When Marc Webb was announced as the director of The Amazing Spider-Man, the long overdue reboot of a franchise left sadly rudderless since the first year of the Obama campaign, certain assumptions were made. That Webb just might have the perfect kicky-cool visual style — not to mention last name — to reinvigorate the most pop of popular superheroes. That a greater emphasis would be placed on the story’s sweet-natured romance between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, his doomed (in the comics at least) blonde love. That even if Spidey didn’t tussle with the Vulture he at least might dance with him to some early-eighties Yacht Rock in a totally non-ironic way.
What we didn’t expect was a po-faced and conspiracy-laden exploration of Cronenberg-ian body horror. But going by this first trailer at least that’s exactly what we’re going to get! Gone are original trilogy director Sam Raimi and his goofy Americana touches (calling the Green Goblin “Gobby,” that wonderfully weird chocolate cake scene with the girl next door). Gone, in fact, are any and all traces of humor or what you Earthmen call “smiles.” Andrew Garfield plays Peter Parker as an emo everyman, all hunched-up and sweatshirted, a boy not orphaned by his parents but, apparently, abandoned by them because they had something very important and no doubt mythologically relevant to do. The usually delightful Emma Stone plays Gwen as a bleached blonde teenager who moonlights in what appears to be the engine room of the USS Enterprise. While visiting her there, Pete gets bitten by a spider leading to paroxysms of agony and kvells of concern from Sally Field interspersed with lovingly gross images of Garfield plucking unwelcome buggy things from his bare back. Truly, it’s the finest example of transmorphic trauma since Jeff Goldblum’s master class on the subject back in 1986 and it’s sure to get film studies majors digging for their DVDs of Crash (the creepy one, not the preachy one) and eXistenZ. But for those of us looking for a breezy 120 minutes spent in the company of our friendly neighborhood you-know-who, it’s weirdly intense.
We poked fun at Christopher Nolan just the other day for his resolutely unsmiling take on Batman but come on — that’s Batman. The guy is a twisted psychopath who plays violent dress up to deal with his daddy issues. The whole point of Spider-Man is that he’s a fun-loving teenager who balances the quotidian demands of a working-class life in New York City with the fact that he can walk on walls. And so the unmistakable whiff of creeping Nolanism in this trailer is a major bummer. (“Ready to play God?” villain Rhys Ifans murmurs at one point, importantly.) Sure, with great power comes great responsibility. We know that much. But does it have to come with a side-order of sanctimony? Look for Spider-Man: Please Someone Turn on a Light! next July.