Sammy the Seal

I was completely, utterly conned

In celluloid on Monday, 28 July, 2008 at 4:48

(Note: written early Saturday, posted early Monday, then updated one last time since I re-read it and realized I didn’t finish a few sentences, ha ha)
I had a good time at a Wolf Parade concert last night, and I’ve been completely brought down. I heard so much hype about Spiderman 2 and was excited to rent it. “I just got to see a good concert, now I’m going to go home and watch a movie I’ve heard so much about!”

This movie is shit. Pure, unmistakably, Hollywood-grade shit. I can’t remember the last time a bad movie got under my skin. Based on my reaction, this has to be the worst film I’ve ever seen. (I admit the main reason is because of expectation.) This is sad, but I’m so upset, I’m re-viewing the movie in double speed so I can make a thorough litany of my anger.

– awkward, clichéd dialogue, starting with the pointless scene of Peter as a pizza delivery boy. Every line is so unnatural and is mere expository or meant to convey plot or a character’s state of mind. Hey, why not let the actor try that? There are NO good lines, everything is cute and clichéd, and all the “inspirational” lines come at supremely opportune moments.
– the music is as ordinary as you can find in an action movie, with cues telling you what’s coming and how to feel. Melodramatic as hell, not to mention the licensed music, soft-rock by numbers. The closing credits, “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”, etc.
– one-liners from everyone, even the extras bit parts (“he stole that guy’s pizza!”; “Butterfingers!”; “You have a train to catch!”; “nothing will stop us, nothing!”; “my mom always said to eat my vegetables, but I never believed her!”; the snooty usher; when Spidey has to ride the elevator and talks to Hal Sparks; the mystique-shattering scene when Spidey with his mask off exchanges barbs with the people on the out-of-control train). It never ends.
– Forced emotion. Oh lord, the forced emotion, the fakery of it all. The fact that a professional actress has time to focus on when Peter isn’t or is there, and that the fact that the film takes a few beats so we know how she feels about it.
– the one-note, yet increasingly annoying performance of the newspaper’s editor
– the way EVERYTHING, I mean, EVERYTHING goes wrong for Peter at the beginning of the movie, from Peter being late to work, to missing Mary Jane’s play, to being fired as delivery boy, to the landlord taking his $20, to getting bad grades, to his ruined laundry— I didn’t feel sorry for him, I thought he was a huge loser.
– the way Mary Jane continues to give Peter chance after chance, despite the fact that he repeatedly shows that he has no spine. Tell me, girls, how realistic a portrayal of a woman this is? Coming from the other POV, I can tell you women, even nice ones, tend to find that shit pathetic and unattractive. For one moment there is realism, when he finally sees her play and says, “let’s pick up where we left off” and she says “we never got on, you can get off if you never got on”, and that “just because you saw my play, you think you can talk me out of marriage?” I cheered for her. But, of course, she predictably leaves the altar to run through the streets of New York in her wedding gown to find Peter.
– the role of Harry, who has one purpose: unremittingly and relentlessly remind us how he hates Spiderman for killing his father, culminating in a groan-inducing scene near the end where he sees his dad in the mirror asking him to avenge his death, Harry refusing, and his dad saying “you’re weak, you always were!” Are you fucking kidding me?
– how EVERYTHING is contrived and convenient, and how plot and character twists come in the very same scene, if not the next one (the color-by-number criminals complete with black stocking caps that drag Peter from the play; disaster strikes the very first time we see the tentacles; Octavius lamenting the experiment with his back to the camera, then turning around two seconds later as evil, capping it by putting on sunglasses, what fucking bullshit; Peter having an identity crisis (yawn!), and his doctor giving him psychological advice when he goes in for a physical, followed by visions of his dead uncle; Peter and his aunt at Uncle Ben’s grave, and in the VERY NEXT scene, he confesses the truth about how he was responsible for his death, and shortly after that, his aunt forgets about being mad and gives him a speech about how the world needs heroes; Peter quitting Spiderman, reading the headline of the paper saying “Crime up 75%”, then he looks up and directly in front of him there is a burning building; etc. etc.)
– everything about Dr. Octopus (including the way they come up with the nickname immediately after he appears). The tentacles as highly sentient entities, killing the medical staff while Octavius is unconscious? That’s some great A.I. I thought he was a physicist, not a neuroscientist. Despite the fact that there’s a man with super-tentacles on the loose, there is no sense of danger in the city. Especially because he’s not really a villain, he just wants to build his machine. It sucks, because I think he looked good and could have been a great villain, but all he ended up doing was rob a bank, fight with Spiderman, and mess with a train. He’s really just up to mischief. The film ignored him most of the movie, except to remind us that he’s up to no good. Oh, and just like when the chip in his neck goes bad, it suddenly works again at the end of the film, and Octavius is good, but he can instantly control these monstrous tentacles without any practice, just in time to save the city.
– I became increasingly infuriated with each far-fetched action scene. Seeing people (not just Peter) slammed repeatedly against solid structures, such as brick, concrete, and wrought iron(!) and bouncing back easily pissed me off. This includes the Doc, and um, he just has tentacles, the rest of his body should be taking punishment like all the others. All the action was CGI, and sooo CGI at that, that it was completely unimpressive. When he flings from building to building, there is no sense of astonishment or sense of height to make us gasp; it all seems like an exercise in CGI. I know he’s a mutant, but the abuse Spidey takes is too fantastical. He has the strength of Superman! (See: the train scene, or every fight scene.) It reminded me of what I loved about Batman Begins, specifically, Bruce Wayne waking up with bruises, because, guess what? This superhero shit hurts and takes a real toll on the human body. At least Superman has an excuse, he’s from another planet. But being bitten by a special spider?
– red herrings abound. What does Spidey losing his webbing abilities, or his aunt losing her house have to do with anything? Or the cute, shy daughter giving him chocolate cake and milk?
– the fact that when you add all this up, there is no sense of reality, only theatricality, and therefore ZERO dramatic tension. None, not one iota. Not once did I sweat, or change my posture because I was tense, or focus on what was on screen. Every single frame reminds you that this is a summer blockbuster, not a story. There is one moment that I felt could have been very sweet but was ruined by everything that came before it, when Spidey caught the wall that was about to fall on Mary Jane.

What bothered me the most is that EVERYONE called this the greatest superhero movie ever made, even the respectable critics. (Ebert: “Now this is what a superhero movie should be… It’s simply and poignantly a realization that being Spider-Man is a burden that Peter Parker is not entirely willing to bear.” Yeah, it’s kind of hard to miss since the film smashes you over the head with that from frame one and the script is purely exposition for this point.) I honestly, out loud, asked myself over and over if I was dreaming or if I was insane. This couldn’t possible be the same movie everyone is talking about. All this talk about character development, more meaningful action scenes, how to make a superhero movie the right way. All I saw was lame, lame, lame. It made me lose respect for Spiderman as a superhero. He’s a dorky kid who got bitten by a spider, but he’s still a dork. At least Batman has a back story, at least he’s complicated. Everything in this film was too easy, and too happy.

As I type this, I still think I’m living in a fantasy world. And it’s not like I was in a bad mood, like I said, I just saw one of my favorite bands in concert. Sorry Wolf Parade, all the good will squandered. Fucking Spiderman 2. (Update: I’m not re-viewing the movie in double time anymore, I saw a light. The following day I went to work and talked with a friend of mine, and ended up talking about Enchanted and how much I love Amy Adams, so all is right again. Besides, I’m not wasting my time with that.)

I’m waiting on a friend of mine to see The Dark Knight, but for instructions on how to really make a superhero/action movie, start with Batman Begins. Take every single note I made here and go a million miles in the complete opposite direction. Character and plot are taken seriously and progress naturally, very few snickers and one-liners, realistic crises for the characters, a very dark tone, well-done action and fighting. Everything is organic to the story being told, nothing is gratuitous. Oh yeah!

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