Saturday, July 28, 2012


Alvin Sargent wrote the screenplays for Paper Moon and Ordinary People, and throughout his long, long career also turned out scripts for such directors as Robert Mulligan, John Frankenheimer and Sydney Pollack, guys who certainly knew how to tell a story.

Steve Kloves wrote the scripts for all but one of the Harry Potter movies, which are absolute models of skillful adaptation, compressed, streamlined but never abrupt.  In addition, Kloves has written such wonderful originals as Racing With The Moon and The Fabulous Baker Boys.

James Vanderbilt's credits are a little lighter, as many of his scripts have been written in collaboration with others.  One movie he wrote on his own, however, was Zodiac--one of the best screenplays of the last decade.

I mention these gentlemen's names and their distinguished credits because they are the credited screenwriters for The Amazing Spider-Man, which has one of the woefully misconceived scripts ever put into production.

Not that everything wrong with the movie can be blamed on the script.  The decision to reboot the entire Spider-Man franchise came from deep within the bowels of Sony Entertainment's executive suite, and starting over from the beginning, retelling the tale of social outcast Peter Parker's encounter with a radioactive spider, gives the movie a familiarity it could never wholly overcome.

Unlike the recent Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire take on the material, in which the characters were initially college students, this version has Peter in high school, and that's where the problems begin.  For one thing, Andrew Garfield, who plays Peter, can't convince as either socially maladjusted or as a high school student.  He comes off as a brashly confident movie star in his late twenties pretending to be a teenager.

Peter's love interest this time around is Gwen Stacy, and the only reason he's drawn to her is because she's played by Emma Stone, and hey, she's a movie star, too.  Otherwise, he might as well crush on any of the other students in his school, who are all remarkably attractive and also clearly past the legal drinking age.

The dazzling stupidity of the script kicks in as the plot develops.  In a reinvention of the character, Peter is no longer an average guy who develops great powers but a man of destiny, trying to unravel a sinister plot involving the disappearance of his parents.  This leads him to Dr. Curt Connors, a former cohort of his dad's, who works for a sinister but apparently world-famous bioengineering firm housed in what looks to be the tallest building in Manhattan.  Once Peter shows up there, he's surprised to discover the intern program is run by...Gwen Stacy?

I'm sorry...What?  High-tech corporations wouldn't hire high school kids to answer phones and make copies, much less allow them access to top-secret labs, as happens here.  The screenwriters will later need a character to run to the lab to develop an antidote for the villain's master plot, and since they didn't bother providing any other sidekick characters, they needed Gwen to do it--because what high school kid can't routinely crack a genetic code?--even though it makes absolutely no sense.

At this point, early on, the movie is pretty much telling you that it isn't taking place in anything resembling the real world.  Which would be fine, if the world it depicts had any internal logic of its own, but it doesn't.  Things happen just because they need to happen, or else the plot can't move forward.  But again, the plot makes no sense even on its own terms.

Dr. Connors--thanks to a DNA code supplied by Peter, because again, high school kids know so much more than learned scientists--turns into The Lizard, a villain whose evil plan is to...turn everyone in New York City into lizards?  Because they're cold-blooded?  Or something? 

Look, I realize the Spider-Man comic books resorted to some pretty dumb motivations for its villains (Thirty-five years later, I'm still bitter about the whole "Gwen is back from the a clone!" storyline) but honestly, my expectations for something cranked out on a monthly deadline are a little different from my expectations for a movie that cost two hundred million bucks to produce.  If you're going to spend that kind of money, I expect competence, at least.

And yes, on many levels, The Amazing Spider-Man is more than competent.  Despite being too old for their parts, Garfield and Stone are absolutely charming together, Martin Sheen, Sally Field and Dennis Leary provide fine support, and the whole thing looks great.  The digital effects, in particular, are much more convincing than in Raimi's films.  But so what?  If you build the Chartres Cathedral on quicksand, it's still gonna sink.