Please attend to my tale of woe.
In 1992, it first came to my attention that a big-budget American version of Godzilla was in the works. This, after the abortive efforts to get the project off the ground in the 80s. I am a Godzilla fan of long-standing (I still have the Aurora glow-in-the-dark model kit that I bought when I was eight or nine), and the news of this film was exciting beyond words. I held my breath, awaiting further developments anxiously.
Needless to say, I turned blue, but finally the film became a reality in 1998. After six years of build-up, I was going to let nothing spoil what I was convinced would be an experience that would make the Second Coming seem a mere Full House rerun by comparison. Hell, I was getting my PhD that summer, but THIS was the Big Event. I closed my eyes during every trailer. I didn’t read a single review. I managed to avoid even finding out what the monster looked like.
You all know where this is going, don’t you?
My younger brother and sister managed to see the film before I did. The next day, they sat me down, and bloody well staged an intervention. There were some things, they said, that I had to know before seeing the movie. I had to know that it was not what I hoping it would be. In was not, in the final analysis, a Godzilla movie.
So warned, I went, and saw that they were right. It was an uncredited remake of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. I was braced, and so still had fun. Yes, the movie is dumb as a sack of exploding hammers, but it has a giant monster in it, and even though it can’t even get that most basic element right (giant monsters do not run and hide), the mere presence of a creature was enough to get me in the theatre multiple times.
But the disappointment lingered, of course. It still does. (Cue violins, unrestrained sobbing in the audience.)
Why am I bringing up this wound from 14 years ago? Because last week I saw The Amazing Spider-Man. The Lizard has been my favourite Spider-Man villain since I first saw him on the old cartoon (from the late 60s). The action figure here pictured has been with me about as long as the aforementioned Godzilla. I was thrilled when Doc Connors showed up in the Raimi films, loved Dylan Baker in the role, and was eager to see where that arc would lead. Then Spider-Man 3 came along and fouled those chances. So though I had mixed feelings about a re-boot (the origin? again?), I was on board as far as the lizard went.
So the film begins, and for the first while, I’m very pleasantly surprised. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are terrific leads, and the decision to go with Gwen Stacy instead of Mary Jane is a very interesting one, given where that romance is headed. The FX of Spidey’s swinging continue to improve – there is a much greater sense of physicality there now. And I like Rhys Ifans as Connors, even though I have mixed feelings about the suggestions of a dark secret in his past.
And then the Lizard shows up, and in some ways, it’s 1998 all over again.
Now let me be clear, I do think The Amazing Spider-Man is a much, much better film than the Devlin-Emmerich Godzilla. What I’m talking about here has really very little to do with the actual film qua film. But here’s the thing: that rather-too-obviously-CG rendering with the flattened face just wasn’t the Lizard for me. Yes, in his first comic book appearance, the Lizard did have a more human, less reptilian, skull. And the Hulk was grey when he first showed up. But if there had been a grey Hulk in The Avengers, I’m betting large portions of the audience would have been a bit put-off. And that was my experience here. Once the Lizard arrived on-screen, the rest of the film’s strengths or flaws were suddenly largely irrelevant.
I’m not saying my reaction was rational. It was visceral, the result of seeing a character important to my childhood arrive in disappointing (for me) form on the screen. The result was yet another lesson in inflated expectations, and a reminder that the more one has emotionally invested in a character or story, the more likely that any incarnation of that story or character in another medium will be disappointing.
But some lessons are hard to learn. And sometimes, the movies get it right. And now there is another US version of Godzilla in the works. This one to be directed by Gareth Edwards, who more than demonstrated with his remarkable Monsters that he gets giant creatures. The initial teaser was just unveiled at Comic-Con. Check out this description: http://www.aceshowbiz.com/news/view/00052266.html.
Can one hold one’s breath while one’s head explodes? Let’s find out…