I have lost track of how many Spider-Man reboot experiences I have absorbed in the past few days. I know Spider-Man can be a baby, I know he has been and will again be an old man. I knew him as an awkward tween and I will know him once and again as a close personal friend of Tony Stark. I met a Spider-Man from an antique land who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert…” And so on and so forth on and on into infinity.
Following the thundering whizzbang operatics of Spider-Man 2099, it is refreshing to be witness to the much subtler pleasures of Spider-Man at the Wedding. Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of the late 1980s Spider-Man comic book storyline in which Peter Parker finally marries Mary Jane Watson is an understated, caustic comedy of manners.
Like his sometime creative partner Wes Anderson, Baumbach has chosen to use Marvel’s boatloads of Spider-Man reboot cash to rework one of his older movies. Actually, the story I’ve heard is that Baumbach actually delivered five different scripts to Marvel:
- Webslinging and Screaming – Spider-Man and his friends are stuck in a post-collegiate malaise.
- The Spider and the Lizard – A bildungsroman with a warring Aunt May and Uncle Ben on the verge of divorse as backdrop.
- Parker – A script which imagines Peter Parker in middle age, regretting that he never got bit by that radioactive spider.
- While We’re Mutants – Spider-Man and Mary Jane are taken in by the charms of a younger, hipper Cyclops and Jean Grey.
- Spider-Man at the Wedding – This is the one that got the greenlight.
Marvel rejected the others for various reasons, though it seems elements of each have been incorporated into Spider-Man at the Wedding in the form of flashbacks and digressions that give the film a loose, paunchy feel at times.
But the main storyline is simple enough: the grouchy Dr. Otto Octavius (Ben Stiller) is invited to the wedding of Peter Parker (Jesse Eisenberg) and Mary Jane Watson (Greta Gerwig). He sullenly vacillates about whether to attend since he doesn’t approve of the match and wants to kill them both.
Otto shows up at the ceremony but he looks visibly uncomfortable as Peter and Mary Jane take their vows. To make matters worse, most of the Avengers are there: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is actually officiating the marriage.
At the reception, Peter and Otto butt heads over past disagreements. In the reception hall they exchange verbal barbs, but outside the hall they get in a series of violent skirmishes as Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus.
After this sequence, the movie sort of peters out in the series of flashbacks and digressions I mentioned earlier. There are brief scenes from Peter’s life as a younger man, and a subplot involving Mary Jane Watson and her old flame Harry Osborn (Adam Driver).
The first two acts of the movie are solid filmmaking. They’re funny and poignant and more human than any other Spider-Man reboot I’ve ever seen. But the end didn’t really work for me. Luckily, there’s always more Spider-Man reboots where that came from.
TL;DR – Despite a great cast, the characters in Spider-Man at the Wedding are too unlikable to enthrall viewers.
What the rest of the critics are saying:
“Spider-Man at the Wedding is minor Baumbach.” – B. Conner Yonk, Toronto Sun
“I don’t understand why there are so many Spider-Man reboots and not a single film about the Martian Manhunter.” – Ramon Llull, The Atlantic
“Far more dyspeptic and talky than any other comic book movie I’ve seen.” – Hixson Grabill, Chicago Tribune
“This one wasn’t for me, but I’m very excited for Spider-Man: Cataclysm which I’m seeing tomorrow!” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com
“For some reason I always imagined Spider-Man having many wives, like the Gypsy King. A wife for every degree.” – Gulluzar Baboudjian, Boston Herald
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