The Amazing Spiderman’s a hit, and I just saw it, and I can’t remember it. Which is a GOOD thing, in its way. That’s what loud CGI nonsense is FOR.
I mighta mentioned this fact already, that a lot of filmed entertainment is made to be forgotten. People have a hard time with that concept. But it’s an important working class entertainment function, a way to blank your worried mind and lift your depressed spirits; you go into a theater for a couple hours and come out again refreshed and able to carry on. Many affluent types meditate to get this kind of relief, but if you’ve been raised working class, you feel embarrassed trying to meditate. Sitting there, I mean, trying strenuously not to do anything or think anything, when you actually have a lot to do and think about. It’s so much easier to achieve, that restful lack of action or thought, if something big and bright and loud and dumb is projected in front of you.
A memorable movie can actually interfere with that mind-blanking process, especially a thoughtful bummer type of film that’s going to pile on a whole new load of worrisome things. Lately critics are tirelessly recommending this independent film Beasts of the Southern Wild, about some poverty-stricken Louisiana Bayou kid and her father who have to ride out the catastrophes wrought by climate change. Supposed to be magical and life-affirming or something. But personally I hate those fucking hardship films, and I hate even more the ones smeared with “magical, life-affirming” lies. Who the hell wants to see that? You want to see poor children ride out catastrophes, there are neighborhoods near you, guaranteed, in a permanent state of catastrophe, go watch that awhile and see how life-affirming it is.
Anyway, the new Spiderman film: if I make a major effort, I can recall that there’s a long thin dark-haired guy with tall hair playing Peter Parker this time around (Andrew Garfield), and Martin Sheen is Uncle Ben instead of now-deceased Cliff Robertson (who was better, if I remember—and I don’t remember). Emma Stone is the girlfriend, not the same girlfriend as in the Tobey McGuire Spiderman, another character altogether. Confusingly, this movie does the origin story over again about how Peter Parker gets his Spidey-powers, but it’s different this time. “Alternate reality” Spiderman, I guess you could call it, in which you see what happens if you change only a few details: make the toaster red this time, and Uncle Ben dies differently, that sorta thing.
You can see how it could go on into infinity, this new, accelerated system of remakes. Spiderman can be remade at least once a year, like the Japanese epic The Forty-seven Ronin, and everyone’s on board with this important cultural touchstone and comes to watch the thing over and over and over.
Though Spiderman isn’t what I would’ve chosen, I admit. I like Spiderman and all—used to watch the old, cheerful cartoon reruns on TV as a kid, back in 10,000 B.C.—but I’d definitely have preferred to see some other, meatier America story get the obsessive-remake treatment. The coolest American remake-generator is probably Dashiell Hammett’s novel Red Harvest, which got adapted by Americana-loving Japanese director-genius Akira Kurosawa as Yojmbo, then remade by Sergio Leone as the seminal spaghetti Western A Fistful of Dollars, then combined with another Dashiell Hammett novel, The Glass Key, for the Coen brothers’ masterpiece Miller’s Crossing.
That’d be a million times more exciting, if we all just kept on remaking Red Harvest every year.
But it looks like we’re stuck with Marvel Comics as our main source of pop culture mythology.
The 3-D CGI effects look good in the new Spiderman, lots of state-of-the-art swooping out into the audience, and intense spatial perspectives careening from great heights to great depths. I saw the movie with an enthusiastic matinee crowd—I’ve resigned myself to attending kiddie matinees, basically, now that I know I’ll be watching superhero movies for the rest of my life, because the kids help goose up the experience. One boy found it all so thrilling he cursed freely throughout the movie (“Sheee-ittt!!”) while his father, an immense man-mountain of flesh shoveling buckets of popcorn into his maw, kept up his own more jaded running commentary while chewing. (When Spiderman catches a fly in mid-air, thus demonstrating his incredible Spidey-skills, the man-mountain rumbled, “Shit, I could do that.”)
Emma Stone, I vaguely recall, is very blonde in The Amazing Spiderman, and her voice seems higher, and in general she’s a lighter, less impressive creature altogether than she’s been in other films. I had high hopes for her after seeing Zombieland, in which she was a husky-voiced redhead, more arresting than the general run of dull starlets, a nice throwback to the tougher American women of 1940s film noir. I blame director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) for this blanding-out process. Emma Stone’s blonde boringness seems meant to be all-of-a-piece with the amnesiac quality of this Spiderman remake.
The only big “sticking” parts of the movie, the ones that don’t glide by and evaporate instantly, are:
- the moments of embarrassing acting oversell (Rhys Ifans knocks himself out trying to make the villain, Dr. Connors aka Lizard Guy, lugubriously tragic, and Denis Leary is completely out of his depth in his dramatic scenes as the chief of police, and can only grimace his way through straight lines like “I want Spiderman off the streets”);
- the points of total plot confusion, when you find yourself having to concentrate, however reluctantly, over some damn script thing that doesn’t make any sense;
- and the heavy-duty moralizing that’s such a tiresome part of the Marvel universe. That’s the worst part. No sooner does Peter Parker get superpowers than everyone has to start agonizing over them, as if power of any kind is already half-bad before its even been wielded. There’s a perfectly idiotic scene early on when spider-fied Parker humiliates the school bully who’s been tormenting him and all the other dweebs, and afterwards Uncle Ben demands to know whether his nephew is proud of himself. The correct answer to this is, “Yes,” but the movie wants to make it “No.” We’re in a world of deep moral confusion when embarrassing a bully on the basketball court and thus defusing him for all time is a shameful abuse of power. And wait’ll you get a load of how Peter Parker is made responsible for his Uncle Ben’s death! The most ludicrous daytime soap opera would’ve come up with something less contrived!
I can’t begin to recommend, anymore, that people should see these superhero movies or not. Young’uns go anyway, for the roller-coaster ups and downs. And I’ve already discussed the benefits for the working-class. But if you’re an adult not already invested in the Marvel universe, after you’ve seen a few film adaptation, they’re not really very interesting per se. The bulk of the American film industry’s resources go into these kind of movies, so if you like to see the state-of-the-art effects that Hollywood can generate, you go. And if the dumb blather Hollywood sells as mass-morality fascinates you in a horrible sort of way, that’ll lure you in, too.
I guess a lot of people rolled over long ago and accepted comic book superheroes as their personal saviors, or a movie like The Amazing Spiderman couldn’t make $140 million in a week when it’s a remake of a Spiderman movie that came out only ten years earlier, and there were sequels in between. So let’s say it’s between you and your gods whether you show up for services regularly or not.
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