Sunday, February 19, 2012

Film News

Spider-Man's Coming To Dinner. Why is He A-May-Zingly Grace-Less?

      Languid would be the adjective that properly encapsulates my expectation level for The Amazing Spider-Man. It is a reaction I can exaggeratedly equate to a convulsion: Neither violent nor humorous but a reaction wrought with uncertainty. For a visual manifestation, recall the look of disbelief on Spencer Tracy's face in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, when he realized his beloved daughter, Joanna (played by Katharine Houghton) fell in love with a black man (Remember: Stanley Kramer's film took place during the 1960's when race relations were routinely characterized by tumult) named Dr. John Prentice, a "perfect" man played by the legendary Sidney Poitier. As the news registered with a startled Mr. Drayton (Spencer), his iconic stone-cold face began to intimate a blinding incredulity. And then he uttered this famous refrain: "What the hell's goin' on here!?" 
      Yep, those exact words in that exact sequence exited my mouth when I realized Columbia Pictures intended to reboot Spider-Man. While not born from any racial or marital context, my distrust of this Spider-Man reboot is nonetheless a product of laborious skepticism. (Also remember: Tracey's character was a proponent of equal rights yet his reaction, at least initially, conveyed stark prejudice, as if he failed to uphold the ultimate test: Practice what you preach). Despite the preposterous oversimplification of the narrative and placid character dynamic, I love that movie and Spencer's performance (famously it was his last. Katharine Hepburn's and Poitier's performances were also top-notch). So, I suppose all this Spider-Man business simply represented an opportunity, for me, to reference a terrific film.
      I'd be lying to you though...somewhat.

      Actually, in less analogous terms and with only mild excoriation, a reaction the word superhero tends to provoke, the motivation for this post arose from a willingness to underscore a few caveats related to Columbia's first official clip of Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man. Of principal note was the immediate realization that 2011 (yes, last year) already surfeited the superhero landscape for at least another two years with The Green Hornet, Thor, X-Men: First Class, Captain America, Green Lantern, and others which I failed to name.
      Such a smattering of titles reveals an obvious fact: Hollywood has a voracious appetite for superheroes; such gluttony confesses to the masses a studio-coterie hell-bent on the practice of commercial reprisal, because, with increasing success, it is yielding big fat dollar signs. As long as that crucial demographic (males under the age of 26) continue to bathe in comic book adaptations, so too will Hollywood continue to spotlight the Bat Signal of Monetization. And with each subsequent incarnation (or reincarnation), my enthusiasm wanes. 
      All of this superhero talk may conjure up some memories of another of my rants from last year. My only reply: Superheroes inspire widespread movie talk. 
      My appeal of the superhero, once marked by jubilance and a healthy tolerance, has devolved into a depressing weariness. Too much is too much. You need not enlist Einstein to confirm my last statement. It is an identitive property, invoked to insinuate an emphatic observation. That observation, of no surprise, is that any comic book adaptation, currently in the hopper, not in the hands of Christopher Nolan or Joss Whedon (I'm being presumptuous; do not let me down Avengersneed not apply. The brilliance of Nolan's darkly probing Batman trilogy lies in the genius of Nolan, as a visionary director immeasurably capable of tackling a mammoth property. His entire filmography not only confirms the enormity of his talent, but also his big-budget aptitude. He can tactfully meander the nuances and difficulties of an indie film (Memento) and also, most important for his career trajectory, manipulate the inherent artistic complications of a huge Hollywood-lead blockbuster (his Final Cut privileges certainly help). The bottom-line, which does not require a degree in rocket science, is this: The oversaturation of superhero films, and therefore, deterioration in originality and quality, can be mitigated if a highly talented director takes the reigns. Case in point (besides Nolan): Sam Raimi's work on the first two Spider-Man's, and recently Matthew Vaughn's exceptional work on X-Men: First Class.

      Now, before I linger into the nexus of excess, I will devote the remainder of my concentration to The Amazing Spider-Man clip, which, oh by the way, inspired this post. Surprsingly, given the length of this post, there's not too much to dissect. It begins with an establishing shot of a familiar New York City, and then becomes completely Peter Parker-centric. Just to enhance your initial skepticism, Michael Bay did, in fact, create this 46-second spot. His signature is all over the non-existent debris [insert belated, halfhearted attempt at sarcasm]. In all honesty, the clip is purposely void of theatrics, relatively tame, features some mild stammering, and some good ol' Tobey Maguire like-awkwardness (I will be honest: That is one of the reasons I loved your portrayal, Toby? Toby Wong. Toby Wong? Toby Wong? Toby Chung. Fuckin' Charlie Chan). The absence of any insane gadgetry or intense bursts of action is somewhat noteworthy. But the director Marc Webb, who made a Hollywood splash with 500 Days of Summer (a film I really enjoyed and not just because of Joseph Gordon-Levitt), has demonstrated a knack for depicting sensible human engagements. So, working firmly within his wheelhouse and comfort zone, what Marc chose to display in this clip was a glimpse into how he foresaw Andrew Garfield (of The Social Network fame): as a real, quirky, relatable human being (every time I hear the word "human being," this song leaps to the forefront of my mind). Though, I must hasten to add that Webb's scene does strike me as somewhat of a retread of the Bruce Campbell cameo sequence in Spider-Man 2, when Parker is denied access into the theater.  
      Stan Lee's vision for Peter Parker was to draft a plain teenager who's tormented by his alter-ego. Peter saves the world and, in the Mr. Obvious Understatement of the year, his heroism is seen as a good thing. But he rarely if ever receives credit. Furthermore, as evidenced above, he's routinely denied access to public establishments. These denials often materialize because of the harrowing, and impractical duality implicit in Peter's/Spidey's make-up. This vision, foremost in Lee's mythology, resonated with me when I watched Webb's first-look. And that reaction surprised me. Although, I will admit freely, I would've liked to have seen some action; I mean this is viral marketing, right?
      Ultimately, the clip, at least from my vantage point, is somewhat refreshing (again, I'm surprising myself). Webb eschews elaborate theatrics, which I feel bodes well for the story, because, in the Spidey universe, character, mood, and atmosphere dominate the proceedings; therefore, Webb's scene (I must caution it is brief) illustrates a real tonal ingenuity. I am distinctly aware that some may question Webb's choice. Accuse it of being a "deleted scene"-edit, stilted, boring, uninspired. And I cannot really disagree too successfully because this first-look is nothing to get worked up over. So, why again, did I write this post? I guess I really wanted to reference Guess Who's Coming To Dinner! Yep, that means this whole post was my porously sleight attempt at merging two diametric films from two polar eras. Great success!
      Finally, to put a bow on this long rant, I will point out that last week did signal Columbia's efforts to ratchet up their viral ad campaign. The aforementioned clip, which can be seen below, marks their first official snapshot. The Amazing Spider-Man opens on July 3. And sadly (for some of you prone to cinematic bouts of nausea), it is shot in 3D. The film stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field. 


  1. Does anyone else think that Spider-Man's costume is a little overboard in the 10 billion different types of fabric department?

  2. I'm a huge fan of Raimi's Spider-Man movies. I even liked the third one, despite its messiness. The first time I heard there will be a reboot, I wasn't sure if that's necessary, but after I saw the trailer of the Amazing Spider-Man, I was pleasantly surprised. Always thought Toby is inappropriate for the role, and although he did a good job as Spidey, I still think he's miscast. I hope Andrew Garfield will do great in this one. Can't wait to give it a shot, but July is still far away. If I have to describe your thoughtful post with one word, I'd pick one from the film's title.. It's AMAZING! :)

    1. I loved Raimi's work on Spider-Man 1 & 2. The second was a masterpiece and the first was close to it. You're right about the third. It was a "mess." You definitely enjoyed it more than me.

      The trailer did present a compelling take on the familiar canon. That reason accounts for my guarded optimism (and I harbor some faith in Marc Webb's directorial abilities). We shall both hope for the best :)

  3. I am disheartened that a series begun since 2000 is being rebooted, but with that this does look good. I'm with Nebular - although I enjoyed Sam Raimi's movies - I always felt Toby was a bit miscast. Not excited to sit through an origin story AGAIN, but let's see what they do with it. Nice juxtaposition with the classic Guess Who's...extremely unalike movies, but comfortable sharing space in this post! Cheers!

    1. You speak the absolute truth, Craig. I am as befuddled and disheartened as you though this first-look subdued some of my initial skepticism.

      And I understand the whole "Toby was a bit miscast" argument. There was a tinge of dishonesty in his portrayal that did not translate well to the mythology. But overall I found his performances in all three competent.

      Haha, the two movies are completely dissimilar. That's my point! And you're welcome.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I don't know about this. It seems to me that H-Wood is on a teen boy bender that won't quit. I can easily envision a Spider-Man reboot every 6-8 years that keeps Peter Parker a perpetual teen. Parker needs to grow the hell up and start facing some of Spider-Man's more imposing villains and facing some of his more challenging dilemmas. I haven't read a lot of the comics, but the ones I did read took place at Empire State University, when Pete was in his 20's, then later when he started working for J. Jonah Jamison.

    This trailer doesn't look bad, but it certainly makes Peter out to be more emo and likely to wear black nailpolish. But thank God, Mary Jane Watson is not in this. I sure hope Gwen doesn't turn out to be the screaming damsel that Dunst's M.J. was.

    1. "Teen boy bender," LMAO! I love you for your provocative powers of snark and discernment, Mel! Limiting Parker to his youthful years is a mistake that not only belies reason, but also defies imagination. I'm totally with you. Let's hope the next time Hollywood reboots Spider-Man (less than 10 years from now, right!), they pursue a more challenging, more mature route, consistent with young adulthood (not teenage fodder).

      Garfield's portrayal does insinuate a certain "emo" sensibility. Good eye, Mel. I didn't even make the explicit connection, but it's worth noting. Let's see how far Marc Webb takes it.

      As always, thanks for providing excellent commentary!