Saturday, 19 July 2014

"Amazing" Is A Strong Word, But...

Just three months after the sequel dropped I've finally sat down and watched Amazing Spiderman; how with it am I?

(Spoilers after the jump)

So was it worth another Spiderman film so soon after Macguire hung up his spandex? Well, maybe. Certainly there's a lot of ways in which this iteration beats out its predecessor. Garfield plays the Webslinger using the irritating smart-ass model employed by, say, Bendis, which holds that Spiderman is an excellent choice as a hero to watch your back, but he's actually a ferociously irritating person to hang out with under all other circumstances.  Garfield pulls this off almost effortlessly through a dangerous abundance of charm, which easily outpaces Macguire's overly earnest Parker.  When Macguire was called upon to act like a dick in his final outing, it was close to unwatchable; Garfield can manage it in his sleep.

Similarly, Emma Stone's Gwen Stacey is far more watchable than I remember Dunst's Mary-Jane Watson being. It was certainly a good idea to have her clued in on Parker's secret so early; there's only so many iterations of a man trying desperately to stop a woman from making informed decisions about her relationships. It would be nice if the film didn't wrap up with two guys deciding her romantic future for her, of course, but there's no doubt that a refusal to put someone in danger over their objections is a less aggravating position than putting them in danger but refusing to clue them in on that fact.

Not everything here works. Rhys Ifans is rather wasted as Doc Connors, with little to do as a human and less as a reptile. In fact the whole design of the Lizard feels a bit off. I've no idea why they binned the classic design, since Connors here looks more like a scaly ape than anything else. Maybe the idea was that you can get more expression from an almost human face than a crocodile-like head, but if so this may have been effort wasted; the Lizard CGI feels staid and unengaging, and as a result his bouts with Spiderman are events that simply happen in front of you, without grabbing you in any way.

(I'm also not sure why )

But then this isn't really about the Lizard at all. In a lot of ways he's just the generic villain helicoptered in for the film's real point. I don't know why they went to such effort dancing around Uncle Ben's "with great power..."bit - you've chosen to remake Spiderman, guys; say the fucking line - but it's certainly true that the film creates some distance from that stance.  This isn't about the powerful helping out because it's the right thing to do, it's about the powerful helping out because society can only function if everyone helps out, them included.

This point is driven home in the - admittedly overwrought finale - when Peter needs to get to Oscorp but is too far away and wounded into the bargain. His route to his finale showdown with Connors and the ultimate saving of the city is only made possible because the construction workers of New York align their cranes to give him an easy route.  Then, once he gets there, only assistance from the chief of police gives him the opportunity he needs to sort everything out.  The middle-class white guy who lucked out and got access to phenomenal resources needs some serious blue-collar assistance to get what needs doing done, and he can only make use of that assistance because he's helped those people out earlier in the film.

It would be tempting to describe this message as pat and cliche, except that it seems to have been thoroughly forgotten by large swathes of society. The self-described powerful cannot function except through the cooperation of others. It's not about the powerful working together with the powerless, it's about realising that there's no such thing as powerless people, unless you deliberately spend decades deliberately trying to rob them of that power, right by right, union by union.  What's baffling about all this is how many of the people involved in so badly screwing so many people seem utterly convinced that it's the best deal for everybody. It's all about self-reliance and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and not entering into a culture of dependency. It's ill-conceived sophistry, obviously, but it functions at just high enough a level to seem legit if you refuse to look at it too long.

All of which is to say that horrible things start happening if you slap together a philosophy for society whilst drunk on power and subject everyone else to it because you've got the power to do so.  Kind of waking up day whilst hepped up on reptile genes and deciding America would be better if everyone was a giant goddamn lizard.

Which of course is the one way in which the Lizard fits into this story perfectly; a man so divorced from society and so obsessed with his own problems that it's the work of moments for him to convince himself what's best for him is what's best for everyone. With great power comes no responsibility to listen to the people you can leverage power over, it would seem.  Not just for supervillains, but for far too many superheroes too; the urge to decide what is best for people is strong on both sides of that battered, irradiated coin.

That, in some haphazard way, is what this film seems to be standing in opposition to. And if the promise Peter makes to Gwen's dying father manages to badly undermine that idea, the film's final (pre-credits) line suggests that the promise too, like Connor's demented plan and Parker's initial churlish disengagement, cannot long stand in the face of those such solipsism actually effects.

Shame there was no J. Jonah Jameson, of course...

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