Jul 07 2012

Learning from Amazing Spider-Man

(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).

25 responses so far

25 Responses to “Learning from Amazing Spider-Man”

  1. B. McKenzieon 07 Jul 2012 at 10:09 pm

    One minor non-writing aspect: the actor for Spider-Man looks a lot like Mike “Husky” Lamond + longer hair. If they ever work him into Avengers 2, he might get a chance to say “Thor is he-ah!”

  2. Nightwireon 09 Jul 2012 at 9:52 am

    About Gwen Stacy not being a genius: It is clearly implied that her intelligence rivals Peter’s. She contributed her part in bringing down the Lizard by concocting the antidote!

    I love ASM Gwen Stacy. She’s a much more interesting love interest than the original trilogy’s Mary Jane: smart, active and head-strong. Emma Stone nailed the role perfectly.

    And by the way, you made a mistake on Flash’s name: his last name is Thompson, not Gordon.

  3. B. McKenzieon 09 Jul 2012 at 12:07 pm

    “It is clearly implied that her intelligence rivals Peter’s. She contributed her part in bringing down the Lizard by concocting the antidote!” She doesn’t have any moments which made me think “I wish I had thought of that!” or “Wow, that was clever!” In contrast, Tony Stark’s dialogue actually does make him come across as notably intelligent/sharp and some of his scientific solutions strike me as inspired (e.g. using magnetism to keep metal shards from penetrating further into his heart).

    I wasn’t terribly impressed by Peter’s intelligence, either. The webshooters are a nice touch, but Stark/Wayne/Sherlock/Dr. House/Monk show their intelligence far more effectively.

  4. Sean Kingon 10 Jul 2012 at 6:05 am

    The fight scene in the High School made me face palm. Since this movie was clearly designed to be a more modern retelling of the spiderman story, I felt it was kinda silly that halfway through the fight with Lizard, Peter puts on his spiderman suit. The fight started in the hallway, so his face is already on school camera, and considering as how he made the suit himself from resources he could only afford on a high school salary, I think him throwing on the suit was kind of pointless.

  5. B. McKenzieon 10 Jul 2012 at 7:06 am

    “The fight started in the hallway, so his face is already on school camera, and considering as how he made the suit himself from resources he could only afford on a high school salary, I think him throwing on the suit was kind of pointless.” Is it plausible that his high school doesn’t have many (or even any) security cameras? For example, my school had security cameras, but (as far as I know) they were only at the entrances/exits. If so, they might not have caught the fight (which starts inside the school). That said, if you had thousands of man-hours (like, say, SHIELD), you might be able to observe that 1200 (or whatever) students were taped going in but only 1198 came out (everybody but Peter Parker and possibly Gwen Stacey).

    I think the uniform itself is more implausible, but a low-budget hero coming up with an implausible costume might be an acceptable trope at this point.

  6. Janon 10 Jul 2012 at 4:07 pm

    I was never such a big fan of Spiderman in general but the movie was pretty good. Gwen always ignored in favour of Mary Jane but I prefer her to MJ.
    Sharing the sentiment about Peter’s intelligence; the movie didn’t seem to make him seem stupid, just regular. When I heard his lines I found nothing incredibly (or even credibly) clever or inventive. I did like the ‘web shooters’ bit, which was as close to inventive as he ever got.

  7. B. McKenzieon 10 Jul 2012 at 4:27 pm

    “The movie didn’t seem to make [Peter] seem stupid, just regular.” Agreed. They may be writing him as more regular than brilliant to make him more relatable to viewers at a more ordinary level of intelligence and/or to help build a contrast with Marvel’s other superscientists. I am pretty confident he will be in Avengers 2 and they already have Stark and Banner (and perhaps Ant-Man).

  8. Anonymouson 11 Jul 2012 at 5:32 am

    Have you done one of these for the Avengers movie?

  9. B. McKenzieon 11 Jul 2012 at 7:39 pm

    I wrote one today (adapted from a previous review). Thanks for the suggestion. Are there any works that you (or anybody else) would like to suggest for a “Learning from…” article?

  10. YellowJujuon 12 Jul 2012 at 9:15 am

    X-Men First Class, if you haven’t already done one on that.

  11. B. McKenzieon 12 Jul 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Thanks. In addition to First Class, I have Incredibles, Iron Man 1, Iron Man 2, and Kick-Ass on the list. I’ll also think about some movies that are mainly examples of what could have been done more effectively.



    I notice that a few people have asked whether I’ve done a particular movie before, which probably means the reviews aren’t easy enough to find. I’ll add a section in the index of writing guides for Learning Writing Skills from Published Works.

  12. YoungAuthoron 12 Jul 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Green Lantern?

  13. B. McKenzieon 12 Jul 2012 at 6:13 pm

    “And by the way, you made a mistake on Flash’s name: his last name is Thompson, not Gordon.” Oh, thanks. Yeah, Flash Gordon is a different character… 🙂

  14. M. Happenstanceon 12 Jul 2012 at 11:59 pm

    “…I think [the Lizard] was probably a bit too similar to Green Goblin.”

    This is at least partially due to the fact that a good chunk of the movie’s plot was heavily drawn from the Ultimate Spiderman reboot. However, in the original comic, the villain actually was the Green Goblin, not the Lizard – while there are some differences, the general arc is still there.

    If you’re still accepting recommendations for articles like this, might I suggest Chronicle? It’s not really a straightforward superhero movie (you could probably call it a supervillain movie, though), but I think it was a pretty neat spin on the genre. If nothing else, the director, Josh Trank, is in talks to later direct either a Fantastic 4 reboot or a Venom spinoff – possibly both.

    (And for “what could have been done more effectively”, I’m just going to offer up Green Lantern.)

  15. B. McKenzieon 13 Jul 2012 at 10:33 am

    I’ll add Chronicle to the list. As for Green Lantern, I’ll try to get around to it eventually, but it might take me weeks.

    1) I don’t have the stomach to watch Green Lantern again in one sitting. The movies I’ve reviewed so far have averaged ~90% on Rotten Tomatoes; GL got 27%.

    2) My review of First Class (an excellent movie) included ~1000 words about what could have been done more effectively. My first draft of a Green Lantern review might be 6000-8000 words long. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember a single scene which did not need significant help. The noncombat was definitely 1990s-grade and the combat wasn’t much better.

    3) With the other movies I’ve reviewed (Dark Knight, Amazing Spider-Man, First Class, Avengers, etc), the scripts are very good to begin with and I offered relatively minor tweaks to develop characters and plot threads more effectively. With Green Lantern, so little of the script strikes me as effective that minor edits would not help all that much. I might recommend that 2/3 of the movie be removed because it’s utterly useless, but I don’t know enough about the series to come up with anything deeper.

  16. Chihuahua Zeroon 15 Jul 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Just returned from the theater. The Amazing Spider-Man didn’t disappoint.

    While the romance was a little rushed, it had plenty of great moments. I admire those fleeting details of subtext. Andrew Garfield, the actor of Peter, did socially awkward pretty well, and I’m considering using aspects of his acting in writing one of my characters.

    The crane scene was definitely a defining scene. The darkest hour part could have been handled with some more direness, but Spider-man using the cranes is a fantastic take on “storming the castle”–and a great callback to the bridge scene.

    Hopefully, this kind of charisma will be used more in the sequel.

    Also, I love the implications in the second-to-final scene that Peter and Stacey ”might” come back together.

  17. A11 L1V3S L0STon 17 Jul 2012 at 8:53 am

    I think it was a great movie, but after reading this, I do think there were some things that could’ve been done better. And what y’all were talking about him being smart and making the webshooters, actually wasn’t all that smart. When he was in Oscorp for the first time (I may be wrong about the time but it was in the movie) they say that they had capsules of super reinforced spiderweb cables that can extend up to 150 meters (Again, not exactly sure, but when I saw him in the basement with them I remember wondering when he had stolen them from Oscorp)

  18. GoodnessGraciouson 24 Sep 2012 at 2:19 pm

    It be more plausible if Conners were like the Hulk. He made a mistake, a bad call in judgement and now he’s paying for it ten fold. He has this creature in him he cant control that comes out if he wants it too or not.

    It would have added another interesting twist to Spiderman instead of repeating the Green Goblin from Spiderman 1 and giving him a different name.

    Agree or Disagree?

  19. Eon 11 Oct 2012 at 1:02 am

    “I am pretty confident [Spider-Man] will be in Avengers 2 and they already have Stark and Banner (and perhaps Ant-Man).”

    Sorry to break it to you, Mac, but Peter Parker/Spider-Man from Amazing Spider-Man will not appear in Avengers 2. ASM is not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so there will be no crossovers of the MCU franchise and ASM.

  20. Spider-Fan 2099on 16 Feb 2013 at 11:08 am

    1.1 – actually, I think I preferred the organic web-shooters rather than the mechanical ones… and I’m fully prepared to accept backlash from Spidey purists. I just think they make more sense; why would he only get the wall crawling and NOT the webs? he can still be a smarty-pants without building web-shooters. he wasn’t really, but he could’ve.

    2 – in some cases… yeah, I think the other students must’ve been huffing paint in the locker room or something. but Peter was shown to be SOMEWHAT athletic, so it could be argued that maybe he just didn’t show off due to a lack of confidence. as for Flash, that one worked REALLY well; the two have a history of fighting, so Peter’s adrenaline spikes in a panic whenever Flash is around, and he’s in the anger stage of grief over the loss of his uncle. I could see that kind of thing happening in real life.

    3 – well, to be fair, the original trilogy was trying to hype up the ‘America, fuck yeah!’ factor; the first movie was released only months after 9/11. even being Canadian, I LOVED those scenes of the average New Yorkers banding together to help Spidey during a supervillain fight.

    5.1 – I didn’t think the Connors v. Osborn conflict worked at all. we never even get to SEE Osborn in the film, let alone know what’s wrong with the guy, and his weasly little assistant was as one-note as you get.

    6 – here’s where I play the purist; they fucked up the Lizard. Connors, for the most part, was done really well. Lizard? NO. I can forgive little changes because hey, it’s an adaptation. but they screwed up on a much bigger scale; the Lizard persona is a savage and feral creature with little intelligence. he’s almost as monstrous as the Hulk, and not even half as strong. visually, I don’t mind that he didn’t have the torn labcoat, but the face looked like it was trying for a scaly Joker. Lizard’s face is more like that of an alligator or a Komodo dragon. this is nitpicky, yes, I’ll admit that… but with CG tech as good as it is, there’s no excuse.

  21. B. McKenzieon 16 Feb 2013 at 2:00 pm

    2. “As for Flash, that one worked REALLY well; the two have a history of fighting, so Peter’s adrenaline spikes in a panic whenever Flash is around, and he’s in the anger stage of grief over the loss of his uncle. I could see that kind of thing happening in real life.” I could in theory seeing someone not stereotypically tough winning an unexpected fight, but I think Peter’s schoolmates would still have to be huffing paint not to notice Peter breaking a goalpost with a football or doing Olympic-grade backflips.

    5.1. I’m guessing they didn’t show Osborn on screen was because the plot was already (uncomfortably) similar to what they had done before. Having Osborn might have made the movie felt more like a rehash.

    6. “Lizard’s face is more like that of an alligator or a Komodo dragon. this is nitpicky, yes, I’ll admit that… but with CG tech as good as it is, there’s no excuse.” This may change in the future, but even over the last 10 years, characters which look nonhuman have been extraordinarily difficult for CGI and visual teams. For example, The Thing, Hector Hammond, Parallax, maybe Scarecrow, First Class’ Azazel* (the red teleporter) and Beast* looked bad and/or goofy enough to distract from their scenes. Villains are especially difficult because they generally should look intimidating/harsh, yet not so disgusting you want to change the channel (Hammond fails hardest on both fronts). What are some live-action nonhumans which you think worked better visually than the Lizard did? In the movies I’ve seen, only Chris Johnson (District 9), Paul, and maybe Hellboy come to mind over the last 10-15 years. Especially for an antagonist, I think the visual design team did an excellent job on Lizard.

    *First Class is still a great movie, but I think the lower budget sort of showed in the character design and the fight scenes. It had a production budget of ~$150 million (i.e. around $60 million less than for X-Men 3).

  22. Qwertyon 26 May 2013 at 11:43 pm

    I think the director intended a lot of things in this movie to be interpreted in a symbolic way. After watching the director’s commentary and the deleted scenes I was pretty surprised at what I’d missed. For example, the scene where Spidey rescues the kid in the bridge scene was meant to remind the audience of Peter when he was a little kid – so symbolically, Peter Parker rescues himself. (That was how the director explained it on the commentary.)

    I also thought the character of the Lizard was kind of one-dimensional, as said in this review, until I saw the commentary and deleted scenes. The director explains Dr. Connor’s initial (pre-Lizard) goal as an obsession with “fixing” himself, or in other words, “I want to be like everyone else.” But when he turns into the Lizard, this goal becomes skewed into “I want to make everyone else like me” – which is a darker version of his previous goal. In light of this explanation, I thought the Lizard’s actions made more sense and seemed less driven by illogical insanity.

    A lot of these special features were really interesting in explaining the director’s intent with the scenes in the movie, but what was perhaps more interesting was the scenes that were cut from the movie. Specifically the ones titled “Help Me” and “All the Power You Feel” – if these had been in the final movie, the story would have been totally different. I especially liked the deleted scene where half Lizard / half Dr. Connors asks Peter if HE would go back to being normal, if he could, now that he knows all that he is capable of and all the power he feels.

    Several of the other deleted scenes developed Dr. Connors more as a character. In the movie, it seemed like Dr. Connors was kind of isolated and separated from the rest of the world, with no family and apparently no friends. So it was surprising to see a whole different dynamic of the character in the deleted scenes as he interacted with his son and with Peter outside of the lab. I guess the only reason these scenes were cut was for time, because if they’d been included, the Dr. Connors character might have been more well-rounded.

  23. Vendettaon 12 Jun 2014 at 9:54 am

    If you watch the filmmakers commentary it explains why the Lizard doesn’t have a snout. Any animal with a snout is physically unable to articulate words. It would be impossible for Connor to speak when he was the Lizard.

  24. B. McKenzieon 12 Jun 2014 at 6:29 pm

    I’m guessing they redesigned Lizard’s face to look more human because it made the motion-capture easier and/or they wanted to help the actor portray emotions visually. Personally, I don’t feel it turned out very well — from the neck up, he looks like a guy in green face paint… more disconcerting than intimidating. Like a goomba from the 1990s Mario movie.



    I do agree that it was a good idea to scrap the labcoats and purple pants from the comics.

  25. Vendettaon 12 Jun 2014 at 7:30 pm

    We are never to speak of the mario movie. Ever.

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