The Amazing Spider-Man opened big, but is it amazing? In a he said/she said, Ramin Setoodeh and Maria Elena Fernandez debate the merits of the latest Spidey adaptation.
Ten years after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man premiered, and only five years after the last installment of the box-office smash trilogy ended, Sony has released a reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man. The flick has earned nearly $60 million in its first two days and is poised to pull in domestic sales of $120 to $140 million over the weekend.
So if box office is any indication, there is no Spidey fatigue. But wait. Is there? The Daily Beast’s Ramin Setoodeh says he is exhausted. But his colleague Maria Elena Fernandez is invigorated by Andrew Garfield’s interpretation of the nerdy superhero. Their debate follows:
He Said: Are your Spidey senses tingling? Because mine are numb, and possibly asleep. I can’t believe how little amazement there is in The Amazing Spider-Man. In fact, I think this is the worst Spider-Man movie yet (even less likable than the third one, which was horrendous). Let’s start with the most obvious criticism. There is no reason for this movie to exist AT ALL! OK, one reason—Hollywood greed—but really, why are we rebooting the Spider-Man story 10 years after Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst slung such an entertaining web? And what’s worse, the new movie sets Spidey in high school and casts actors who are in their 20s. I truly hated everything about it.
She Said: Dude, I am tingling all over. You’re asleep? There is no sleeping in Spider-Man! I will give you this much—making this movie only a few years after Spider-Man 3 makes little sense from an artistic point of view. But did I enjoy the movie? Oh, yes! Very much so. This reboot returned Spider-Man to his origins story, which does begin in high school. Yes, I agree with you that it was hard to buy Andrew Garfield, 28, and Emma Stone, 23, as high-schoolers. But the thing is, it didn’t really matter to me. When they were outside of school, I didn’t care at all how old they were. I loved them in their separate roles and I loved them together. And that’s coming from someone who also really loved Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in their movies. There’s room in my heart for all.
He Said: I know that older actors play teenagers all the time. But there was something genuinely off about Garfield and Stone’s performances to me—and I think this is why. They are both intelligent actors who really internalize their parts. And I could see them both struggling with the age thing. Emma Stone actually alters her voice to seem more childlike and comes across like a performer in a children’s television series (like she auditioning for Blue’s Clues.) And Garfield tries to be dorky/young, but to me, he just didn’t make a good Spider-Man. There was nothing sexy, fun, or dangerous about his interpretation. And he didn’t even look that good in the suit.
She Said: Blue’s Clues? Now that’s funny. Wrong, but funny. I think Andrew Garfield makes a fine Spider-Man. It’s a return to the really nerdy, tall, gangly superhero who is awkward as he discovers his abilities but excited by them, too. What I liked the most, though, was his emotional quality. It was subtle, but it was present all the time. You could feel Peter’s heartbreak over his parents and his love for Gwen. I think their chemistry was fantastic, and I believed every second they were together that they were in love. What did you think of the fact that he revealed himself to her early in the movie?
He Said: But we just saw the nerdy, tall, gangly superhero that is awkward as he discovers his abilities. And that was what Tobey Maguire did (and better). You have to agree with me that the first half of the movie is bad. In the words of Kate Aurthur, the Beast’s West Coast editor, from an email from this week: “I was, like, WHAT, WE HAVE TO WATCH THIS FUCKING ORIGINS STORY AGAIN, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.” As far as him revealing himself, I cared so little about his Spider-Man by that point, that it didn’t make much difference to me. Plus, I know that Garfield and Stone are a real couple—but on screen, they have no chemistry. Nothing! They are worse than Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta in Rock of Ages.
She Said: No, no, no. I love Tobey’s performance, but I think Andrew succeeds at making himself even dorkier. He’s a younger version of Peter, and I think the way he plays it harkens to previous Spider-Mans before Tobey Maguire. There’s something a little bit more tortured about Andrew’s performance, which makes sense because he’s got the teenage angst on top of everything else. It’s not fair for you to quote Kate Aurthur and not reveal that she enjoyed the movie and agrees more with me than with you!
Kate Aurthur said: Ramin! You know I liked the movie!
He Said: Heh. One of the other central problems for me was Marc Webb’s directing. The structure of the movie seemed very flat. He telegraphed every emotion through an over-the-top soundtrack (I mean, who didn’t see the early death in the film coming?) and did the actors no favors with the high-school scenes. When they are wandering around aimlessly in the halls, backed by the angsty music, I felt like I was watching an Avril Lavigne music video! Or a poor man’s Dawson’s Creek. I just don’t think he showed a strong enough vision that we tend to see from the great directors in the genre, such as Christopher Nolan, Tim Burton, and Sam Raimi.
She Said: Do I need to remind you that this is a comic-book movie and not, say, The Tree of Life? Who is this movie made for? It’s made for young teenage comic-book geeks. For it to have a bit of cheesiness, and I agree that it does, is expected. What tentpole summer movie is chock full of directorial nuances? This is supposed to be fun, and it really is. Besides, the one thing Webb did that stood out to me is that I like how he references pop culture. This is the first time we see web-slinging through the point of view of Spider-Man. We feel like Spider-Man—which gives the movie a really fun and in-the-moment feeling as if we were inside our own Spider-Man video game.
He Said: This movie is made for a wide mainstream audience, and that’s exactly why it’s so dangerous. For better or worse, one of Hollywood’s only success stories now are these mass-market comic-book movies. Was there anything special about The Avengers, the No. 3 most successful movie of all time? Hardly. Can you even remember a scene from the movie? It was less a cinematic achievement than a roller-coaster ride. For me, the best two comic-book films of the last 20 years are Spider-Man 2 and Batman Returns, cinematic experiences that are true works of art. (Some would also argue that The Dark Knight also deserves a spot on that list.) But if Hollywood keeps remaking and rebooting and reconfiguring superheroes in forgettable action adventures, with little spirit, creativity or entertainment value, then we are really are approaching the beginning of the end of movies. Please make it stop.
She Said: Did you just use the word “dangerous” to describe a summer movie? I think you’re taking this all too seriously. Did we need another Spider-Man movie? Not really. But its presence in the culture is not destroying or ruining anything. Yes, of course, more people than just comic-book devotees go to see these films. But at their hearts, that’s who they’re for. All of those movies you mentioned, I loved for many different reasons. I guess I didn’t go see this wanting to compare every second of it to the last movie or to every comic-book movie in film history. I tried to give it a chance to impress me all on its own, and it did. All I know is I remained engaged and I liked the entire cast a lot. Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, and Sally Field really round out the ensemble well.
He Said: I have no idea what these (talented) actors are doing in this movie, other than the fact that there are few roles left in Hollywood and this is what it has come to. As Aunt May, Sally Field seems to be channeling Nora Walker from Brothers & Sisters—and I kept wondering when Calista Flockhart was going to arrive. Martin Sheen is also completely wasted. I agree that Denis Leary was good, but I kept getting distracted by Emma Stone in their scenes together. What do you think of the villain played by Rhys Ifans? He reminded me of Godzilla. There’s nothing about Spider-Man that isn’t stolen from somewhere else.
She Said: I guess you just want to be Grumpelstiltskin about this movie. Nora Walker sans her glass of red wine was definitely in effect here, but was it bad? No. It’s something we’ve seen Sally Field do before but she worked well with Martin Sheen. I didn’t think he was wasted at all. I wish he would have stuck around a bit longer, but we all know that sad story already. Denis Leary delivered such a solid performance. You just reminded me of the moment when Gwen tells her dad, “I’m 17!” I was shaking my head, “No, sweetie, you are not.” But I forgive the movie this transgression. Everything else clicks. Even the Godzilla-like villain. I have no issues with him.
He Said: Even though I passionately disliked Spider-Man (and you’ve been sending mean tweets during our debate), I’m glad you enjoyed yourself. Enjoyment is all what the movies are supposed to be about. It’s just a feeling I wish I experienced more often this summer, during a season where the box office has been particularly sluggish and the movies have not been so great. In a way, I wished that Spider-Man had bombed, because it would save America from seeing two more sequels and the inevitable reboot to the reboot in 2022. Who will they cast by then? One of the kids from One Direction as Spider-Man!? Happy summer everyone!
She Said: With great power comes great responsibility, my friend.
He Said: Webb didn’t even use that line in the movie! How pathetic.
She Said: It’s gonna be OK.