I don’t know any film critic who cares more about the history and character of Peter Parker/Spider-man than the comic-loving Steven D. Greydanus who reviews films for the National Catholic Register.
Greydanus also happens to be my favorite film critic. I love the way he writes and thinks.
So, since I missed the press screening for The Amazing Spider-man, the seemingly unnecessary reboot of an already engaging franchise, I’ve been eager to read his review.
And here it is.
The Amazing Spider-Man has some good ideas in this direction. In some ways, it improves on the previous trilogy. With caveats, I generally like Andrew Garfield’s darker, more ironic take on Peter; it isn’t especially my conception of the character, but it could reasonably be someone’s conception. The awkward flirtation between Peter and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is more emotionally fraught than the shallow romanticism with MJ in Raimi’s trilogy.
Martin Sheen is terrific as Uncle Ben (I like him at least as much as Cliff Robertson, though partly it’s a matter of writing), and Uncle Ben’s murder is cleverly restaged in a way that emphasizes Peter’s responsibility even more. Director Mark Webb (yes, Webb!) creates a few memorable images, some re-creations of comic-book art, others inspired by the hero’s arachnid iconography.
For all that, the new film bungles who Spider-Man is, where he’s coming from. This isn’t the only problem (there are notable issues around the plot and the interpretation of Spider-Man’s reptilian foe, the Lizard), but, for me, it’s the most intractable, because it undermines the hero’s moral center.
(Also frustrated, here’s Nick Shager at Slant.)
As I expressed in my review of The Avengers, which I wrote in a strange state of simultaneous exhilaration and exasperation, I’m suffering from severe superhero-movie burnout. So I won’t rush out to see this movie and subject you to another blast of disillusionment.
Yes, superhero stories can be a meaningful form of mythmaking. Yes, they can encourage us to reflect on power and responsibility. But they can also become an addicting sort of escapism that does more to distract us from our own gifts and responsibilities than it does to help us understand them. They are, if you will, a sort of dessert. And when dessert is mostly what we’re eating at the movies, well… I’ll surrender the metaphor there, but I think you can follow it to its logical conclusion.
And with ticket prices for event movies like this rising toward $20 (I paid $18 for my ticket to see Prometheus, something I hope I never have to do again), I can’t help but ask the tiresome question, “What else could I be doing with the money I’m pouring into the Summer Blockbuster bin?”
If you disagree with Greydanus and Shager, and think that this movie deserves my $20… please, feel free to make your case.
If you’re really hungry for a superhero film, and you haven’t seen Chronicle yet, check it out. It just arrived at Netflix, and it delivers something that superhero movies are finding it more and more difficult to deliver: Surprises. But even so, I found myself checking my watch during the last fifteen minutes, hoping that it would settle for one modest finale instead of the endurance test that has become the standard.
And wow… we still have The Dark Knight Rises ahead of us this summer.
Last month, Moonrise Kingdom, my favorite film of 2012 so far, showed us a place full of human beings, with human struggles, human triumphs, and a refreshing lack of superhuman showmanship. That place is called Summer’s End.
I want to go to there.