The Not-So-Amazing Spider-Man (Part 2)

We’ve already talked about why turning Spider-Man into a dark, brooding, tween movie doesn’t work, but what is it about the film itself that already seems to be missing the mark long before its release?

CASTING

Almost immediately after the reboot had been announced, speculation arose as to who would take over the role of Peter Parker from Tobey Maguire. Just as they had with director Sam Raimi, a wave of internet fanboys began turning against Maguire’s performance, calling it “whiny”, among other baseless critiques. I won’t defend Maguire’s hammy, comically bad turn in Spider-Man 3, but I will maintain that Maguire did an excellent job for his part in the first two films. It’s no easy task portraying Peter as a textbook science nerd, a headstrong, wisecracking superhero, and a relatable, human character all at once, but he pulled it off. There’s a lot of heart in that performance and it deserves praise, even if the basement-dwellers don’t see it.

For “The Amazing Spider-Man”, little-known British actor Andrew Garfield was selected from a shortlist of similarly unfitting choices. Before he’d been decided upon, I had seen Garfield in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, a surprisingly solid film with great performances all around…Garfield being the weak link. Managing to be both completely unlikable and entirely unable to carry the weight of even the minor role bestowed upon him, Garfield made even his intentionally sympathetic role to be actually less sympathetic than Heath Ledger’s character. Granted, it’s no easy task to hold your own against talent like Ledger, but when you can’t wager an ounce of sympathy from the audience as intended, it’s pretty obvious you shouldn’t be doing higher-profile movies.

Realistically, Garfield isn’t a terrible actor, but he is absolutely not leading-man material. The new Amazing Spider-Man trailer pretty much confirms this – in our first look at Garfield in the suit, seated in the back seat of a car behind a carjacker, Garfield’s delivery is incredibly awkward, forcing inflection into a joke as if he’d never acted before in his life. He lacks Maguire’s charisma and ability to convey both humility and excessive pride. Garfield just comes off as bland and unengaging, completely lacking any sense of screen presence. And while I’m certainly not presuming to know how his final performance will turn out, based on this trailer alone, it doesn’t look good.

Perhaps most glaring is the fact that Garfield doesn’t quite resemble the Peter Parker of the comics, nor does he fit the physical requirements for the role. I’m inclined to suspect he was cast based on his passing resemblance to Twilight actor Robert Pattinson (it’s the hair, really), rather than actual talent. Even Garfield’s age should’ve been a red flag – as mentioned, the production is taking inspiration from the Ultimate Spider-Man comic and bringing Peter back to high school. But if that’s the case, why cast a nearly 30-year-old actor when the Peter Parker of those comics was still a young teenager? I find it hard to believe there weren’t any unknown teenage actors out there incapable of taking on the role. Why pass on the chance to give us a new look at a much younger Spider-Man than we’ve seen before?

But Garfield isn’t the only woefully miscast figure in the production – the role of Gwen Stacy is being filled by Superbad player Emma Stone. While the rising actress isn’t completely unfitting for the part, she hasn’t quite sold me on her abilities in any of the work I’ve seen her in thus far. Stone lacks a bombshell quality, a raw sexiness that the Gwen of the comics oozes. It’s painfully obvious her casting was based on making the film more commercial and appealing towards mainstream audiences that may recognize her from teen comedies like Superbad and Easy A.

To play the role of the Lizard, Rhys Ifans (above) was cast as Dr. Curt Connors and his scaly alter-ego. Which begs the question…who the hell is Rhys Ifans? What exactly has he done that would get a casting director to conclude, “That guy from Hannibal Rising. He’s the one.” We’ve had some fantastic villain performances from greats like Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina in these movies; whoever Ifans is, he’ll have to be one hell of an actor to even come close to standing out amongst the aforementioned performances.

There’s also Sally Field playing Peter’s widowed Aunt May. The casting alone suggests that this incarnation of the character will be based on Ultimate Spider-Man, with May portrayed as far younger and more at odds with Peter out of prudence following Uncle Ben’s death, a stark contrast to the more loving, supporting grandmotherly figure in the 616 Marvel Universe and Raimi’s films. All I have to say to that is…real creative, guys. Because Field has never played an uptight, brazen mother figure in her career before. Oh wait.

Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben is the only casting choice I can really get behind. He’s a great actor and more or less fits the role of a fatherly, selfless Uncle figure. Sadly, it’s little comfort when Sheen is essentially lost amidst a sea of poor casting choices. Bottom line, whoever was most directly responsible for compiling these actors has almost completely missed the mark.

VISUALS/DESIGN

Naturally, with a reboot comes with it the need for a fresh, new look and a brand new superhero suit. So what has the new design team come up with? Well…

Um…that’s…interesting. Apparently the extent of the design process was to add more blue and make the eyes yellow-tinted. It stands as yet another example of this film’s seemingly governing principle to set itself apart from Raimi’s films by changing things just for the sake of change. Again, there’s nothing wrong with altering the costume for a reboot, but this just makes me wonder…why even bother? The added blue just makes the suit look off, and the suit itself has all the texture and elasticity of a basketball. It’s an undoubtedly rushed design that only detracts from a great, iconic costume.

Moving on to special effects, where we don’t have much to go by as of yet. We do know that the production is trying to use more practical effects than CGI this time around, trying to do as much of the swinging as possible for real.

Going by what are likely unfinished effects in the trailer, we get a look at what the swinging effects will look like, and…well, they’re pretty bad, actually. Raimi’s Spider-Man swung smoothly, with grace and agility…completely fluid movement. This Spider-Man’s swing looks incredibly choppy, fake. Upon closer inspection, it looks like the downswing carries with it some kind of wind resistance, possibly an effect that will play better in 3D. For now, I’m convinced CGI was the only way to go in showing Spider-Man slinging his way through the city.

We also get a look at some frankly bizarre stylistic choices in terms of cinematography and editing. A sequence where Garfield’s mask is pulled off, forcing him to fight off police looks, again, very choppy, almost as if there’s an inexperienced director behind the camera using this movie to experiment with a new style and failing miserably. Well done, Marc Webb. Glad to see you’re not completely out of your element here or anything.

It takes a special kind of director to handle superhero movies with extensive special effects. Raimi of course was intimately familiar with them, but Webb hasn’t had the experience Raimi had on films like The Evil Dead and Darkman. I would not be at all surprised if Webb went overboard with a new style, resulting in some wholly unwatchable action sequences. An early review of the script seems to agree.

Then there’s The Lizard. Now, the Lizard actually happens to be one of my favorite comic book villains of all time. I think Jekyll/Hyde transformations make for some really interesting characters in the Marvel Universe, and the Lizard is one of the best. Again, I was terribly disappointed when I learned Raimi would not be helming the fourth movie, as he would’ve really done this character justice. But once the reboot came about and all signs pointed to the Lizard’s inclusion, despite everything I held against the film, I couldn’t help but be interested in the final design of the character.

Then this came out:

Good god…seriously, how do you fuck up the look of the Lizard, of all villains? Is the image below somehow not menacing enough?

While that first image is actually just some concept art, several toy adverts and other promotional materials have shown that the final look isn’t much different. I don’t think I need to explain why the design looks like complete and utter shit, so let me just first say that I get why the design looks the way it does – it’s supposed to resemble Steve Ditko’s original design for the character in his first appearance:

Ditko is an indisputably great artist, but let’s be honest, that incarnation of the Lizard is pretty dated, barely even resembling a real lizard. The character’s appearance has come leaps and bounds since 1963, and nowadays, he resembles his namesake more than ever. It’s a horribly misguided design choice and makes the villain look far less threatening than he should.

But wait, there’s more – stick around for the conclusion, where I wrap things up and discuss the marketing so far, including the recently released clip from the film’s viral campaign.

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