There is some history when it comes to terrible basketball scenes in superhero movies. Precedent, if you will. The motivation behind them is understandable, I guess, if we’re in the mood to give them the benefit of the doubt. These movies are looking for ways to demonstrate that the character has developed superpowers and are using a normal human athletic activity to drive it home. That’s fine, in theory. It’s less ideal in practice, though, and yes, this is where I mention the Catwoman basketball scene, a scene in which Halle Berry dominates Benjamin Bratt on a playground and dunks over him because… cats are good at basketball? I don’t know. It’s insane. The whole thing appears to have been edited by a child on a sugar high. I watch it once a month.
That’s not the only example, though. It’s not even the one that makes me — a grown man who spends most evenings watching action movies or basketball games, and takes both very seriously — most angry. That honor goes to a brief scene from the 2012 film The Amazing Spider-man, the forgotten middle child of the Spider-man movies, sandwiched between the Tobey Maguire trilogy and the Marvel fold-ins with Tom Holland. The one with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. This scene drives me crazy, still, today, nine years later, to the degree that I’m writing about it with no obvious anniversary or other tie-ins to make it relevant. My rage just bubbled over, finally, again, and here we are. It happens sometimes.
Here’s the scene. Watch it once and take it all in, and then meet me below for a discussion. If you’ve never seen it before, you are in for a treat.
A little background will help. Just a little, though, because everyone knows the Peter Parker story by now: Teen dork gets bitten by a science spider, develops powers, his beloved uncle dies, etc. What you need to know for this scene, in addition to that, is that there’s a jerky jock in his school named Flash who has been bullying him. Here’s Flash, being a jerk, both generally and specifically.
The other thing you need to know is that Peter was bitten by the science spider not long ago and his blood is now saturated with radioactive spider things. And rage. He’s a very angry Spider-boy. And so, after he comes over to help clean up the paint spill, when Flash swats a second shot out of the sky because, apparently, Flash is some sort of 5’11 Joel Embiid in this movie, Peter reaches out with his sticky spider hand and snags the ball before it causes more damage to the banner.
Two things are worth noting here:
- If one is trying to conceal one’s newly-developed superpowers, it is probably not advisable to utilize them to snag a speeding basketball in a gymnasium filled with fellow teens
- I have watched this scene maybe 50 times and the closest I’ve come to understanding what is happening in this gymnasium is “a basketball/cheerleading practice during which some sort of spirit crew is also painting banners on the court and some other students are just, like, chilling in the bleachers”
This is not a real thing. Schools have many rooms in them. There is no need to hold like four events in the gym at once. And even if it were a real thing, I’m not exactly sure where you get off being mad about a basketball knocking over the paint can you have sitting on the basketball court during a basketball practice. It looked like a pretty nice day at the start of the clip. Take the art project outside. Get some Vitamin D. It’s not my biggest problem with the scene, but still. All of what happens next could have been avoided with the tiniest bit of planning.
This is Peter taunting Flash with the ball and clearly using his sticky spider fingers in full view of dozens of other students. Which, again, is not a good way to protect his secret, but is not all that big a deal when you consider what happens next.
Peter and Flash have words. Peter will not give him the ball back. Flash challenges him, like, “Fine, nerd, if you want to play basketball, let’s play basketball.” None of this is entirely unreasonable on Flash’s part because, and I really can’t stress this enough, they are trying to have basketball practice. The best part is that the coach is clearly visible on the court at the beginning of the scene and he does not do a single damn thing while any of this is happening. Doesn’t even blow the whistle.
Anyway, all of that leads to this. And it’s where things really get out of hand. I can feel my blood pressure ticking north already. Here we go.
Doesn’t even attempt to dribble the ball a single time.
Just runs straight ahead like a fullback.
I hate it.
My man flies through the air like a damn bird, taking off from what appears to be the three-point line, entire body at rim-height in a pose you’d normally see from a rollerblader at the X-Games who just launched himself off a ramp, and then dunks the ball with such ferocity that it shatters the backboard into a million pieces.
This is… actually kind of cool. It’s not my problem with the scene. This is what I’d do if I had superpowers if I’m being honest. What’s the point of being a god among men if you don’t take some time out of your day to destroy your enemies with sick dunks? It’s probably a good thing I don’t have superpowers. The city would be overrun with crime and all the backboards would be mangled.
Point being: Look at this guy.
This brings me to the infuriating thing about the scene, though. Let’s run down some factors we’ve already mentioned:
- A gymnasium full of teenagers
- Basketball coach standing maybe 25 feet away
- A student does what I think we can safely call the single greatest dunk in the history of basketball
Do you see what I’m getting at here? Do you see why this scene drives me nuts? In any even semi-realistic universe — even one where science spiders bite dorky teens and turn them into superheroes — this should have been all anyone talked about for the rest of the movie. Every single scene should have included at least one person whispering “that’s the kid who did the dunk” as Peter walked by. The basketball coach should have been knocking on Uncle Ben’s door every night to beg Peter to sign up for the team. College basketball coaches — John Calipari cameo, at least — should have been calling the house constantly after stories of this dunk weaved their way through the basketball community.
I know I’m being a little ridiculous about this. It’s a fun superhero movie. You’re not supposed to ask too many questions about it. But, I’m sorry, my brain can’t get past it. There are a million ways to show that he has powers now and is out for revenge against bullies. Have him win a food fight in the cafeteria. Have him win some prizes at a carnival. This was too much. If anyone on-set understood basketball at all, they would have known that this dunk is a trajectory-altering moment in the story. Everyone should have been amazed for the rest of the movie. You cannot expect viewers — me, to select one viewer at random — to just move past this.
That’s why what happens next is so maddening.
“Young man, you just did the single most remarkable dunk anyone has ever seen, soaring through the air like a bird, in a feat of athleticism that is so impressive it’s almost troubling, as though you have — and I don’t even know why I think this, it’s so outlandish — recently been bitten by a science spider and received some sort of supernatural powers that could eventually be used to fight crime or at least win us a state championship, and in any event is probably the type of thing that should be tested by some group of doctors and scientists just for research purposes. One week of detention.”
Get out of here.
“Did you humiliate that boy?”
“Uh, I don’t know, maybe during the part where I ROCKETED THROUGH THE STALE GYMNASIUM AIR AND SHATTERED THE BACKBOARD LIKE A CARTOON MONSTER IN A LOONEY TUNES MOVIE, UNCLE BEN, WHICH NO ONE SEEMS TO BE MENTIONING EVEN THOUGH NOT EVEN THE GREATEST OLYMPIANS OUR COUNTRY HAS TO OFFER COULD HAVE DONE IT, LET ALONE ME, A PREVIOUSLY AWKWARD HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT. GEEZ.”
“You’re lucky they’re not gonna make us pay for it.”
“Uh, yeah. I feel freakin’ great dude. I can do wild dunks now. It’s cool as hell. Why is everyone being a bummer about this?”
I’m so angry I could spit on the floor.
Here’s the funniest part, though. Join me on a brief walk through some additional bullet points:
- Because Uncle Ben had to come to school for this meeting with the principal, he had to change his shift at work
- He asked Peter to pick up Aunt May from work
- Peter forgot and Aunt May had to walk home
- Peter and Uncle Ben got in a big argument about it and Peter stormed out
- Uncle Ben went out looking for him
- Uncle Ben caught up to Peter outside a convenience store that was just robbed by a bandit who Peter did not attempt to stop
- Uncle Ben confronted the bandit and got shot during a struggle over a gun
- Uncle Ben died
All of which means, if we track this back far enough, this dunk caused Uncle Ben’s death. That is, to me, hilarious. Maybe the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in any movie. Uncle Ben died because Peter did a sick dunk and everyone got mad at him about it. Please explain this to everyone you know.
Although I guess, if we track it back a little further, the real villain here is whoever double-booked the gym for the basketball practice and pep squad crafts meeting. That’s what started all of this. Someone needs to hold that person accountable. Leave Peter alone.