Jul 07 2012
(As always, please see the movie before reading this).
1. To the extent that you cover a superhero origin story, I’d recommend focusing on things and approaches we haven’t seen much of before. I think it would have helped to either spend less time covering the origin story or make it more different than Spider-Man 1. That said, I thought ASM’s approach to the death of Uncle Ben was smoother and more thematically effective–when Peter has the opportunity to stop the robber, there’s a plausible and immediate threat to bystanders. Peter declines and Ben gets killed seconds thereafter. This makes Peter’s motivation for a life-changing decision (becoming a superhero) more plausible. In contrast, in Spider-Man 1, Peter gets torn up because he doesn’t get involved in a relatively minor situation with a police officer present, with only a faint connection between Peter Parker letting the robber go and the robber killing a civilian.
1.1. Peter plays a more active role acquiring superpowers. He was only in the laboratory because he stole an ID and figured out how to thwart a keypad. I think the scene develops him more than just getting lucky at the science fair in Spider-Man 1. (Likewise, he makes his own webslingers instead of getting them from the spider-bite).
2. Beware the idiot ball–make sure there are believable consequences to actions. Peter Parker displayed his superpowers in public so many times that I think his classmates would have to be idiots not to notice something was amiss. (For example, the NBA-caliber dunk? Or breaking a goalpost with a football? Or lifting enormous Flash Thompson by the neck?) When characters make decisions, there should be consequences. For example, if the character is reckless with his powers, maybe other characters come closer to figuring out what’s going on. Or at least start asking difficult questions.
3. Speaking of consequences, I thought the crane scene was kind of cute. (Peter saves a construction worker’s kid and the construction worker later pulls in favors at the climax to help Spider-Man). It helps build a contrast between Spider-Man’s decidedly limited means and, say, the lavishly-funded Avengers or X-Men. I think it’s also a more subtle and effective way of showing he’s more of an everyman hero than we saw in previous Spider-Man movies (e.g. subway passengers throwing themselves between Dr. Octopus and a crippled Spidey felt sort of hokey to me).
4. I thought it was a bit contrived that Peter Parker just happens to find the love interest working for the villain he’s trying to find. One way to clear out this contrivance would have been to make the two more causally connected. For example, maybe Peter Parker’s trying to figure out how to get to the villain, so he introduces himself to the assistant in the hopes that she’d eventually bring him to work. (This would make the relationship seem a bit more manipulative at the beginning, but he could probably come clean sooner rather than later. I think it’d help that he reveals his secret identity to her relatively quickly–he’s more upfront than most superheroes are).
5. The protagonist-vs-protagonist conflicts were okay. Peter vs. Uncle Ben and Spidey vs. Captain Stacey weren’t extremely inspired, but it helped raise the stakes and show that Spider-Man’s work actually makes a difference. Captain Stacey sort of came across as a one-dimensional toolbox for most of the movie, though. He claims that the police could have arrested the robber at any point (but opted not to because they’re using him to help bring down a bigger criminal). I could see the police opting not to arrest a mere robber for strategic reasons, but leaving a murderer on the streets for any duration strikes me as highly counterintuitive. At the very least, I think this should be a more heated point of conflict between Peter and Captain Stacey than it was. Also, it might have helped if Peter had worked this information out of Stacey rather than just Stacey volunteering it. (What sort of toolbox just straight-up tells the next-of-kin of a murder victim that he’s not going to arrest the perpetrator?) I think Dark Knight did a better job here setting up opposition between a vigilante superhero and a traditional law-and-order supporter (mainly Dent)–the key difference is that both Batman and Dent are mostly-justified and the movie doesn’t push viewers to side with one or the other.
5.1. I also liked how they used the conflict between Osborne and Connors to drive the plot forward. Osborne is dealing with a life-or-death medical issue, but Connors isn’t. Osborne’s desperation leads him to push ahead with highly unethical medical research because he doesn’t have time to do it right. Connors refuses, which leads to Connors’ situation becoming more desperate. Osborne fires him and seizes his equipment and research, which causes Connors’ best chance at regenerating his lost arm to slip away.
6. I have mixed feelings about Lizard. First, I think he was probably a bit too similar to Green Goblin. However, I think he has some slivers of moral depth, which helps make him more believable and/or interesting than he’d otherwise be. I don’t blame him for injecting himself with crazy-sauce to stop his deranged boss from passing off a highly unsafe superserum (ahem, crazy-sauce) as a flu vaccine at a veterans’ hospital. His decision to use himself as a test-subject is not a great call, but at least it was an error forced by Osborne firing him and seizing his research. The decision makes more sense than, say, Heroes’ Dr. Suresh injecting himself with experimental fly DNA without having any idea of what it might to do to him. As he keeps hitting the crazy-sauce, he becomes more one-dimensionally evil and less interesting, but I thought his post-defeat remorse was effective. (Besides saving Peter from the ledge, I think Connors goes to check on the injured police officer before Peter does).
7. The trailer made it look like Peter might be obnoxious and/or overly angsty, but he turned out surprisingly likable. Here are a few things that worked out well:
- His spats with friends and family were fairly minor–I think it only got up to slamming a door. In contrast, the title protagonists in Batman and Robin were unbearably childish.
- Peter handles the awkward dinner scene with unusual maturity and magnanimity, such as apologizing to the captain for offending him. 99% of superheroes would have treated the loutish captain more brusquely (not least of which because he was doing so little to put a murderer behind bars).
- He didn’t make any aggressively stupid and/or totally unjustifiable decisions. Granted, he does make some mistakes (like leaving incriminating evidence in his camera, and then leaving that camera behind at a fight), but there was nothing here that made me face-palm. I would have liked if there had been some negative consequences to his decision to reveal his identity to Gwen, though. For example, maybe she does something (like covering for Peter or doing something noticeably strange while researching an antidote) which tips off her father that something is amiss. For example, if he caught her sneaking an alligator into her room, he might wonder about what sort of research she’s actually working on.
8. There were some minor plot holes.
- OsCorp takes security seriously enough to have three guards forcibly remove a supposed intruder from the lobby without verifying his identity. But it doesn’t take security seriously enough to check Peter Parker’s ID when he checks in for a security badge for a name like Juan Gutierrez. At the very least, I think it would have helped if the arrival of the real Gutierrez had made Parker’s life a bit more complicated.
- Connors’ 36 interns are pretty useless. They miss a few really basic questions which most AP Biology students (let alone interns promising enough to catch an elite scientist’s eye) should have been able to answer. Also… why does an elite scientist have a (unremarkable) high school student as his head intern? It’d be more believable if she were more exceptional (e.g. a genius), but it doesn’t really come across very much. For example, maybe she could discover Peter Parker’s secret right around the time he decided to tell her? Alternately, maybe Connors picked her because her father is a police captain–the captain later objects to a criminal accusation against Connors because Connors wrote such a great letter of recommendation for her. That’d be more clever for Connors.
- “Most reptiles are apex predators.” The world’s leading expert on reptiles needs to stay away from the crazy–out of ~7000 reptilian species, maybe 50 are apex predators and they tend to be less populous than species lower on the food chain. I’d recommend Batman Begins’ Dr. Crane as an example of a scientific expert that feels more believable/competent (at least to this layman).