Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly series blogging about one of the many DVDs, Blu-Rays, and, on some occasions, old VHS tapes that I own. Today, we get to last year's reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, The Amazing Spider-Man. This is dated in my notes at November 18, 2012.
"Why reboot Spider-Man so soon?" was the question that so many asked when the film was first announced. After all, the franchise started 10 years before The Amazing Spider-Man came out...the third and final film came out five years prior. It all seemed still too soon to scrap the whole thing and start over. Well, the answer was, quite simply, something that had to do with this business of show.
See, when a comic book company sells the movie rights to one of their characters, it usually comes with an expiry date. If they don't start making the movie by a certain date, the comic book company gets those rights back. After the success of Spider-Man 3, Sony Studios naturally wanted to make a fourth one. Spider-Man is officially the highest-grossing franchise in the history of Sony Studios. But, that expiry date was looming high. If they didn't start making Spider-Man 4 soon, the rights would go back to Marvel, and Sony didn't want to lose their license to print money. So, Sam Raimi, director of the trilogy, was signed back on to do a fourth, and Tobey Maguire signed back on to come back as Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
But...there were problems. Raimi and the Sony brass fought a lot over the tone and direction of Spider-Man 3, and those fights continued as they tried to make #4. The two just couldn't agree on what to do, or how it should be done, or what it should be about. A few tantalizing details did come out. Anne Hathaway was apparently in negotiations to play the Black Cat. But, that expiry date was coming down hard, and rather than continue fighting, Sony decided to bid Raimi and his team fare-thee-well and start over.
And that's why Spider-Man was rebooted so soon, and a new franchise began with this past summer's The Amazing Spider-Man.
At first, I was skeptical of why they wanted to re-start the franchise so soon, but after I thought about it, I had to agree with one comment I read in an Internet forum: as long as they don't make us sit through the origin story again, I'd be cool with it.
And then I found out that they were making us sit through the origin story again.
Did Hollywood really think I was stupid enough to pay to see a movie I'd already seen 10 years ago? Yes, yes they did.
Was I really that stupid? Yes, yes I was.
But you know, just like how they're can't be too many movie versions of Hamlet, maybe the world would be open to another interpretation of the Spider-Man origin story so soon. Granted, I did roll my eyes at the trailers, and how they tried to make it look like "Twilight with superheroes," but that could be forgiven. After all, remember the first trailers for Bryan Singer's X-Men? Those tried very hard to make it look like "The Matrix with superheroes."
And besides, the hype really was playing with the fact that, this time out, there'd be some focus on Peter Parker's parents, and some mystery around them, and how this mystery might relate to Peter's ultimate destiny. So, hey. Sounds like already they had a trilogy in mind.
And the mystery is how the movie opens. We see an 8-year old Peter Parker playing hide-and-seek with his dad. Peter wanders into his father's study, and finds the place ransacked. Peter's dad sees this, and panics. He gathers up some research, grabs Peter and his wife, and they drive over to Aunt May and Uncle Ben's. Peter's dad tells Peter that he and his mom have to go away for a while, and that Uncle Ben and Aunt May will look after him. And that's the last time Richard and Mary Parker are ever seen again.
Flash forward 8 years or so. Peter's in high school. He's sullen and withdrawn. But this time out, Peter's got a little more backbone. Rather than put up with Flash Thompson's bullying, he's more than willing to stand up to him. And this courage does get him noticed by one of the smartest kids in school...Gwen Stacey, played by Hollywood's current definition of adorable, Emma Stone.
That night, Peter his helping his Uncle Ben clean out the flooded basement, and Peter find his father's old briefcase. Excited to find some connection to his parents, Peter starts digging through it, and Peter finds a picture of his father standing next to a scientist...a man that Uncle Ben describes as Dr. Curt Connors, a close friend and colleague of Peter's father. Peter also finds a hidden compartment, containing his father's research notes.
After some quick research online, Peter discovers that Dr. Connors is working at Oscorp, so Peter sneaks in disguised as an intern to try to meet Dr. Connors. And lo and behold, because she's so super-smart, guess who's Dr. Connors' head intern, even though she's just in high school? Gwen allows Peter to come on the tour she's giving to all the new interns, but Peter wanders away from the group, and into a secluded area...where he's bitten by a radioactive spider. Come on, you knew it had to happen eventually.
For wandering away, Gwen throws Peter out, and on the way home, he develops his new spider-powers. Still wanting to know more about his father, Peter tracks down Dr. Connors at his home and identifies himself as Richard Parker's son. Dr. Connors welcomes him in, and they chat about what Connors and Richard Parker were working on. Connors reveals that his research in combining human and non-human DNA has reached a roadblock, but using a few equations he got from his dad's old notes, Peter fills in the gaps for Dr. Connors.
So Peter gets so caught up in the lab helping out Dr. Connors in the lab, that he ignores a call from Uncle Ben and forgets to go pick up Aunt May from work. When Peter gets home, he gets a tongue lashing from Uncle Ben, that gets dangerously close to "with great power comes great responsibililty." (They actively avoid saying it in the reboot, which is probably smart, because it was repeated ad nauseum in the original trilogy.) Peter storms out, Uncle Ben goes after him, they wander around the neighbourhood in the night, Peter refuses to stop a convenience store robber who promptly kills Uncle Ben, and Peter's path to superherodom is now secure.
Donning the mask and webshooters, Peter now begins searching the night for Uncle Ben's killer. His activities don't go unnoticed, and soon a police task force is assembled to bring in this superpowered vigilante, and it's headed by Captain George Stacey...Gwen's father. And he's played by Dennis Leary, who brings all kinds of Dennis Leary goodness to the part. And needless to say, when Gwen invites Peter home for dinner to meet the folks, and Captain Stacey starts talking about work, the conversation gets hilariously awkward.
Meanwhile, we catch up with Dr. Connors. If you don't remember the comics, Dr. Connors only has one arm, and that's why he's researching combining human and non-human DNA. He hopes to splice in some lizard DNA so humans can gain the lizard's ability to regrow lost limbs. Thanks to Peter's equations, his research has taken a huge step forward, and has been very successful in mice. His evil bosses at Oscorp want him to start human trials, and Dr. Connors refuses, saying it's not ready. And the Oscorp bosses agree. I'm just kidding! No, instead they fire Dr. Connors, and decide to take the serum down to the veterans hospital and try it out on crippled war vets, because, you know, evil. Wanting to prevent this, Dr. Connors tests the serum on himself. Yes, he regrows his lost arm, but he starts to grow into a half-human/half-reptile monster, the classic Spider-Man villain known as the Lizard.
With some semblance of Dr. Connors inside him, the Lizard tears up a traffic jam to stop the evil Oscorp bosses, and Spider-Man shows up to stop the Lizard, leading to their first battle. Oh, and before Spider-Man runs off to stop the Lizard this first time, he reveals his true identity to Gwen Stacey.
The next day, Peter goes to Dr. Connors to get some advice on hunting lizards. (Dr. Connors main field of study, as we're reminded, is herpatology, the study of reptiles.) But, with Dr. Connors acting very withdrawn, and seeing the damage to Dr. Connors' lab, Peter is able to deduce that Connors is the Lizard. Naturally, Peter goes to Capt. Stacey. Naturally, he thinks Peter's nuts. Upon seeing an ad in the Daily Bugle for a cash reward for pictures of the Lizard, Peter decides to kill two birds with one stone, and goes hunting for the Lizard in the sewers with camera in hand. Spidey and the Lizard tussle, but Spidey leaves his camera behind, and thanks to Peter having written his name on his camera with a label maker, the Lizard figures out the Spider-Man is Peter Parker. The Lizard then attacks Peter's high school, but Spidey fights him off, and follows the Lizard down into the sewers. While tracking the Lizard, Spidey calls up Gwen and lets her know what's going on. Because she's Dr. Connors's intern, he gets her to go to Oscorp and whip up the antidote to Dr. Connors' transformation. Spidey eventually finds the Lizard's lair, and learns the Lizard's plot. Using a device at Oscorp, the Lizard wants to dose the whole city with a gas form of the serum, and turn everyone into lizard people.
Spidey begins the desperate dash to Oscorp to stop the Lizard and save Gwen, but along the way, he's stopped by Capt. Stacey and his anti-Spider-Man task force. Unmasked, and with Capt. Stacey learning Spidey's true identity, Spidey implores Capt. Stacey to let him go, as he's the only one that can get there in time to save Gwen. Capt. Stacey lets him go.
Gwen heroicly finishes brewing the antidote, just as her father shows up to escort her to safety. Spidey and the Lizard tussle, and Capt. Stacey shows up with the antidote, and a shotgun to provide back-up. Spidey is able to get to the device, and switch the serum with the antidote, but not before the Lizard kills Capt. Stacey. The antidote is released into the air, the Lizard turns back into Curt Connors, and with his dying breath, Capt. Stacey admits that the city can use Spider-Man, but makes Spider-Man promise to stay away from Gwen for her safety.
Needless to say, this results in a very distraught Gwen when Peter doesn't show up for her father's funeral, and instead, Peter tries to break up with her. As she is super-smart, she's able to figure out that her father made Peter promise this. But with some encouraging words from Aunt May, Peter decides to break his promise and make a go of it with Gwen.
And that's it. As I said in my original review, what really sells this film is the relationship between Peter and Gwen. It so cute and awkward the way these two geeks realize they have a mutual attraction and try to make a go of it. I know this film got some flak for how they made Peter a little more confident and already trying to be a hero before the spider bite, but I think it works. I mean, this guy was abandoned by his parents, so that makes him more withdrawn than nerdy.
And that kind of leads into my problems with the film. All of the advertising for this film made such a big deal about "the mystery of Peter Parker's parents," and "secrets will be revealed" and all that, but it's a plot thread that's dropped very early in the film, brought back only in the film's very confusing post-credits sequence, which I'm sure was added simply because very superhero film has one now.
The post-credits scene, in a nutshell. Dr. Connors is led into a jail cell. In the cell, is a shadowy figure.
Shadowy figure (who sounds a lot like Willam Defoe, but is totes not Norman Osborn)>> Did the boy learn what happened to his parents?
Dr. Connors>> No.
Shadowy figure (who's 100% not the Green Goblin, honest, even though he looks and sounds a lot like Willem Dafoe)>> Good. Then we can let him live...for now.
Dr. Connors>> YOU LEAVE THE BOY OUT OF THIS!
The end. Wha? At this point, the whole "Mystery of Peter's Parents" has been completely forgotten by the audience, so there was no point in resurrecting it. There's quite a few articles online saying that it might have been a subplot cut at the last minute, and the evidence is overwhelming.
And the same thing with Peter hunting for Uncle Ben's killer. It's never resolved. Peter never finds him. Uncle Ben's killer is still out there. It's a plot thread that just kind of runs out.
So that's my problem with it. Lots of good ideas, that just kind of peter out...no pun intended. If they skipped the whole origin re-telling, and maybe made it purely about Peter's search for his parents and it led him to Dr. Connors...that would have made it a much tighter film. But no...it was made by a committee, and they wanted too much stuff in it, and it takes about the whole first half of the film to find its point.
But, once again, the characters are great. Sally Field was great as Aunt May, and I wish we got more of her. It is the characters and the performances that make this movie good.