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Marvel Movies Project: The Amazing Spider-Man

Movie poster for The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) is generally referred to as a “reboot” of the Spider-Man franchise. Personally, I’m inclined to call it a remake, though, since there is almost nothing about it that is new. The actors are different. The director is different. Many of the characters are even different. And yet, if you’ve seen Spider-Man, which I may start referring to as The Superior Spider-Man, you’ve seen this before. The only new twist is the backstory involving Peter’s parents.

Obviously, the origin story — the spider bite, Peter’s discovery of his powers, Uncle Ben’s death — is the same. That’s expected and it’s fine (except that the similarity makes the “why did they bother?” question even more inevitable). The scenes in which Peter explores and develops his powers are so similar, and yet so inferior, to the first movie it’s almost painful. The addition of a skateboard can’t disguise how much of a cheap ripoff it is. Later, Spidey rescues someone in a vehicle hanging off a bridge … just like he did in Spider-Man. You would think they could at least change up the action setpieces so the audience isn’t thinking about the first movie the whole time, but apparently not.

I hate the fact that this movie exists. I hate this movie. It may actually be a good movie. I can’t tell because I’m too busy being annoyed by it.

From what I could see through the haze of irritation clouding up my mind, though, I don’t think it’s a good movie. The Lizard is visually a very lame villain; one time, I started thinking about this film and couldn’t for the life of me remember who was the villain. That’s a bad sign. Special effects have not improved enough in the last five years for things to look any better here than they did in Spider-Man 3. (But five years seems so long ago, I know.)

I’m not crazy about some of the casting. I can accept Denis Leary as Captain Stacy, I guess. He doesn’t match my vision of the character but he’s quite good in the role as it’s written. Still, I can’t help feeling he’d be better as a villain … maybe it’s his vague resemblance to Willem Dafoe. I do not like Sally Field as Aunt May at all, which makes two Sally Field performance I hated last year, the other being Lincoln. The worst, though, is Andrew Garfield. His twitchy performance is very offputing.

Even Emma Stone, whom I normally like, annoys me in this movie. Peter and Gwen are just too cutesy-awkward. Also, why on earth is he telling her his secret identity on their first date? This makes no sense, especially given her father’s job.

But my main problem with this movie is really just the fact that it exists. Part of this stems from my love of the original Spidey movies (well, the first two). Why go back when there’s no way you’re going to top what’s already been done? Oh right: cash. Most likely, if Sony had not produced another movie they would eventually have lost the rights to Spider-Man. Not only that, re-starting with a new cast keeps their costs down. In the end, The Amazing Spider-Man is nothing more than a cash grab. I understand that Hollywood exists to make money and there’s an element of the cash grab about almost every movie ever made. It’s usually a little less obvious, is all.

And okay, fine, the biggest reason I hate this movie is my love of the Raimi films. There might actually be people in the world who saw The Amazing Spider-Man but never saw Spider-Man. Young, impressionable people! It’s just so wrong.

It’s unfortunate that this project, which has overall been very enjoyable, has to end on such a negative note, but oh well. I made it! This is the last of the Marvel movies — to date. My goal was to finish this (re)watch before the release of Iron Man 3, so, mission: accomplished. I will be back to sum it all up in a wrap-up post in a few days.

Marvel Movies Project: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Movie poster for X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009).

Hugh Jackman is back for a fourth go-round as Wolverine in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). As the title suggests, this film focuses on Wolverine’s origins, which were previously hinted at in X2. Here, we see younger versions of several familiar characters as Wolverine becomes “Weapon X” and gets his skeleton upgraded from bone to adamantium.

Our story begins in northern Canada in 1845 because it turns out Wolverine is really that old, as is Sabretooth, apparently. In a surprise twist, Sabretooth, here going by his real name, Victor Creed, turns out to be Wolverine’s brother: in this version of events, it is revealed that Victor’s father is also Wolverine’s real father, even though Wolverine’s fake father is played by an actor who bears an uncanny resemblance to Hugh Jackman. Alright then.

After fathers real and fake both end up dead during a household dispute, Wolverine and Victor go on the run together. They become brothers in arms as well as in blood, and fight together in several wars: the US Civil War (despite being Canadian), World War I, World War II (they probably knew Captain America!), and finally Vietnam (again despite being Canadian). In Vietnam they meet Stryker — familiar to the audience from X2 — who invites them to be a part of an elite team of assassins, all of whom have “special skills,” which is to say they’re mutants. Wolverine becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the group’s activities and ultimately quits.

One of the countless pieces of useful life knowledge I’ve picked up from TV and the movies is that you should never join an elite team of assassins because chances are good that someday someone is going to decide it’s too risky to keep you alive. Indeed, this is what happens: Victor starts killing off the members of his old crew one by one. Wolverine has established a new life for himself back in his old Canadian stomping grounds: he’s a lumberjack, and he’s ok. But when Victor shows up and kills his lady love, Wolverine agrees to a deal with Stryker that will turn him into a stronger soldier and allow him to get revenge on Victor. And the rest is history.

The cast of X-Men Origins: Wolverine is large and includes some fairly big names, both real and fictional. A few well-known mutants — notably, Scott Summers, Emma Frost, and (surprise!) Professor X — appear briefly. In terms of celebrities from the real world, there’s multi-platinum recording artist will.i.am as John Wraith and Ryan Reynolds, here making his second attempt at a comic book movie, as Wade “Deadpool” Wilson. Poor Ryan Reynolds. Of all his superhero-related efforts, this is probably the best if only because Blade: Trinity and Green Lantern are both so wretchedly awful. Personally, I hate Deadpool in any form so I did not enjoy his performance here.

Also in the cast are a couple of actors known and beloved by certain audiences for their roles in iconic series: Dominic Monaghan — Merry in the Lord of the Rings movies and also Charlie on Lost — and Taylor Kitsch, who will always be Friday Night Lights‘ Tim Riggins to me. At the time Wolverine was released, I was really excited about the prospect of Riggins in an important role in this movie. It was disappointing, then, to find out how little screentime he actually has.

Most of the cast’s roles, in fact, are little more than cameos. But given the calibre of the people involved, it feels like this film was cast as an ensemble piece. Perhaps because of its association with the team-oriented X-Men movies, it was also marketed that way to an extent, with some of the posters featuring multiple characters. In reality, it’s almost a one-man show, with only Liev Schreiber (Victor) and Danny Huston (Stryker) coming anywhere close to matching Hugh Jackman’s screentime (oddly enough, Huston didn’t feature on any posters). To be fair, a one man show is what the title suggests.

But the result of having all these characters floating around not doing much is that the film suffers from a bit of overcrowding. It’s not as bad as X-Men: The Last Stand because all the minor characters are presented as, well, minor characters. Wolverine‘s problem is more comparable to the introduction of Gwen and Captain Stacy in Spider-Man 3: why hype the known names if you’re not going to use them?

Still, the movie is entertaining enough in a mindless sort of way. More notable from my perspective than the movie itself is the fact that I saw it being filmed. I was a student at the University of British Columbia when Wolverine was filming in Vancouver. The part about 10 minutes into the movie where Stryker’s team attacks a compound in Nigeria to find out where the adamantium comes from was filmed on campus, right outside the building where I had all my classes.

Image from X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009).

They built a shantytown set like you see in that image (although in reality it wasn’t as big) outside the building. My friend and I wandered around trying to find out what was going on and she discovered it was for Wolverine. Then one night I was coming home from pub trivia and I saw a big crowd gathered around the area, which was all lit up. I went over to watch and I saw them do a few takes of some soldiers shooting at an unknown something represented by a green screen. Sadly, no stars were present. I did not get to see Hugh Jackman. It was pretty cool to see a Marvel movie in the flesh, though.

Marvel Movies Project: Spider-Man 3

Movie poster for Spider-Man 3 (2007).

Given my extreme love of/obsession with Spider-Man 2, I was just about ready to burst with anticipation for Spider-Man 3 back in 2007. I’m sure I drove everyone around me crazy talking about it, counting down to it, analysing the trailers and ads … oh boy. My excitement took a hit when I first saw the ad which revealed that it was actually Flint Marko, the Sandman, who’d killed Uncle Ben, and not the thief we saw in Spider-Man. A major retcon like that screams trouble. Still, I really wanted to love this movie. Unfortunately, I do not. There are things I like about it, but it has so many problems.

First of all, they try to introduce too many new characters. Eddie Brock. Flint Marko. Gwen Stacy. Captain Stacy. The weird-ass alien symbiote. The big issue for me is: why did they bother introducing Gwen and Captain Stacy at all? They’re both such iconic characters that anyone who knew anything about Spider-Man comics would hear their names and think, wow! And then neither one of them does anything very interesting. Captain Stacy is barely there. Gwen is more important to the plot, but she could have been replaced with literally any other girl in the entire world and Spidey’s upside down kiss with her right in front of Mary Jane would have seemed just as cruel.

A related issue is that Spider-Man 3 has too many villains. Not only that, two of these villains are new characters with new backstories that have to be explained. Harry’s turn to the dark side makes sense; it’s something the filmmakers had been building towards since the end of Spider-Man. I can accept the addition of one new villain on top of Harry, but two is excessive, especially when Peter himself is fairly villainous for a large part of the film. The Sandman, although I hate almost everything about his backstory in this movie, is the more developed of the two new villains. Eddie Brock and Venom are completely shoehorned in. Venom does not even appear until 104 minutes into the movie, and he’s dead 20 minutes later. What was the point? There isn’t one.

With all of these new characters, the movie ends up feeling extremely cluttered. So why would they try to cram all these people into this movie? According to Sam Raimi, it was the producers’ idea. Thank you for that, Avi Arad and Laura Ziskin.

But we can’t blame everything on the overabundance of characters. There are plenty of other problems. Harry’s venture into supervillainy starts out looking like a promising plot development and the first fight sequence between him and Peter is an excellent action setpiece. Unfortunately, the fight ends with a bump on the head and one of the world’s most cliched soap opera plot devices: amnesia. Argh! They spend all that time building up Harry’s hatred of Spider-Man and then undo it with a single blow. Making things worse, it’s a pointless case of amnesia because Harry later gets his memory back. Here’s what I suggest if they ever decide to re-edit this movie and make it not suck: Harry pretends to forgive Peter, but actually works against him through the entire movie. See? Isn’t that more interesting?

I also don’t like that they use Peter/Spidey’s sudden success as the main source of conflict between him and Mary Jane. The ending of Spider-Man 2 set up that the couple would have problems, but I think the suggestion was that Mary Jane would simply find the stresses of being a superhero’s girlfriend — worry, constant danger, always being left behind — hard to handle. That alone could have worked to create drama (as it has in the comics) and it would have been very natural; adding this new dynamic of Peter high/MJ low feels overdone.

Speaking of overdone, Peter’s out of control ego is the most overblown thing about this film, and leads to its most cringe-worthy moments. There are a couple of interesting articles in defense of this aspect of Spider-Man 3: Devin Faraci’s Badass Digest post on the movie’s dance scenes is a good read, and it makes a lot of sense; Entertainment Weekly picks up the same theme. Both argue that “Dark Peter” is so ridiculous because the concept of “Dark Peter” is simply ridiculous: emo hair and douchey dance moves are about as evil as dorky, decent Peter Parker gets. It is possible that with Spider-Man 3, Sam Raimi was almost trying to parody the idea of the gritty superhero movie. I can see that, and it makes sense especially given that we know Raimi didn’t particularly want to make a movie about Venom.

If this was in fact Raimi’s intention, I can relate to it: I also don’t much like gritty superhero movies (except in cases where the character’s nature calls for it — Daredevil, for instance, wasn’t gritty enough), and I am particularly annoyed by the fact that for many people, gritty equals good. A big part of the reason I love the first two Spidey films is that they are not gritty. They are heartfelt movies based on fairly normal, everyday life emotions: Peter’s guilt over his uncle’s death, his simple desire for Mary Jane to love him back, and his anxiety about finding his true path in life are things I think many people can relate to. This everyman quality is and always has been pretty much the entire point of Spider-Man.

Peter’s sudden superstar status takes all that away. And this is my major problem with the whole Dark Peter storyline. Even if it is an intentional parody, in doing it, the filmmakers destroyed everything that made the first two movies good.

As the Entertainment Weekly article I linked above points out, with Peter off making public appearances and becoming totally absorbed in his own hype, Mary Jane becomes by far the most sympathetic character in the film. I like her storyline in Spider-Man 3, probably because it’s the most in keeping with what these movies had been up to this point: she’s a young woman struggling fairly realistically in her chosen career.

Imagine if they had had Peter continue on a similar path as well: Peter and Mary Jane, now in a relationship but both struggling to make ends meet, on top of Mary Jane’s uncertainty about the whole Spider-Man thing, plus Harry working against them in secret, and (even though I don’t like this storyline) Peter discovering that the man who killed Uncle Ben was still out there … sounds like a pretty good movie to me. If they really had to include the symbiote, there’s enough potential for darkness in that scenario without turning Peter into a raging narcissistic megadouche: instead of making him even more of a self-centred jackass, the symbiote would play off Peter’s insecurities and anger about the Sandman. Rather than introducing and immediately killing Venom in this film, they could have waited and shown him right at the end. This is an awesome setup Spider-Man 4, and shazam. Franchise saved. You’re welcome.

Ah, what might have been.

There’s so much other bad stuff I could discuss — the massive amount of the plot that relies on coincidence (symbiote on a scooter, convenient butler), the terrible Greek chorus of TV reporters at the final battle, the questionable CGI, the misuse of the Daily Bugle staff, the failure to make the most of the Sandman — but I will leave it here. If Raimi and co. had stayed on the course they laid out for themselves with Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, they could have made the best superhero trilogy (or maybe even quadrilogy) of all time. But they didn’t. It’s a real shame.