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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: The Amazing Spider-man



U.S.: Marc Webb, 2012

Pity poor Spider-Man: He gets old, his webs get worn, and the movie guys just keep originating him, over and over. Ten years after the Marvel Comics movie that told the original “origin story“ (based on the original Stan LeeSteve Ditko ‘60s comics) of how the original angst-ridden teenager Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) lost his parents, pursued his sexy high school girlfriend Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), and ultimately (and originally) became the web-slinging, skyscraper-scaling, spider-costumed superhero Spider-Man, catapulting himself through the wildly popular kickoff for the wildly popular spider-trilogy of  Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007) — now he has to go though it all over again. With some variations. Something like Bill Murray starting another Groundhog Day, only with another actor playing Bill Murray. (Will Ferrell maybe? Or Rainn Wilson?)

So  Tobey Maguire, who apparently became obsolescent at 32 (or at least too old for playing angst-ridden teenagers), gets sent off to the Old Superheroes‘ home, to be replaced by 28-year-old brooding British cutie-pie and critic’s pet Andrew Garfield, who played Mark Zuckerberg‘s (Jesse Eisenberg’s) college chum/partner Eduardo in The Social Network — not my idea of an American teenager, but we‘ll let that pass. And we get a different girlfriend (salty Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, instead of Kirsten as M.J.), and a new super-villain (the versatile Rhys Ifans as tormented amputee Dr Curt Connors a.k.a. The Lizard, Peter‘s dad‘s old partner and a mad lizard amputation researcher) and a New Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Sally Field and Martin Sheen, whon we both like), and Denis Leary as Gwen’s suspicious dad, Police Captain Stacy, who thinks Spidey is a vigilante and wants him behind bars, and a new secondary villain (Irfan Kahn as the incredibly boring Rajit Ratha) and I imagine, new, improved CGI and 3D effects, though the 3D wasn‘t too noticeable, which is actually good.

We also get a new, appropriately-named Spider-director, Marc Webb, a canny Madison West (Wisconsin) alumnus and rock-video specialist whose previous feature was the very clever, chronology-shattering romantic comedy, (500) Days of Summer, which I enjoyed. The writers, happily, are veterans and a very good team, including Alvin Sargent, who wrote Julia, Paper Moon, Ordinary People and Spider-Man 2 (widely and probably correctly considered the best superhero comics movie), Steve Kloves, who’s been guiding Harry Potter for years, and John Vanderbilt, who scripted Zodiac, working from a story by Vanderbilt, who has basically supplied the S.O. S. (Same Old Shit), but with polish. By the way, all this re-originating is what’s called in moviespeak a reboot, which is also what I do when my computer acts up.

It’s not that the Spider-Man series has been acting up or crashing here. It’s just that time passes, and spider webs crumble and original Spider-star Tobey has gotten a litle older, too old perhaps (not in human terms maybe but in movie ones) and Garfield is a rising star (though I found his Peter Parker a little over-obnoxious and skateboard-happy and too rebellious for a satisfying secret identity). And since these Spider-movies cost a lot and sometimes seem almost as technologically complex as a space launch, you can’t do a sequel every two years or so, which would seem to make more sense and would have gotten more mileage out of Maguire.

So we’re watching a movie that’s already been done just ten years ago, albeit with lots of variations, and the basic reason is that the lead actors have aged, and there’s more Spider-money to be squeezed out of the franchise. You may wonder, with all this irony withering away, why I’m giving The Amazing Spider-Man three stars. Well, despite my dubious feelings about why and how it was made, it’s still a good movie and will no doubt please its legions of ready-made fans And it’s so classily done, that it’s gotten better reviews than it deserves from lots of critics (including, I guess, me). I also suspect the new rebooted series will get even better as it goes along, especially if they keep together this cast, these writers, this technical crew and this director.

This is the movie they wanted to make, and that much of the audience apparently wants to see.  Besides, ten years or so down the pike, Andrew and Emma will be 38 and 33, and they’ll have to cope with new Spider-kids and Webber-snappers coming up. True, we’ve heard the story before, but so have the younger fans, who’ve probably caught the original Trilogy on DVD or Blu-ray, and don‘t mind secret identities on skateboards.

But, you know, I remember how excited I usd to get back in the ’60s, when a new Spider-Man comic book would come out and how the writer (Stan Lee) and the artist (Steve Ditko) never let me down. (Well, almost never.) I was a fan back then, and happy to be one. What was the ingredient those books had that’s kind of missing here? Well, humor, for one thing. Personality, for another. Economy for a third. And they were more…original.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon