There’s No Place Like Homecoming

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There is a beautiful moment in Spider-Man: Homecoming, perhaps my favorite moment in the whole film where the youngest-looking incarnation of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) yet is trapped under a hell of a lot of rubble after a building collapsed on him in an image nearly reminiscent of the famous cover of Amazing Spider-Man #33 (something I doubt was unconscious on the part of the mothership company Marvel themselves finally getting to co-produce the superhero after all of these years). And there’s obviously no way Spidey won’t make it out of here but for once Holland breaks away from his otherwise joyously bubbly and bright performance as the young kid to start crying for help under the weight and selling the threat of his crushing death, before getting to see his makeshift Spider-Man mask under a puddle of water with his reflection filling out half of the watery darkness, thereby recreating another famous Spider-Man image halving Peter’s face and the Spidey cowl as one. And it’s a very inspiring and self-reflective moment for the character that assures both Parker and the audience and gives him the resolve to get himself out of this situation.

And the movie redundantly ruins this wonderful moment with a hamfisted voiceover reprise of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. both literally and metaphorically phoning his performance in) saying “if you’re nothing without this suit, then maybe you shouldn’t have it.” Which is not only a shitty misfire of tone in its condescending wording, even if it’s an attempt to re-establish the message, but it’s also emblematic of exactly how I feel about Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s not exactly a classic in the sense of Raimi’s works, but it’s a movie with its own strengths that could stand on its own if only the Marvel Cinematic Universe would kindly stop butting in every once in a while.

I do have to give Spider-Man: Homecoming (and that title keeps me just shuddering at the unnecessary shade of Marvel Studios towards Sony Pictures) some credit. As would be common sense, producers Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal, director and co-writer Jon Watts, and the dizzying six man revolving door of the writing team knew that it would be completely unnecessary and redundant to re-establish the origin story of one of the most famous superheroes of all time and yet Homecoming feels every bit like an entry tale for our favorite webslinger. And it wouldn’t be able to do that without the greater context of the Avengers and how Spidey is THIS close to earning Stark’s approval and joining them, but I wonder if it would be a bad thing if we didn’t have that?

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It just feels so ultimately divorced from the truly stellar element of Homecoming: the “friendly neighborhood” aspect. Holland is so boyishly charismatic and engaging within the part that just having him interact with anybody – the people on the streets in which he helps out, the A.I. in the suit Tony Stark gifts to him, the overabundance of high school friends that doesn’t fit my idea of “outsider” Peter Parker but certainly gives us a lot of charming high schooler material – is not only wonderfully entertaining, but reverses the scope of the whole MCU and gives a sense of tactility to the community sense of localized superheroes, a concept that doesn’t really come to play anywhere else in the MCU except their Netflix series.

The entire cast is the best salesman on this premise: Holland wrestles eagerly with this sense of anonymous celebrity, Michael Keaton as the villain Victor Toomes has a sense of frustrated blue-collar workaday escalation to his aggression (his one big EVIL moment where he kills a man on-screen is undercut by him mistaking the weapon he used and I don’t think it’s an accident that Keaton sells that surprise very well). Donald Glover, in a two-scene cameo, essentially delivers the tired inconvenience you’d expect New York would have facing alien forces and consistent destruction. The strength of Homecoming is in the smaller human elements, those touches of a living city underneath (even if it’s Atlanta playing New York City in a conspicuous way). It is no accident that the best setpiece in the whole film is a comical one of Spidey finding it very hard to swing webs in a suburban residential area and forced to superpower-Ferris-Bueller his way around, a wonderful moment of character and geography.

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It is unfortunately the ONLY great setpiece, which is a shame because anybody who has seen Holland at work on stage knows he’s certainly the most athletically capable of all of the screen Spider-Men. But Watts and editors Dan Liebental and Debbie Berman just don’t give him his due, never finding a true rhythm to the moment whether it’s a bank robbery, a jet heist, or scaling the Washington monument and never finding dynamic ways to represent the high-flying physicality of Spidey the way Holland’s hollerings do so, nor does it bother to cover up its CGI much beyond the “night time means no lighting to see it”. And that’s really disappointing for a climax as restrained as this film’s.

I can’t say it feels less like a product than Marc Webb’s time with the character, but it also is a lot more fun with it. Sure, the aggressively eager-to-please nature of having every character that isn’t Mac Gargan (Michael Mando) be able to perform a quick gag seems kind of insincere, but it’s nothing less than platonic. Spider-Man may have found himself in a new prison confined to being another stepping stone to the next Avengers movie, but he seems to at least be having fun there and he’s got great company, so there’s no big problem. It could be worse.

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Now THAT’s What I Call a Fiasco

Note: Anybody who can tell me what famous Spidey moment the title of this review comes from wins my eternal respeck.

Other Note: This is re-do of a previous review from when I first saw this movie in 2012 because maaaaaaaaan, it’s not only too long, but a godless mess of a ramble.

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Spider-Man, like any comic book icon, is a versatile malleable figure. He means different things to different people, they have a different idea of what his defining trait may be, and many artists and writers have put in different contexts and styles just to twist his imagery around as much as Batman. Now for some people, their idea of Spider-Man’s defining trait is that he is a unrelentingly quippy sort and that means that Andrew Garfield was (until Tom Holland thankfully disabused them) the best screen Spider-Man. And for sure, Garfield might have been able to foreground the sarcasm of high schooler Peter Parker behind the mask (though claiming Maguire’s Spidey wasn’t humorous and full of levity is an outright lie – he was directed by Sam Raimi, the creator of one of the quippiest heroes cinema has been blessed with), but he’s not my ideal Spider-Man because I have a different concept of the defining trait of Spider-Man.

That trait being he’s not a complete piece of shit*.

To be fair, Garfield did not go full throttle on making Spidey a despicable son of a bitch. That happened in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But rest assured, when it comes to his first go in the red tights for Marc Webb’s (a director’s title I’m all but certain feels ceremonial) The Amazing Spider-Man, there is nothing to his performance that feels living beyond his sarcasm and his casual ability to look like him and co-star Emma Stone (as the doomed first love Gwen Stacy) have some kind of affection for each other. This is definitely informed by the fact they were, at the time, in a relationship and not any of the giggling dialogue afforded to them by co-writer Steve Kloves (he focused on that side of the script most while co-writers James Vanderbilt and a definitely begrudgingly returning Alvin Sargent worked out other areas). Beyond that, his Spider-Man is a empty mass of high school cool tropes that seem out of the ordinary for the character except in a desperate attempt to mangle some protagonist to a desperate film.

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The Amazing Spider-Man is not as bad as I thought it was on first watch. It’s clear Webb and his studio puppeteers (this movie and its sequels have studio interference fingerprints all over it) was not flailing around, but it’s a soulless product. Time passing by, especially in the face of all the Sony leaks and the eventual entry of the character into the MCU, has only shown that this was Amy Pascal and company trying to hold tightly to the character by implying the promise of a further movie franchise, with the subplot on Peter’s parents (something that always alarmed me as so dismissive of Martin Sheen and Sally Field’s potential in the roles of Uncle Ben and Aunt May), the deliberately illogical overshadow on a hologram of Norman Osborn, the terribly out-of-place mid-credits scene, and so on. It’s like Iron Man 2 in those self-reflexive attempts of foreshadowing, except less confident and without the charisma of Robert Downey Jr. to guide us through it. And that’s what really gets under my goat about what “universe-building” has done to this decade of popcorn cinema: it leaves us with only half a story.

The Amazing Spider-Man feels like the bare minimum of what you need to create a plot (with half of the beats already done to more emotional effect in Raimi’s first film) where the content goes no deeper than “Peter becomes Spider-Man to avenge his Uncle’s death, battles the Giant Lizard that Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) has become, and courts Gwen.” You’d only need one more sentence to throw in “Gwen’s police captain father George (Denis Leary) is a bigger dick than Spidey and wants to arrest him, because something something vigilante.” Nothing about it has the same explosion of personality Webb’s earlier debut (500) Days of Summer got to have and everything is just calculated to get this movie out in time to hold tightly to the Spider-Man property and make it seem like it’s still relevant.

Actually, there is some kind of tone in it but it’s obnoxiously self-serious. It almost feels as parodic as Spider-Man 3 except without the parody. Underlit scenes in alleys and sewers, attempts to make Parker’s isolation a lot gloomier than Raimi, even the costume went like three shades down in darkness. There’s nothing that gives me less confidence than realizing the aesthetic for The Amazing Spider-Man could go hand-in-hand with Trank’s Fantastic Four and not thank my stars Kevin Feige rescued a sinking ship. The only true moment of inspiration comes from when Parker begins his ascent as Spider-Man and we witness his playground treatment of New York in first-person camera. But that’s the only place for fun in The Amazing Spider-Man‘s world and it’s back to making superhero movies feel like an obligation in one of the most disappointing moments in the genre’s history.

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*There are many defenders of Garfield that sit on the thesis “Spider-Man is supposed to be a dick, Maguire was too nerdy”. Same as the Tobey Maguire crying meme, I flat out ignore such an asinine complaint and suspect they never picked up a comic in their life, let alone a Spider-Man one.

Turn Off the Dark

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There’s a brand spanking new cut of the infamous third and final incarnation of Spider-Man with Tobey Maguire in the suit and Sam Raimi behind the camera entirely authored by Raimi’s regular editor Bob Murawski that’s been making rounds in a new Blu-Ray collection release and I’m kind of upset that I haven’t found time to buy and watch it before writing this review (maybe I might add an addendum to this once I find free time for it). By all accounts, it is a significantly better and tighter version of a film that clearly had a lot of behind the scenes drama that strangled and tattered the final result to the point of the strong hate the film receives ten years later.

I can’t say I don’t see where the hate for Spider-Man 3 comes from. It’s a broken movie, full of flaws and imperfections and absolutely demolishing the portrayal of one of the most canonical and beloved villains in the entire Marvel catalogue. But I’d also be lying if I said that I end up disliking the film, let alone despising it the way the rest of moviegoers seem to. Anyway, let me divert those angry “you’re stupid for liking this movie” comments just for a second to target on the problems I’m sure anybody would acknowledge about it.

The first and most glaring one is Tobey Maguire was miscast for this movie. I’m sorry, he’s still my favorite screen Peter Parker/Spider-Man (now that I’ve seen Homecoming) and you can’t help the fact that he’s been cast two movies ago (and supplied great performances in them), but this is not his material. I mentioned before that he’s an extremely limited actor and one of those limitations is his inability to sell any kind of darkness in a manner that isn’t comical and overwrought even for Raimi’s stylings. And Spider-Man 3 is unfortunately a film that feels like it desperately wants to be dark, incorporating the Symbiote and Venom storyline – where Spidey finds a new suit in the amorphous alien liquid that attaches to his body but affects his attitude so negatively as to turn him antagonistic to everyone around him, before he forces it off of him and the symbiote finds a new host in obnoxious and pathetic rival photographer Eddie Brock (the spectacularly miscast Topher Grace), transforming him into the dark version of Spider-Man known as Venom – demands that kind of darkness. But, Maguire is holding it back in the most severest manner, for reasons not his fault (his face is way too boyish for him to play off the kind of despicable cool Raimi and co-writers Ivan Raimi [who almost certainly added more of the campy elements] and Alvin Sargent want) and reasons entirely his fault (he cannot sell the violence of certain moments).

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Now, that’s Maguire. The other big problem that hinders Spider-Man 3 is no secret: Sam Raimi did not want to make this movie. At least, he didn’t want to make the Venom movie and it gets in the way of his intended storyline where The Sandman Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) fights for his family and Harry Osborn (James Franco beginning his wack descent into actor I despise), now aware of both his late father and Parker’s secret identities, takes up the Green Goblin mantle to avenge the latter figure in his life. As a Spider-Man fan, I can’t say I disagree with this attitude – Venom does not interest me as a villain, totally the type of work as character and design that the dated Todd MacFarlane could come up with in a transparent manner.

As a result, the parts that Raimi truly feel inspired with – such as the beautiful effects work witnessing The Sandman slowly building himself up again after having been changed into his superself in an experiment gone wrong – have that epic pulp quality that Raimi supplied to every single second of Spider-Man 1 and every possible second of 2. But the parts where he’s clearly disinterested in… well, it shows. In some places, it turns terrible such as every moment Grace is on-screen (and I feel like the casting was one place where Raimi was flipping Sony of) and in others… when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Raimi took the most dismissable facets of Spider-Man’s dark development and turned them into one-part comedy, one-part musical cinema and I would be lying if I said I was not entertained by the infamous dance scenes showcasing how the symbiote has developed Parker into an insufferable prick. He’s never as outright dislikable as Andrew Garfield’s Spidey until the very moment the characters realize something is wrong with him, but he never becomes unwatchable either.

At least, not to me, though I am aware this is a point of hatred for many viewers of Spider-Man 3. Maybe if I didn’t love Raimi’s sense of humor or jazz or musical numbers, this act of clear defiance would make me just as well demand Spider-Man 3‘s execution by firing squad, but I instead admire the idea of keeping the bold color and lighting of Spidey, applying it in a new context, and taking ownership of a movie despite how much the studios wanted to shove in. Some people don’t like lemonade, I guess. I love it.

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Still, there are many areas of neglect. The acting is so much more anonymous here whether Kirsten Dunst as Spidey’s girlfriend Mary Jane Watson or Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacy in another love triangle plotline within this overstuffed film, but where a superhero movie counts, Spider-Man 3 holds its own more than we give it credit for. Its spectacle – with an echoing subway battle, an narrow sky chase, and a very coherent three-pronged climax – doesn’t slouch, its themes are clear and delivered (responsibility, moving on, and restraint), and most of all… it feels like a proper close to a story.

Obviously, that ended up the case when Raimi unsurprisingly walked from Spider-Man 4 and Maguire right after him, but there’s a sense of finality in all of the chickens coming home to roost, the consequences of actions all over the trilogy making Spider-Man decide on how he was going to develop for the rest of his and Mary Jane’s lives together. And Raimi sells that more than anything, looking back on how Parker, Mary Jane, and Harry’s relationship have been shifted over three different movies, tying the Sandman to Spider’s origin (albeit in a very unforgivable manner that is my biggest problem with the movie), and the final scene’s decision to sit within Peter and MJ silently deciding to face any other problems together (easily the best acting both actors get to do in the whole movie).

Spider-Man 3 is a troubled film, no less so than Suicide Squad or Fantastic Four, but that didn’t turn into on-screen misery for me. It’s still in love with its characters and wants to carry all of them to the finish line, even Venom gets more dignity than he deserves (as much as you can with Grace). It’s a step down from two all-timer superhero classics but the result is interesting and the tying knot of the last few scenes shot in solemn sunrises and spotlight blacks makes me feel it works as a curtain call to some of my favorite comic book character incarnations on the screen. Raimi’s heart is battered and bruised but still beating. I can’t help being more forgiving to that sort of thing.

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Spider vs. Octopus

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Let’s go back, boys and girls, to a time before 2008 when The Dark Knight nuked the whole cinematic world into a frenzy and remember the last time a comic book movie was close (but not that close) to being as widely acclaimed as the Nolan Batman films. Just four years prior, right on the first rise of the superhero waves, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 came out and had honest-to-God film critics proclaiming it as the second coming of popcorn movie Jesus, most notably when Roger Ebert (who had given the first Spider-Man an unenthusiastic “ok”*) titled it to be the Best Superhero Movie since Superman.

When I saw Spider-Man 2 a little later than the rest of the civilized world in July 2004, I was in Algeria and isolated from all of that noisy celebration. And my response to it was… I didn’t like it. This has changed significantly over the years to which I hold it close if slightly below its predecessor in my esteem, but when I remember the reasons I wasn’t fond of it, I’m not sure I’m entirely ready to dismiss 12-year-old me’s thoughts. The biggest one, as he’d ineloquently put it, is that it “doesn’t have much action”.

As I am now, I’d deviate a bit and say that Spider-Man 2 just doesn’t have that much energy. It still feels like Raimi is happy to return to the web-slinging superhero and help him grow like he’s Richard Linklater and the films are his personal Before trilogy. Spider-Man 2’s script (now by Alvin Sargent) is a lot more grounded in the human drama, expanding beyond the points in which its characters had been left off – namely Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) totally alone of his own volition and his regret for taking up this responsibility so overwhelming that he’s apparently losing his web-slinging and wall-crawling powers alongside his will, struggling actress Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) tired of waiting for Peter’s call and making decisions on her own terms, and boiling “friend” Harry Osborn (James Franco) who obsesses over revenge against Spider-Man for killing his father Norman (Willem Dafoe) just as their strained relationship was beginning to heal, unaware that Norman was Spider-Man’s foe, the Green Goblin. And while that grounding means the excitement is gone, the drama has more stakes and this allows the cast in on giving fuller performances than they already gave in the original.

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This lack of pizzaz is also reflected in the new cinematographer Bill Pope and his attempt to reel back from the original’s comic book color into providing New York City as a working town backdrop to Peter and Mary Jane trying to figure out where they stand in their relationship.

Spidey’s new foe this time around is also anguishing over the death of a loved one, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), seeing red for his wife’s sudden death during an accident gone wrong that left him under influence of his four metal A.I. tentacles** that earn him the nomiker Doctor Octopus. Octavius begins rampaging his way through Manhattan in movie monster sequences (including his awakening after the accident) of big sound and effortlessly breakable sets. Molina doesn’t have half the dizzying frenzy Dafoe had in his round (and that seems a casualty of giving him that tragic background, which prevents Molina from playing Ock as a total mad scientist monster like he clearly wants to), but he compliments the movie’s balance between soap opera drama and gigantic creature feature nicely, working so well with his co-star tentacle effects (puppets provided by Edge FX) to feel physically one with them.

He’s also the best thing about the movie’s sudden adoption to anamorphic aspect ratio, filling out the screen real nicely with the width and length of his evil robotic claws. Raimi and Pope aren’t 100% sure what to do with that screen space when Doc Ock isn’t eating it up, but every once in a while we get some really inspired moments like the unstoppable train being rescued by Spidey’s might with his exhaustion visually portrayed by his stance (though the idea of all these people knowing Spider-Man’s face REALLY put me off as a kid and I still think the Christ imagery is pushing it more than any scene of New Yorkers throwing trash at the Goblin). Or of course the comic book image of Parker walking away from an alley with his Spider-Man costume in the foreground and in the trash.

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The concept of Raimi and Pope’s visuals being able to compliment both the action and themes of the film is an aesthetic bilingualism that polishes Spider-Man 2 as possibly the most mature work in Raimi’s whole output, which again turns back to all of the dialed down Raimi-esque silliness (it’s there in teaspoons: Hal Sparks and Joel McHale both have comic cameos – Sparks’ is more farcical in the slightly extended and slightly inferior Spider-Man 2.5 cut, as well as the addition of J.K. Simmons hopping around his office in Spidey’s discarded outfit, and my single favorite bit of acting in Maguire’s turn as the character giving a passenger on the doomed train who’s criticizing his efforts a great big “are you fucking kidding me?” look). But the tonal groundings give more breathing space for Dunst, Franco, and Rosemary Harris as Aunt May to get to tease out their characters’ internal conflicts and have their little subplots as visible as the superheroics. Maguire himself meets up with most of the emotional arcs and stakes of the film, but seems to put up more of an effort than he should have to in this film, which only makes me turn once again to preferring Spider-Man.

At the end of it all, though, Raimi’s still having a ball of a time. The horror movie awakening of Doctor Octopus, the grandiose battle between Ock and Spidey on the Clock Tower followed by the train battle and rescue, these are all inarguably more interesting setpieces than any of the fights in the first movie, full of velocity and impact and opening many opportunities for the CGI Spidey to strike comic book poses like the final shot of the original film. The melodrama feels genuine and sincere, somehow having a few layers too many but propped up by a cast willing to justify all of them. And the saga of Spider-Man himself growing from outsider to big time hero continues to evolve thanks to Raimi’s sense of pace and utter love for the material he gets to hash out.

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*Indeed, this “meh” attitude to Spider-Man was literally my first encounter with a review by Ebert and given I was a child who loved that movie, it got us started on the wrong foot.
**Shout out to D.M., whose criticism of the film comes down to “1. How the fuck are people more impressed by this failing sun project than the invention of functioning, personality-full Artificial Intelligence? and 2. Why the fuck are they automatically evil robots who want to rob banks?” If anybody would ever come close to murdering my enjoyment of this movie, it’d definitely be you.

Does Whatever a Spider Can

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I think I already went over in the X-Men review about Spider-Man’s placement in movie history blew the doors wide open for comic book movies to saturate the market, so let me open instead with my personal anecdote to break open some nostalgia.

The night of 11 May 2002, I recall clearly. My mom had brought my 9-year-old self and my siblings to the only-2-year-old shopping mall next to my elementary school and when our paths crossed the box office of the then spanking-new AMC multiplex and I saw a very very late 11 pm showtime for the already week-old release of Sam Raimi’s superhero adaptation Spider-Man, based on one of my favorite superheroes of all time*. It had already been a hard week because despite my excitement for the film, I haven’t been able to watch it yet. All the showtimes were sold out, but all my peers in school were able to watch it.

On the spot, I convince my annoyed mom to take that late showtime opportunity and I finally watch the movie I was hardcore anticipating.

Shortly after I left the theater, Spider-Man was the first experience I’ve had where I consciously had a favorite movie of all time. And while, some of the 15-year-age has knocked the dust off of it from being my idea of a perfect movie, it’s one of the few favorites of my childhood where I don’t look back and think “what the hell was I on?” On maybe a better day, I could imagine it having made the lower end of my favorite movies post.

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So, if you’re expecting me to have a problem with Tobey Maguire’s portrayal as Spider-Man like the rest of the world inexplicably does, no, I’m sorry. He may not be much of an actor in his doughey pushover look and his soft-spoken two-steps-away from crying demeanor, but it’s perfect for a role like Peter Parker, a tired kid on a learning curve in the real world who has too much piling on top of him and can only hold on to his morality. Maguire doesn’t even have to try to act – this is Keanu-Reeves-in-JohnWick kind of casting for a limited actor***. When he smiles, you still feel there’s something wrong in the back of his mind (or Spider Sense), when he tries to win something that’s not a supervillain battle, you get the vibe he’s going to lose because he looks like he knows he’ll lose. It’s miraculously undepressing (Maguire sells both his casual underplayed scientific brilliance and his ability to inspire Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson no matter how low they both find themselves), but clear this kid is overwhelmed by the stuff life is throwing at him.

It would be such growing pains that writer David Koepp throws as the Queens-based hero, who finds himself quickly graduated from high school within the first hour (as would have to be, Maguire was 26 at the time of filming) and living with his best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), son of scientist Norman (Willem Dafoe). Peter is still helping his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) deal with the murder of his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson), the man who inspired Peter to don his costume as Spider-Man with the immortal words “With great power comes great responsibility” after being bitten by a radioactive spider in Columbia University’s lab causing him to sling organic webbing, climb up walls, and become physically enhanced in strength, speed, and all of the above except still looking like Tobey Maguire. Meanwhile, Norman himself has his own secret performance enhancers causing him to go so crazy he dresses up as a Power Rangers villain and enacts a bloodthirsty vendetta against his corporate competitors under the name of Green Goblin.

A lot of tangled web strands for the story and it’s kind of impressive that Koepp and director Raimi are able to streamline this into one great big arc of Parker’s growth as a responsible young adult while finding time to insert super battles in the skies of Manhattan, all of them with that in-your-face comic punch that Raimi supplied in spades with his Evil Dead trilogy. He, cinematographer Don Burgess, and composer Danny Elfman supply weightless enthusiasm to all of Spidey’s web-slinging (most notably in the final shot – some of the effects aged poorly, but that scene alone still dazzles and entertains me even up to the Matrix in-joke) and jazz up the energy to match with Dafoe’s expected mania at being able to embody such a cackling monster, even under the gaudy design of his robotic suit. Raimi’s the kind of filmmaker that clearly makes them for the love of being silly and young again and having the context of a comic book property to let his fan-status translate to pulp popcorn cinema is the best thing. He even gets a chance to play up his horror roots with Dafoe’s self-confrontations in the mirror, two jump scares, and a climax in dark and damp ruins (of an abandoned mental institute, Peter David’s novelization informed me because of course I was so excited I bought the book) where the action gets really violent and colors get dusty and dark against the earlier tones of episodic thwarting in bold colors and mirrors.

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Now, the other big complaint I hear is that the movie is too corny or sappy because of Raimi’s eager beaver tones. Just recently, I heard somebody claim that Spider-Man had “too much heart”. Now, what a surprise from somebody like me who swears by Spielberg, but I think “too much heart” is precisely the best kind of problem to have for any work of art. If Spider-Man wants to include post-9/11 portrayals of unity and solidarity of New York helping out Spidey, why should I complain about the positive energy of these moments? Or the human honesty in having the first lines Harris and Robertson deliver give the coziest possible ways to say “Don’t fall on your ass” and “I’m already on my ass”?

Raimi’s Spider-Man may be sloppy in a sense from a lot of tangeants – I barely got through J.K. Simmons ripping Spider-Man’s newspaper boss J. Jonah Jameson right out of the comic panels or the love triangle between Peter, Mary Jane, and Harry – but it’s sincere in all of that sloppiness and that’s always the easiest way to make me fall in love with your movie. Raimi’s just as bold about his human melodrama as he is about his superhero splashes and he has a very incredible cast to help him out, including two actors I normally despise (Robertson and Franco; I had this attitude about Dunst but she’s been impressing me more and more) turning in understated and casual enough performances that when they actually have to work their big moments like Uncle Ben’s death** (including one of my favorite silence cues in all of film music) and Harry’s feeling of betrayal towards Peter and Mary Jane’s closeness, finding out I’ve actually been fond of these people and hate seeing them go is like having the rug pulled out from under me.

That’s to say nothing of Dunst as Mary Jane, pretty enough to understand exactly why Peter’s affections are fixated on her, weathered enough to understand she has her own life and problems beyond Peter’s perspective (and Koepp’s script is VERY generous to her on this front), and charged enough as a presence to sell that iconic upside-down kiss that immediately became a part of film canon like nobody’s business. Her and Maguire make terrific foils and watching their relationship grow (and especially to the script’s credit, not meeting our expectations) is a warm and comforting thing you wouldn’t expect from the same movie where Willem Dafoe has a great big green plastic suit wobbling his head wildly saying “Hello, my dear”.

The main point is Spider-Man is one of the best examples in my mind of letting people make movies because they really want to make this particular movie. There’s not a single frame of this where it feels Raimi isn’t over the moon with what he gets to do with all that Sony money and in an industry right now where comic book films almost uniformly feel more like obligations rather than any real sense of personality, Spider-Man‘s exhuberance at presenting the character kicking and swinging over the city never ceases to endear me.

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*In fact, around 2002, Ultimate Spider-Man began its run – those first few stories still hold up – and rejuvenated my love for Spidey.
**And flat out fuck people who make fun of Maguire’s crying. I’m sorry, is it supposed to be photogenic? These folks ain’t worth talking to.
***And we will definitely discuss Maguire’s limitations when it comes to Spider-Man 3.

FIXING A HOLE 2014 – Web in the Head

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We are in 20-fucking-14. We are in the middle of hyper-saturation of comic book films thanks to the reception and recognition of their worth as lucrative properties (Hell, one comic adaptation won the Palme d’Or something I would have never called prior), where every damn studio will be playing around with trying to stretch out their comic book properties as much as they possibly can and adopting the idea of “universe” establishing and world-building. As such, we’ve seen and are going to be seeing some great ones and we’ve seen and are going to be seeing some trashy ones. But the one thing we can’t really avoid recognizing is this:

They are all, no matter how good they are, going to be experiments and exercises within the studio system. That’s just their nature as pictures from the foreign properties (Snowpiercer‘s battle for distribution uncut being on) to the brand names (Batman vs. Superman will be fan service the movie). Some of these movies are really able to avoid bringing it out to the audience that much, like the X-Men films have done. Some are just able to transcend that aspect to become worthwhile standalone movies, despite not neglecting or denying their position in a universe.

And then there is The Amazing Spider-Man series which is just Sony flopping around on themselves like Chaplin’s Tramp trying really damn hard to cobble together a movie with as much synergy as they can muster before the next flick. And this is all because Sony doesn’t want to give Marvel the rights to the Spider-Man film productions, trying instead to pretend they can actually fucking do something worthwhile themselves – Marc Webb’s direction seems like it is a non-entity, devoid of character or personality the way Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films were honest-to-fucking-God comic book flicks.

Not one thing in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels anything but facilitated as an adventure in branding – from the various Sony product placements to the name-dropping rock star arrangement barely listenable in what amounts to Hans Zimmer’s worst score in his career so far sounding like an attempt at force-feeding melodrama while the movie does nothing to earn its melodrama.

I weep for Fox doing the same with the Fantastic Four.

Let’s swing through it.

2 years after the events of The Amazing Spider-Man, fresh high school graduate Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is fully in the flow of being Spider-Man, but is still somewhat haunted by spooky Denis Leary (I call the character Denis Leary because whatever the hell he was playing in the last movie, it wasn’t George Stacy) enough to avoid a true relationship with his daughter, Gwen (Emma Stone). I gladly ignore the fact that this actually nullifies his choice at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man to disregard Capt. Leary’s dying request because it means that we actually have a relationship arc with the two central characters for the talented Garfield and Stone to live in, rather than do the heavy lifting they had to do with just giggles in the last movie. And at this point, I’d warrant the emotional stakes of the relationship lead for a much more engaging romantic conflict than anything in the Raimi trilogy.

Something else that the Amazing Spider-Man 2 is able to finally surpass the Raimi trilogy in is giving Spidey a true role of a sort of “community rock star”. Embracing being known as a part of New York City, engaging as Spider-Man with people he helps and establishing, a rapport akin to how a firefighter or police officer would when helping someone. He truly is a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” in this. It is one of the few compliments I will give this movie (you can count the amount in one hand and I wouldn’t be afraid to cut off fingers).

But that’s just within the suit. Outside the suit, Garfield’s Peter Parker is just as much a fucking dickhead as he was well in The Amazing Spider-Man, most notable in his relationship arc with Gwen now just being Parker refusing to quit being Spider-Man for some reason – since Uncle Ben actually seems totally forgotten at this point, it’s safe to say Parker feels no moral obligation to being Spider-Man and nowhere in the movie does he try to prove me wrong. And Aunt May (Sally Field) is just tossed off for every scene she is in, just as I had a problem with in The Amazing Spider-Man, this time less because the movie doesn’t allow her to be on-screen as a voice of reason/inspiration for Peter and more because Peter uses her as a meat puppet for comic relief until some surprisingly self-aware moment where May doesn’t take it anymore and bitches Peter the fuck out.

Let’s get something straight one more time, because every time I mention this in conversation, people try to rebuke with the opposite point and prove they don’t know the first thing about Spider-Man: Peter Parker is NOT a fucking asshole. I don’t know where the defenders of The Amazing Spider-Man keep drawing this idea (I like to think it comes from mainstream audience’s sudden love for cynical, sarcastic, but well-meaning characters that like to mess with everyone in a borderline cruel manner but still save the day and to the misconception that sarcasm is only exclusive to cynicism when… well, I used those two adjectives together for the reason that they are separate), but the definition of who Spider-Man is is that he is strictly NOT an asshole. That he always holds to himself to do the right thing, no matter how the choice is. That is the cross he has always carried since his conception and this reliability as a humanistic character was what made him popular to begin with. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He cracks jokes, of course, his humor is also what makes him admirable. But, he’s not a cocky little shit who never grew beyond the age of 18.

Anyway, infidelity to a character is not what makes a movie terrible, even if said character is the center of the movie. Regardless, that is a pet peeve of defenders of the franchise based on one of my favorite superheroes that I must condemn, because they make me have to.

Anyway, let’s move on with what the hell happens in this movie:

Apparently Parker was also friends with Harry Osborn (a thanklessly ill-used Dane DeHaan) – despite never bringing it up in the many many times he was at or involved in OsCorp within these two movies prior to Harry’s appearance. Y’know, that’s kind of something that would warrant a mention to your girlfriend who works at the corporation or the worker who wonders why the fuck you are in a classified area… or y’know calling Harry because you found out that your dad was heavily involved with his company. But no, Harry is there because Sony decided it was needed.

Harry has a contrived disease that is inconsistent with its appearance and how it affects him (and the movie even tries so hard to deflect this seemingly imperative plot point with the line “It comes and goes”) and apparently really needs the blood of Spider-Man to fix up the cure for this. In the meantime, an awkward OsCorp worker Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is constantly shafted by his workplace and this abuse ends with him having a very comic book-like accident that leads him to becoming the electric villain Electro. His motivations are, like his design, writing, and acting, hard to put a bead on, but given the objective of figuring it out: He thinks the world hates him and wants to rip it apart. Just like Harry.

So yeah… that’s what happens in the movie. Shall we call it a plot or something? These are the days of Spider-Man’s life, I guess? It’s not just lazy, it is cobbled and pasted right along together. It’s not formulaic in the sense that The Amazing Spider-Man obviously was, it is a mess that trips over itself in forced plot points that make little sense except that the writers want very much to finish their job and get their paycheck – Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman are easily recognizable for this sort of work, James Vanderbilt is clearly the guy who had to remind the writing team that it’s a Spider-Man movie and they needed Spider-Man stuff, and I don’t know enough about Jeff Pinkner to hypothesize about his involvement.

But that’s a full fucking 2 hours and 26 minutes that the movie wastes trying to pretend it has anything to say and not only does the script fail as a plot or a Spider-Man adaptation, it gives no room for the actors to save the movie themselves. Really, this is the line-up we got

  • Garfield
  • Stone
  • DeHaan
  • Foxx
  • Field
  • Chris Cooper
  • Paul Giamatti
  • Colm Feore
  • Marton Csokas
  • B.J. Novak

These aren’t bad actors. None of them. There’s some I’m unimpressed by (ahem Foxx), but I’d hardly expect them to give a terrible performance unless they were forced to. And that’s how this film has forced every single one of these guys to go.

Now, I promised there was maybe a few compliments, as weak as they are to save the movie, and I will do so to deliver. The film itself looks fine. It’s not a miracle of cinematography genius, really. And it still doesn’t have the flavors of comic book popping action that the Raimi films gave his films, but it’s colorful to a distinctive degree and you just can’t help but feel the splashes of purple and blue a little bit more than the movie probably would have if it had just not cared about being a good movie a little bit more. None of the movies – Raimi or Webb – have ever gone cheap on the web-slinging interims that Spidey is best known for doing in his little nest of New York, giving the city a bit more definition within the realm of the film and having the experience whoosh right by us like the wind to our hair, so I will not begrudge giving this movie that freebie point. The action scenes are not exactly as terribly made either, as a result of the movie’s attempt give off passable picture and sound enough to satiate anybody not paying attention to the movie itself (God help those who do). They do what they’re meant to, be fight scenes and such.

And of course, when you-know-what moment happens that most comic book fans or anybody interested in Spider-Man with access to wikipedia (summarizing most of the people who seem to like this movie) was expecting by the end of the film, it’s not laughable like the rest of the film. It’s not exactly poignant or sad, in fact it seems just as brushed through as Uncle Ben’s death, acted like a required inconvenience rather than as an emotive moment within the otherwise mechanically cold flick, but it’s not a shit moment. It probably works for a few people and I’m glad it does. I’m just happy it doesn’t fail outright.

But that’s again, the longest fucking movie of the whole Spider-Man brand yet and it turns into the most boring, the most banal, the most stupid, and the most lazy film in the franchise yet and all because its only purpose was being a product and it probably felt less obligated to fix itself up than The Amazing Spider-Man did.

And it seems Sony will just make things worse (That last link is unrelated to Spider-Man but certainly makes Sony look bad).

FLASHBACK: Two Movies I Really Tried to Like That I Couldn’t.

Author’s Note, July 2017: Remind me in a bit once I’m done writing about Raimi’s trilogy and the new Spider-Man Homecoming to actually write a REAL review for The Amazing Spider-Man, because while my feelings haven’t changed much on the movie… man, reading 20-year-old me’s writing is fucking awful. I sound like an idiot. And 2400 words?! What the fuck am I, Charles Dickens here?

In 2012, I didn’t really have many movies I was looking forward to. I had taken to watching more classics and oldies than looking out for any coming attractions. I was surprised to realize that Ben Affleck and Paul Thomas Anderson came out with new movies, though I jumped on them immediately. I was not excited about The Avengers as such a concept of a film sounded unwieldy (though I was pleasantly surprised upon seeing the movie) and The Dark Knight Rises as I knew the movie would not be worth the hype that occurs. In fact, the upcoming Spider-Man reboot was the only movie I had expectations for. I thought it was way too soon to do a movie on the Osama bin Laden search, despite being under the direction of Kathryn Bigelow. And although I had been following Rian Johnson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s next collaboration after BrickLooper was not a movie that I was going to rush to see if I had no time.

The only three movies I was legitimately anticipating were two movies whose pre-production and production I had been following out of rabid fandom: Prometheus (out of my rabid fandom for Alien), Django Unchained (out of my Tarantino fandom) and a movie I had been surprised to find was being made… John Dies at the End.

My expectations to John Dies at the End were foolish. I won’t say it was a bad movie, but Don Coscarelli, a director whose made movies I have undying love for like PhantasmBubba Ho-Tep and Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, is a guy who can only make movies that are good enough. Not great, not fantastic, but good enough to pass off the story and maybe have a bit of style and humor to it. It’s a result that probably has to do with unwieldy yet ambitious production and budget problems. Coscarelli is probably at best a more independent Terry Gilliam without the reputation.

It may work for the other films, but when reading the original book by David Wong, John Dies at the End is a tale that requires larger than life, fantastic elements. It’s a tale about two guys basically finding a gateway to a darker world through a drug. You cannot just half-ass that. The Coscarelli humor is somewhat adequate, but it’s not the humor of the book – the absurdity, the banality, the true invincibility of the titular character’s jackassery. At the same time, it has to be legitimately frightening. It’s part of the atmosphere. It can’t be hallucinatory, because the things David and John encounter are real. The threat is real, not in the mind.

And the bigger thing is just that the story is more serial-esque but with an arc. If anything, it fits more as a TV series, but how do you really pitch such a series?
Very small changes are forgivable, a dog who is the central character of the story has been changed in sex and renamed to a punny ‘Bark Lee’. A significant battle in the Luxor casino at Las Vegas has been removed – disappointing but understandable because of budget.

Other changes are pretty hurtful… They take out a huge twist in the story that defines the book, they made the lead female character Amy more of a love interest than anything else and there ARE NO CHAIR JOKES!!!! None!!!

These are not story changes that Coscarelli should take all the blame for himself, but David Wong as well, who has taken responsibility and explained why he insisted on the changes from book to movie. I’m only having a problem with it due to my attachment to the book to be honest.

As a strength to the movie, even though they had less time to flesh out the lead characters of David and John, the actors who played them really understood who they were. I didn’t feel like I was watching an attempt at recreating David and John, I felt like I was actually watching David and John.

My advice to those interested: Watch the movie and then read the book if you liked the movie. You won’t be as disappointed with the movie as I was if you read the book after the fact and it will really fill in the details for a lot of other things that had to be shortened for movie’s length.

Now get ready, because a rant is about to ensue…

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The Amazing Spider-Man on the other hand, I was initially disappointed. I was intrigued by the idea of a new Spider-Man film and was intent on seeing it. When I first saw it, I thought it was whatever, but not a terrible movie. But the reviews came in, lower than the first two Spider-Man films, but higher than the terrible Spider-Man 3. And all my friends were seeming to like it. And then, they started saying the movie was better than Raimi’s trilogy – they started claiming Raimi’s trilogy always sucked. Nevermind the sudden internet about-face, I thought there was nothing spectacularly good or bad about the Amazing Spider-Man. But I figured, I’d give it another shot… I’d see if I could catch what I was supposed to be missing and they were catching.


The Amazing Spider-Man is not just an overhyped movie, it’s a very bad movie. There’s in actuality, after watching it again and again, nothing whatsoever of cinematic merit in it. My attempt to watch it again to find the good in it backfired. I only found more bad.

I’ve had times when I went against the public opinion to not like a popular movie… I was not a fan of CrashTransformers (albeit the 2nd and 3rd movies were bad and everyone knew it) or a good portion of Tim Burton’s work (though I have lightened up on him)… But I understood there was at least some merit in these films that allowed for their legacy, even The Dark Knight RisesThe Amazing Spider-Man does not have that. At all. It does not have anything of quality in it. There has never been another time I was so certain people were eating up shit since The Walking Dead TV series started and everybody claimed it was the best show ever made.

So, let me start with the obvious…
1) The most underdeveloped romantic story I’ve seen in films. I haven’t seen From Justin to Kelly or Gigli yet, and I have no intention to, so I’ll be fair and not say it’s THE most underdeveloped romance in all films but giggling and staring at each other does not constitute chemistry.
2) Peter Parker is a brooder all around the movie. Before Uncle Ben even dies, he’s brooding like a punk. People all around me say that this is the Spider-Man they’ve been waiting for, but that’s not Spider-Man. They say Spider-Man has to be an asshole, Spider-Man has to make jokes…

Look, Spider-Man is not Spider-Man because he makes jokes. If you get mad, Raimi’s Spider-Man didn’t make jokes, you may as well be mad at Christopher Nolan’s Batman because he didn’t do that Dracula thing he always does with his cape…

 

Pictured: That Dracula Thing… I can English!

You know what makes Spider-Man Spider-Man? The fact that he’s not an asshole. The fact that he legitimately means well everytime. He’s human with faults, but Uncle Ben taught him to be a better person and his death spurs him into taking on hefty responsibility in life. He doesn’t love his life, but he doesn’t brood 24/7. A gritty Spider-Man would not work, just as a gritty Fantastic Four does not work. Peter Parker’s a legitimately good guy who wants to do the right thing.
Anybody who claim Spider-Man is an asshole or his only defining feature in persona is his smartassery (which is done to offset the weight he feels put under)… These people don’t know what they’re talking about at all.

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, in my opinion, are better actors that Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst… But man, Andrew Garfield’s acting in this film, he made me want to punch Peter. Every damn time… they barely glance over his scientific knowledge and they make him look like a modern Edward Cullen.

3. The story was rushed. The origin was rushed, Flash Thompson was inconsistent in his treatment of Peter, the chase for Ben’s killer went nowhere, the romance was rushed… and when they killed Captain Stacy, I just went ‘Wow, that already happened?’… Then, I look at who wrote the script and I figure out why… James Vanderbilt: his portfolio does not seem to understand development or pacing. Zodiac is the one credit that actually seemed satisfactory. Alvin Sargent wrote all Spider-Man scripts… that’s fine whatever, but he made mistakes too. And Steve Kloves wrote the Harry Potter films… which I despise with a passion for their lack of understanding how to properly adapt works of literature into cinema (Granted, I really really love the books, like anybody who grew up reading them, and I have a warm reception towards the movie of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – So, I’m not anti-Harry Potter at all).

The Amazing Spider-Man could’ve went into places Raimi never went to, it could’ve brought new life to the comic book film, but instead it played out as a lifeless script treatment of a high school drama.

The biggest gripe I have is with what The Amazing Spider-Man claimed they were bringing to the table turned out to be absolutely empty promises. Norman Osborn’s disappearance was laughably obvious by the sudden showcase of the shadowy bust they had in the OsCorp tour.

Are you fucking kidding me? Is that a whole obnoxious ‘I’m gonna deliberately not show you the face because I want to be incredibly mysterious as a picture’ instead of being unassuming about the whole deal and letting the ambiguity flow naturally?

Curt Conners’ transformation into the Lizard was actually a well-treated part of the story, particularly with his being ridden on by Irfan Khan’s character, but then his whole plan to flood the city with that mutation cloud was once again, worse than the more cliche comic book villain schemes I’ve seen since I was a child… At least the Green Goblin, despite a bad design, had a personal vendetta with everyone he targeted.
The worst part, the biggest crime, was the sudden focus on the parents. There’s three reasons why it was absolutely appalling to use.

1) They don’t say anything about his parents. They act like they’re a big part of the story, but by the end of the movie, nothing is known about them except Richard worked for OsCorp with Connors. Nothing jaw-dropping out of that. Then they make the mid-credit scene in prison to laugh at us, teasing like they have more to say… when there was nothing said to begin with. By the end of the movie, I polled all of my friends who loved The Amazing Spider-Man (ie. Everyone who saw it for some reason – including my brother who I saw it with) to name the parents of Peter Parker. Half of them were able to name Richard as the father, nobody except one guy could name Mary as the mother.

2) It doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t. Richard and Mary Parker left Peter’s life and they never returned and it never affected Peter in the comics (it had weight in the Ultimate Spider-Man universe, but never so severe). For all intents and purposes, Ben and May Parker are Peter’s parental figures. They were the ones who shaped Peter into the man he became, not his parents… which leads me to the third reason.

American Gothic… it is not.

3) They downplayed Ben and May’s role at this point. Their importance to Peter’s life was absolutely nullified. Instead of feeling the pull I felt when I saw Ben die in 2002’s Spider-Man, I instead thought ‘Huh, they shot him already?’ in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man.

It was an bloodless picture that thought just from its existence it was going to change the Spider-Man game the way Batman Begins did to the Batman game and instead, it came off as movie that was all the bad parts of the Ultimate universe and the Harry Potter stories. It was created only to make money and retain the Spider-Man copyright for Sony Pictures and everybody fell for it and ate it up. It’s very insulting to the intelligence of the audience because it’s obvious they half-assed this movie.

At this point, it goes far beyond I just don’t like The Amazing Spider-Man. It goes far beyond Raimi’s Spider-Man 1 and 2 being my favorite movies. I’m trying to avoid comparison.
I’m making a certainly childish move to a degree, but one I feel completely justified in… The Amazing Spider-Man was a bad movie. A very bad movie. It has it’s hype phenomenon going for it, solely because it’s the new version… Everybody’s going to eat it up because they like teenage angst and think it equals cinematic emotion. I’m that guy trying to explain that Soylent Green is people and whatever… I’ll be the pariah, but everybody’s wrong if they say there’s something of quality in The Amazing Spider-Man.
I will forever fight this until it dies down.
It’s not like you can say The Amazing Spider-Man was more accurate to the comics – that’s not the case. In fact, it goes a lot backwards in comic book accuracy than forwards or makes the same leaps that Spider-Man made. The only accuracy added was the web-slinging device. That’s one item of accurate delivery and even then, Parker steals it in TAS as opposed to building it.
You certainly can’t say it’s because it’s the Untold Story. It wasn’t. It wasn’t everything told in Spider-Man as an origin.

At least John Dies at the End was funny.

Wait, no, The Amazing Spider-Man was better because 3D!

EDIT: So, I just read that the sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man will feature Jamie Foxx as Electro and possibly Paul Giamatti as Rhino. DEAR ODIN, this series fucking reeks of stunt casting – Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary, C. Thomas Howell, Irfan Khan, Rhys Ifans and now this… this is only done to use big-name stars without respect for character.

Okay, I’m done now, I promise.