is that all that uncommon, for a villain to start out in a relatable position, but then to have something push them in a direction that we can no longer relate to, thus making them villainous?
DOOM DELUISE: It’s not all that uncommon, no, but it doesn’t work here, because his plan changes to something completely outlandish.
JIM DOOM: Wait so you mean to tell me that you got no impression from this movie that the lizard chemicals were affecting his judgment and distorting his personality in addition to changing his body?
DOOM DELUISE: I didn’t get that impression. In fairness, I don’t remember it super well, since I saw the movie like three years ago.
JIM DOOM: That’s quite a sneak preview!
But anyway, yeah, I did get that impression. Like he was so distorted that he thought what had happened to him was actually a good thing. He thought he’d actually improved upon himself.
DOOM DELUISE: I must’ve been in the bathroom for that.
I totally missed that point. I was super surprised that his motivation went from, “I’ll make my arm regrow so that I’ll be whole again,” to, “I’ll turn all of you jerks into giant slimy lizards!”
JIM DOOM: Yeah, and mind you, I only saw it once and it was when it was pretty new, but I thought that was the point of his monologues with his video camera. He, being a crazy person warped by his disability, his situation at work and the chemicals he injected, was convinced that what he had done to himself was an improvement. And not only that, it was an improvement he needed to share with the world — if only that meddling kid would leave him alone.
I think he legitimately believed Spider-Man to be the villain.
Even as the lizard, he stopped the Oscorp employee from testing the chemical on wounded veterans. So he still had his moral compass as the Lizard — it was just screwed up and pointing him in weird directions.
DOOM DELUISE: Ok. I still think it’s a fairly big jump in his motivation, and it would’ve been much easier if they’d just had him switch to wanting to kill Spider-Man and left the whole threat to the city of New York out of the finale, but that’s not a criticism: That’s just armchair quarterbacking.
Ok, so I have two other beefs with the movie. One is about the secret identity of Peter Parker, and the other is the ending.
JIM DOOM: Let’s take those one at a time. Secret identity. Go.
DOOM DELUISE: How is it a secret anymore?
He slam dunks a basketball from half court. He bends a goalpost with a football (I don’t think that’s physically possible, though, but whatever). He does all of these things in school where people have to think something is up, and then, right before the very end of the movie, The Lizard trashes his school, while yelling that he wants Peter Parker. Then there’s a big fight between The Lizard and Spider-Man. How could anybody possibly not connect the dots on that?
JIM DOOM: hahaha ok, yeah, I see what you mean.
I didn’t like how quickly he shared his secret with Gwen.
DOOM DELUISE: Me neither.
He doesn’t really get the point of wearing a mask, to take a line from Spider-Man himself.
JIM DOOM: But if you want to talk about the fantasy elements for a kid wanting to think they could be Spider-Man, those scenes you’re talking about are huge adrenaline rushes.
Those are a big part of the dream of being the super-powered geek, so I don’t blame them at all for those (though maybe they could be a little more subtle).
I remember Spider-Man from last decade having somewhat similar scenes, but i don’t really remember specifics. As far as you remember, how did they compare?
DOOM DELUISE: There were very similar scenes. For instance, there’s the one where Mary Jane slips in the cafeteria, and Peter catches her and her lunch tray super fast cuz of his Spidey Sense.
Then there’s the fight with Flash, where he realizes how quickly he can move, and he beats the guy up. It’s not obvious that he has super powers, but it’s still the same adrenaline rush type of thing.
There is one scene where he makes a scene in the cafeteria and, like, drags a tray out on the floor behind him by his webs. But I don’t remember anything as glaringly obvious. Like, in this movie, he had to tell Gwen, cuz otherwise we’d all think she’s an idiot for not figuring it out on her own.
JIM DOOM: I guess all I can say is that I forgive those scenes because of how they play into the “nerd vs bully” dynamic.
Although, now that I say that, one of my problems with this movie was that Peter wasn’t enough of a nerd.
DOOM DELUISE: Yeah, he was pretty cool. And he had a smokin’ hot girlfriend.
JIM DOOM: I kept thinking “I want him to be lamer.” Though he was pretty awkward.
DOOM DELUISE: He stammered a lot.
Ok, now my criticism of the very very end of the movie!
Peter tells Gwen that he can’t date her, because Captain Stacy’s last request was for Peter to keep his distance from his daughter. So Gwen figures it out, and she’s like, “You promised my dad you’d stay away from me, didn’t you?” And they both kind of look sad. Then, later, Peter goes to class and tells his teacher that he’s sorry he’s late and that he won’t be again. His teacher says, “Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” and Peter says, “But those are the best kind” in a whisper to Stacy.
How romantic. How exciting.
Reword it, and he’s saying this: “Psst, Gwen, I know I told you I was going to leave you alone, but it’s a lot more fun to completely ignore the promise I made to your dead dad, which he requested I make as his dying wish.”
JIM DOOM: Do you think it’s no more complicated than that?
Because I don’t think what is revealed by the rewording is all that obscured to the average viewer. I think the average viewer knows those are the stakes, because they weigh those stakes when they see Peter denying Gwen.
And they ultimately see Peter and Gwen choosing the possibility of love over the certainty of fear.
DOOM DELUISE: How about if we reword it: “To hell with your dead dad’s dying wish. I wanna get my D wet!”
JIM DOOM: To reword my question from earlier, I think it’s more complicated than that.
DOOM DELUISE: I know.
I don’t. I think we saw how much consideration they gave the request, and then, at the last minute, Peter just sort of brazenly tosses it off, as a lark.
To be fair, at that point in the movie, it’d lost all of its goodwill I had for it when I walked into the theater.
JIM DOOM: I think it’s a questionable decision and I think we’ll probably see ultimately that it’s a regrettable decision. But I don’t think it’s fair to act as if the movie treated it as an inconsequential or flippant decision. Peter is clearly battling with it for quite a while in movie time.
The fact that he delivered his decision the way he did doesn’t in any way mean that he came to that conclusion lightly.
DOOM DELUISE: You’re right. The way he worded it made me roll my eyes, but they do have a few scenes of him crying in the rain or something like that, I think. He mopes through so much of the movie, I was kind of numb to it at that point, so I sort of glossed over it.
Now that you mention it, though, yes, there was a long stretch in the denouement where he just stands around looking contemplative.
JIM DOOM: Also — for what it’s worth — I don’t think that was necessarily supposed to be a happy revelation.
Captain Stacy asks for that promise for a reason.
It’s a superficially happy moment that is sort of foreboding.
I think it comes off that way even if you don’t know the comics.
DOOM DELUISE: Oh yeah, especially since her involvement with Spider-Man gets her neck snapped!
JIM DOOM: Like “Hey, let’s act as if we’re getting a proper chick flick happy ending … EVEN THOUGH WE AREN’T!”
Personally, I would’ve hoped for a more dramatic revelation. Maybe something in the rain. Maybe at a cemetery. But it was what it was, and I think this falls into armchair quarterback territory too.
I just think it’s kind of insensitive to break the news to her that way!
DOOM DELUISE: Which was my original point in all of this.
JIM DOOM: Well, if that was your point, I think you kind of buried the lede.
DOOM DELUISE: I buried it in an attempt at a joke. That’s what I was getting at with the whole rewording-the-dialogue joke.
JIM DOOM: Oh. I thought your issue was more with the decision he made rather than the time and place of the delivery of that decision. That he defied a dying man’s last wish.
DOOM DELUISE: That too, but my main point was how flippant and calloused he came across as.
JIM DOOM: You know boys. Always wanting to surprise girls.
With news that they’re defying dead dads’ wishes.
DOOM DELUISE: Okay, so what was the reason you said you liked the movie? The weird one?
JIM DOOM: Oh, well when I saw the first Spider-Man back in ’02, I was back home because my grandpa had died. And I cried during Spider-Man. I always kind of wondered — did the movie actually move me, or was I just in super-emotional mode because of my grandpa dying?
Well this one actually made me tear up too! And nobody I know has died in a while!
I got all teary when Uncle Ben died, as with Spider-Man 2002, but I also welled up a bit when the construction workers lined up the cranes to give Spider-Man a path.
DOOM DELUISE: Wow, I thought that part was super duper cheesy.
JIM DOOM: What I liked about it was that there’s such a working-class street-level aspect to Spider-Man. That’s always been a part of the character I liked.
DOOM DELUISE: Yeah, I totally get that.
JIM DOOM: And so I liked how, in his battered and beaten state, this kid inspired these guys to figure out how to use whatever potential and tools they had to make a difference.
He inspired them to contribute in their own way.
And I feel like that captures an important part of the character as well.
Because I think what’s neat about Spider-Man is how he leads to these scenes of people at our best and our worst.
DOOM DELUISE: I think they had to work extra hard for scenes like that, though, with the way they altered the origin. Cuz they had to find ways to make Spider-Man easy to relate to, as they took it out of his origin.
JIM DOOM: So much of Spider-Man is the public rejecting him. Here’s this guy saving people and doing good and whatnot. Let’s come up with an excuse to hate him! Why? Because he makes us feel bad about ourselves because we are miserable jerks.
But then he ends up inspiring people to shed that reactionary negativity.
So I don’t think I considered your critique of removing his potential for every-man-ness, because I’ve always seen the relatability of Spider-Man not in the character, but in how he inspires the people around him.
You saw that in the Sam Raimi movies too.
DOOM DELUISE: That’s true. There’s never going to be a better scene of public reaction to Spider-Man than, “Hey, Spider-Man stole that dude’s pizzas!” though
JIM DOOM: hahaha yeah
DOOM DELUISE: Ok, I’ve pretty much said my bits. You got anything else, or should we call it a wrap?
JIM DOOM: My feelings on this movie range from positive to bleh. I think I preferred the tone of the Sam Raimi movies, or at least the first two, but I enjoyed this movie more than I expected from the trailer, and I also like how it set up the new series.
I haven’t thought about it much since I saw it, which is probably kind of indicative of how much I liked it, but on the other hand, I was a little surprised that I was able to defend it just now as sincerely as I did.
I’d consider it maybe a slight step down from the Sam Raimi Spider-Man, but definitely a positive step up from where he left the character with Spider-Man 3.
I like that the franchise was re-established without having to even touch on Harry, the Green Goblin or Mary Jane, and Norman Osborn was only alluded to in the background.
I think part of what I like about this movie is the potential that it establishes for sequels.
I also went to the movie with an 11 year old, and he loved it. We’re probably going to see reboots of franchises every decade or so, as people like me cycle into their 30s and kids like him enter their prime movie-going ages. I don’t think there’s really anything wrong with that, and I think they did a good job of satisfying their target demographic.
This commendation is pretty devoid of passion, though, which I think is a decent metaphor for the movie. It did a lot of things well, in my opinion, but it didn’t quite have the soul of Raimi’s opening chapter.
DOOM DELUISE: And it was dogshit dumb, too.
But maybe that’s just me.