Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, two big budget films by indie directors, starring A-list actors portraying high schoolers with lots to learn about themselves.
PremiseOnly five years after closing its Spider-Man film franchise, Columbia Pictures has decided to come back with a reboot of the web-flinging city-soaring Marvel superhero. With Andrew Garfield (of The Social Network) replacing Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, the new adaptation features a high-school age Spider-Man struggling with a crush on Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) as he unravels the secret of his father’s death, which in turn helps him come to understand his own identity as a genetically abnormal super-arachnid-person.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, meanwhile, is a new adaptation of a well-circulated and controversial novel by Stephen Chbosky—who (not so) incidentally wrote the film’s screenplay and directed the movie as well. The story, told by a character who goes by “Charlie” (Logan Lerman) to an unknown third party, centers on the teen’s struggles with drugs, abuse, and sexual awareness. He is taken in by two older students: a senior named Sam (Emma Watson) who quickly becomes a romantic interest, and Sam’s gay stepbrother Patrick, who becomes his best friend. He also becomes close to his English teacher, who encourages him to record his thoughts about a variety of books.
The story of Spider-Man is a classic, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. And The Avengers has set the bar for this summer’s superhero movies pretty darn high.Advantage: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Power CouplesBoth studios are clearly banking on their lead actors draw major crowds to their films. In his first role since The Social Network, Andrew Garfield brings a huge amount of star power to the reboot—though maybe not quite as much as costar Emma Stone (Easy A, The Help). And if their respective fan bases aren’t enough, they’ve effectively merged their star power by providing months of tabloid fodder with stories of their real-life romance.
Logan Lerman hasn’t quite hit the A-list, but he is the leading man in the Percy Jackson franchise (which is currently filming its second installment), and his freckle-free face should be enough to bring in a decent pre-teen crowd. The real draw for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, though, is Emma Watson, in her first major role (she had a minor part in My Week with Marilyn) after making it through eight Harry Potter films. Gone are the cloaks, the spells and the voluminous brown hair. It will be the first chance to really see the young actress take on a role that she hasn’t been inhabiting since adolescence.
Emma Watson is a big star, but Emma Stone’s got comparable box-office appeal. Add in Andrew Garfield and it’s not even close (sorry, Logan).Advantage: The Amazing Spider-Man
DemographicsA visually dazzling or critically acclaimed movie is great, but no one wants to go to the movies alone. Based on its star power and a budget rumored at more than $200 million, The Amazing Spider-Man shouldn’t be a hard movie to drag even the most difficult friend to. The fact that it will also be airing in 3-D and Imax will probably inflate its box-office totals, but just in light of the trend of hugely successful superhero movies, which can attract both teens, families and older couples, the movie’s as close to a guaranteed success as anything could be; it appeals to virtually everyone.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower has gotten a lot of buzz, largely because of Emma Watson, and it certainly looks set to attract decent crowds, especially younger audiences and teens. But with movies with more of an indie feel, success is measured on an entirely different scale; and when you can’t argue it’s the movie of the season, it gets tough to convince people that you can’t just wait to rent the DVD. A sensitive, introverted and sexually struggling protagonist may set the movie up for good critical reception, but it’s not going to make it easier to get a friend in your car.
There’s probably a good chance you’d be seeing The Perks of Being a Wallflower by yourself—of which we’re guessing Chbosky would approve.Advantage: The Amazing Spider-Man
Inspirational Moments“With great power comes great responsibility” may be a quote that dates as far back as Voltaire, but when Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) said it in the 2002 adaptation, it was probably the most understatedly epic moment of any recent superhero movie. While the quote is more or less the message of any superhero movie, the new Spider-Man trailer seems more interested in exploring the mystery of the hero’s superpower rather than the ramifications of it, which would be a refreshing deviation from the norm. But don’t expect the power/responsibility discussion not to reappear.
The story of an outcast high school student making friends is probably the number-one most rehashed screenplay permise. And the trailer for The Perks of Being a Wallflower is admittedly corny, particularly with the bit about Charlie wanting to be a writer (why does tragically misunderstood never translate to neuroscientist?), but the strangely somber yet optimistic tone the trailer takes on—combined with Chbosky’s apparent love of voiceovers—suggests that the movie has something to offer that the trailer doesn’t want to spoil. Which just might mean it’s something special.
We may not be quite sure what we’re getting with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but with Spider-Man there’s little wiggle room to get away from the didacticism of a done and done again comic.Advantage: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
DirectorThe Amazing Spider-Man may seem like an unremarkable addition to your local library’s shelf of superhero films, but what’s not on any of those other titles is Marc Webb’s directing credit. Webb’s biggest movie to date is actually (500) Days of Summer, and before that, he did mostly documentaries. While it’s always hard to say what a relatively new director will do when he finally gets a chance at the big time, the biggest obstacle for most glitzy over-the-top action movies is managing to incorporate a sense of humanity in a larger-than-life personality. And Webb’s background may help him there.
Unfortunately for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, writer/director Stephen Chbosky isn’t Joss Whedon. Chbosky may have written the screenplay for the film adaptation of Rent, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower is only his second time directing a movie—and his last gig as a director was in 1995 (if you’re interested in an offbeat comedy about a young nomad hitchhiking across America, rent Four Corners of Nowhere today). And if you added a lot of money and some big names, Chbosky’s film about the existential struggles of America’s youth probably wouldn’t be so different from his upcoming movie.
Neither director is particularly well established, but Marc Webb definitely has the edge.Advantage: The Amazing Spider-Man
The VerdictIt’s hard to say whether Chbosky’s adaptation of his own novel is the next Juno or a box office misfire waiting to play out, but this face-off goes to Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man. Philosophical triteness aside, it has all the makings of a summer blockbuster that’ll make you glad you spent the night surrounded by strangers chomping on popcorn.Winner: The Amazing Spider-Man
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