Friday, July 17, 2015

Worth Mentioning - Zeppy and Spidey at the Tri-Way

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody finds that what was marketed as "The Untold Story" is mostly a re-told story.


With the first two Spider-Man movies, director Sam Raimi made what I feel still stand as two of the greatest comic book movies ever made, even in this era of Marvel in-house productions. They are two movies that had a great impact on my early adulthood and are very meaningful to me to this day. Suffering from too many cooks in the kitchen and too many characters on the screen, Raimi's third Spider-Man movie didn't live up to its predecessors. I don't think Spider-Man 3 is as bad as it's made out to be, but it's definitely a troubled film. It was also a very successful film, so a Spider-Man 4 was soon in development for a summer 2011 release.

Sam Raimi was going to direct the fourth installment of the series, with Tobey Maguire returning as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Kirsten Dunst back as Mary Jane, the love of his life. John Malkovich was set to play the villain, The Vulture, and Anne Hathaway would be playing Felicia Hardy, a woman who puts on a costume to become the Black Cat in the comics but in the script became a new character called The Vulturess.

The initial draft of Spider-Man 4 was written by James Vanderbilt, and while other screenwriters like Gary Ross and David Lindsay-Abaire were brought in to rewrite and revise Vanderbilt's work, the studio was looking ahead to the franchise's future and hired him to write scripts for parts 5 and 6. Meanwhile, the script for part 4 was a disaster. Raimi wanted to make a part 4 that would redeem the series after the disappointment of part 3, but the project wasn't shaping up to be a redemptive one. There were creative issues and behind-the-scenes pressures, Raimi hated the script and the rewrites weren't saving it, and the production start date wasn't going to budge, Spider-Man 4 was locked in for summer 2011. So rather than rush into making a movie he knew would be bad, Raimi dropped out. The studio could have just continued on with Spider-Man 4 without Raimi, they could have stuck with the production start date and brought in a replacement director to shoot that bad script, or could have delayed the film and developed a new story. Instead, they did something more drastic.

The January 11, 2010 announcement that Raimi had left Spider-Man 4 also served as the announcement that the 2011 project had been scrapped in favor of a reboot that would be written by James Vanderbilt and was set to reach theatres in the summer of 2012. Unlike his Spider-Man 4 story, Vanderbilt's reboot story did reach the screen, although it went through revisions by Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves and two-time Oscar winner Alvin Sargent (who worked on all three Raimi Spider-Man movies) along the way. If I were going to be rewritten, I couldn't complain about being rewritten by Kloves and Sargent.

The search for fresh blood to take Raimi's place at the Spider-Man helm quickly ended with a choice whose blood was very fresh indeed - music video director Marc Webb, who had critical success with his 2009 feature film debut, the relationship drama (500) Days of Summer.

Spider-Man 3 had become the most expensive movie of all time during its production, its budget surpassing $250 million. Originally, the reboot was going to be more low-key film than Raimi's, with a heavier lean on character scenes than action beats, an idea which the hiring of Webb reflects. The aim for the budget was $80 million. But the scope expanded and the budget grew, and the reboot ended up costing nearly as much as Spider-Man 3, in the range of $230 million.

The easy way to continue on the Spider-Man franchise after Raimi's trilogy, and perhaps the ideal and/or advisable way, would be with a "soft reboot", a film that relies on the audience being familiar with who Spider-Man is and how Peter Parker gained his superhuman abilities and starts off with the character already established. Even if the movie is clearly in a different continuity, there's no reason to make the audience sit through the origin story all over again, especially not just ten years after Raimi had told it. But Webb felt it was important to tell his own version of the origin story, as he had a different take on the characters and situations.

The Amazing Spider-Man (taking its title from one of the several Spider-Man comic book lines, a title that was nearly given to Spider-Man 2) doesn't even begin with Peter Parker as a teenager about to receive the radioactive spider bite that gives him his powers, as Raimi's did. The first scene of the reboot features a Peter Parker who is only four years old.

Everyone knows that Peter Parker was an orphan raised by his Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and this film begins with his final moments with his parents, Richard and Mary. A game of hide and seek Peter is playing with his scientist father is interrupted when Richard's home office is found to have been ransacked. Richard frantically saves some files, destroys some other work - which appears to be centered on arachnids in some way - and then flees the house with his wife and their young son. Peter is dropped off at the home of Richard's older brother Ben and his wife May, and as Richard and Mary leave to catch a plane, it's the last time Peter will ever see them. Their plane crashes.

Jump ahead to modern day, and now Peter Parker is a teenager who is presented by Webb and played by Andrew Garfield in a different way than by Raimi and Maguire. The earlier Peter was a hopeless dweeb, but while he's still one of the best students at Midtown Science, this one has a cooler edge... one which doesn't work for me as well. My idea of Peter Parker isn't a skateboarder with his boxers hanging out.

Peter Parker's first love was Gwen Stacy, a character Raimi's films skipped over (before unnecessarily trying to work her into part 3) in favor of the girl he ends up marrying, Mary Jane Watson. Here, Gwen is brought in as his first love interest, and the character was perfectly cast with Emma Stone in the role.

The discovery of Richard's briefcase in the basement of the home Ben and May have raised him in leads Peter to finding out that Richard worked with Curt Connors, a scientist researching cross-species genetics in the labs of Oscorp Industries, where Gwen is an intern.

Connors was name-dropped in the first Spider-Man movie and was played in the second and third films by Dylan Baker. The world's foremost authority on herpetology, Connors becomes the villain known as The Lizard, a villain Raimi badly wanted to bring to the screen. That idea kept being shot down by higher-ups because the character "doesn't have a face" - he would look like a lizard creature rather than the actor portraying him. For some reason, this concern about The Lizard was tossed out once Raimi left the franchise, so Webb was able to make him the main villain of the reboot.

Taking over for Dylan Baker as Connors is Rhys Ifans, and when we meet the character he is, like Baker's iteration of Connors, missing one of his arms. It is the desire to get his arm back that will lead to Connors' monstrous transformation. But before Connors becomes The Lizard, Peter becomes Spider-Man.

Peter sneaks into Oscorp in hopes of meeting Connors, but after a brief interaction with the man, and after being busted by Gwen, he ends up in a room full of genetically modified spiders. 22 minutes into the film, one of these spiders bites Peter on the back of the neck... And the re-telling of the origin story begins.

Asking audience members to sit through the Spider-Man origin story again so soon was a gutsy move on the part of the filmmakers, and also one which sort of painted them into a corner. They wanted to tell the origin again, but Raimi had already told it in a way that felt perfect to me. So they have to get across the same ideas as Raimi did without doing the same scenes, and from the very start they were dooming themselves to making an inferior version of it.


The bite gives Peter heightened strength, senses, and agility, but it doesn't occur to him to put them to use doing good until after the murder of his Uncle Ben by an armed thief who Peter witnessed robbing a store but let pass by out of spite for the clerk. He builds mechanical webshooters for himself, designs a costume, and hits the streets, looking for Ben's killer.

The search for the killer never does pan out, a storyline left unsatisfyingly unresolved. It gets abandoned because the movie finally enters all new territory at around the halfway point. That's when Peter and Gwen's relationship officially becomes a romantic one, at the same time that Peter finds out that her police Captain father is determined to bring this masked vigilante Spider-Man to justice. And at the same time that Connors, using information Peter gave him from Richard's files, conducts a genetic experiment on himself that allows him to re-grow his lost limb. And then turns him into The Lizard.

Although the cast members - Garfield, Stone, Ifans, Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben, Sally Field as Aunt May - do fine work in their roles, I don't get much enjoyment out of the first half of The Amazing Spider-Man. It's very dull to me, I don't like this take on the origin or its darker, modern tone. Maybe it comes down to the eras you're familiar with. Raimi's films had an atmosphere of fun and were mostly influenced by the 1960s roots of the character, that's the Spider-Man I know. The reboot takes cues from the Ultimate Spider-Man run, a book I never read an issue of and which has a completely different continuity than the Spidey books I did read. But once the movie gets past the origin retread, I can get some enjoyment out of it as a fresh Spider-Man adventure. As much as Raimi wanted to show it to us, the sight of Spider-Man fighting a rampaging lizard creature is something we haven't seen before.

Having lost his mind, Connors/The Lizard is soon plotting a large scale biological attack, planning to set off an "antigen cloud creator" on the roof of the Oscorp skyscraper to disperse a gas over the city that will turn everyone it comes in contact with into a human/lizard hybrid like himself. A solid villain threat for a fledgling superhero to thwart.

Although I have many issues with the film, Webb did a decent job directing it, especially when you take into account that this blockbuster is only his second feature. The action sequences work well enough, and Webb did deliver some great examples of the character moments he was primarily hired for. The best moments come from Garfield and Stone, who have wonderful chemistry with each other. Watching them in this movie, it makes sense that the actors got together in real life as well.

Some other character moments hit the cutting room floor,  with the development of Connors taking the biggest hit. The final film feels a bit messy, and Uncle Ben's killer isn't the only plotline that gets tossed aside. There's another character who disappears from the movie, his fate lost in a deleted scene. The mystery of Richard Parker continues to linger. The movie is a lot of set-up with little pay-off because the filmmakers were hoping to use this film as the foundation of a larger universe, which leaves it to be unfulfilling in itself. Despite the cuts, the movie runs 136 minutes, with way too much of that wasted on the needless retelling of the origin.

I knew before I ever saw the movie that a large portion of it was dedicated to the origin story, so much that the killing of Uncle Ben doesn't even happen until 45 minutes in. Because of that, even though the previous Spider-Man movies had meant so much to me, I had no interest in seeing The Amazing Spider-Man during its theatrical release. I didn't want to waste time or money to have different people tell me the same story. But in the summer of 2012, I found myself re-connecting with my father after several years of us being estranged, and during that time we saw double features at a drive-in called the Tri-Way on a few different occasions. With nothing else going on, we decided to check out The Amazing Spider-Man while it was playing at the Tri-Way, too.

I wasn't impressed by the movie, it's my least favorite of the Spider-Man flicks (as of this writing I still haven't watched the sequel that came out last year, so that shows I definitely wasn't enamored with Webb's take on the material), and yet it was better than I expected... It just so happens that my expectations were at rock bottom, so even though I like the movie better than I thought I would, I still don't like it all that much.

All of my write-ups on Raimi's trilogy were tied in with stories about my dachshund Zeppelin, and Zeppelin was involved with my viewing of The Amazing Spider-Man as well. I got Zeppelin on the day I saw Sam Raimi's Spider-Man for the second time, and as I sat in the car watching The Amazing Spider-Man for the first time, Zeppelin was there in the vehicle with me. He's a great movie-watching companion.


  1. Thankyou for reminding me how much I enjoyed raimis trilogy. I agree amazing spent too much time on the origin, but i also felt the story of his parents needed told. The sequel far surpassed the first (more rhino, more sinister six plot would have made it better), which is why i was disappointed to hear garfield would not be in the next one. I fear this is becoming a great could have been spiderman trilogy, but in the end im always happy to see my childhood superhero in a movie.

    1. A comment from THE Noah Smith, the guy I watched the original Spider-Man with on opening day.

      - Cody