The Amazing Spider-Man reboots the Spider-Man film franchise with a new director and a star-studded cast. But does having an all-new, all-different Spider-Man really make it amazing?
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
Directed by: Marc Webb
Written by: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field
Edited by: Alan Edward Bell, Pietro Scalia
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Produced by: Avi Arad, Laura Ziskin, Matt Tolmach
Previously, in Spider-Man movies: Reboots are all the rage these days. What a drag the James Bond films would have been if the writers had to redo an origin story every time 007’s shoes were filled by a different actor. Rather than trying to avoid this trap, The Amazing Spider-Man takes the origin story to the hilt, taking up seemingly half of the 2 hour and 16 minute runtime. The result is a mostly competent, but sometimes unsatisfying, superhero story.
WITH GREAT FILMS COMES NOT-SO-GREAT REBOOTS
If you’re going to reboot a franchise, there had better be a convincing reason (Batman & Robin, I’m looking at you). In The Amazing Spider-Man, there are a few variations on the theme played in Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film – the time go-around, Peter Parker builds his webshooters, Uncle Ben’s death is a little less random (owing more to Peter’s teen petulance), and we actually get to briefly meet the Parker parents. But so many of these beats are expected and familiar that it would have been better if the origin had been disposed of in fifteen minutes rather than fifty. Half of the movie is given over to a story that rehashes a film barely a decade old, while the back half is a paint-by-numbers actioner with an unengaging antagonist. The Lizard is too predictable a villain. His change from distracted scientist to evil megalomaniac carries little drama, even as his vile plot is telegraphed from the first moment he appears on screen. The script even lampshades a device that has no other possible purpose than to serve as the focal point for a supervillainous plot. What kind of guy keeps that in his lab? Curt Connors should be a tragic figure; in this script, he is merely another supercilious mad scientist. Even the dramatic twist at the end recapitulates the “Hey, we’re all Noo Yawkers” bit from the first film. The Amazing Spider-Man’s script does not distinguish itself from its predecessor to separate itself from what came prior to justify a reboot.
Clocking in over 2 hours, The Amazing Spider-Man also suffers from slack editing and an unbalanced tone. With the classic character of Spider-Man, there needs to be a balance between the angst and the joy, between the problems of everyday existence and the exultation of a heroic life. Andrew Garfield’s cocky interpretation of Peter Parker never matches the sublime geekiness of Tobey Maguire’s portrayal, trending as it does towards petulance and whininess. This version of Peter Parker comes off almost like a bully at times, missing the nerdy everyman that is core to the character. There is an attempt to massage these factors into a compelling character arc, but by dwelling too much on the darkness, the film ends up feeling leaden and dour. I was similarly unenamored with Rhys Ifans’ Curt Connors, who exuded too much menace from the start to engender much sympathy as a tortured villain. Guy just creeped me out, what can I say?
BUT WAIT, I ACTUALLY DID LIKE THIS FILM
Appropriately named director Marc Webb (har!) is best known for (500) Days of Summer, but the dude can direct action. The fight scenes were exciting, comprehensible, and imaginative – the way the webshooters are used throughout the film is fantastic. Some of the best parts of the film consist of Peter Parker learning how to deal with his super strength and spider grip; it humorously makes super-powers actually look unappealing. Emma Stone adds to an impressive resume of work with her portrayal of Gwen Stacy. She plays Stacy smart yet vulnerable, emotionally relatable and full of depth. In the comics, I’ve always been a Mary Jane man, but when compared to the Raimi films, it’s Stone’s Gwen Stacy all the way. Denis Leary is also excellent in a key role as Gwen’s police captain father. He brings a necessary energy to a part that could’ve easily been a hectoring, one-note character. Martin Sheen and Sally Field round out the field of great actors doing great jobs as Uncle Ben and Aunt May. If these talents were coupled to a better script and tighter storytelling, The Amazing Spider-Man could have been a five star film.
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR
Comic book movies reached their apex with The Avengers this spring. There are enough films adapted from comics these days that fans can easily pick and choose, forcing super hero filmmakers to elevate their game that much more. Unfortunately, The Amazing Spider-Man does not reach the dizzying heights of The Avengers, The Dark Knight, or X-Men: First Class. It entertains, but does not quite earn the “amazing” descriptor. Lastly, a note about the 3D gimmickry. I elected to see this film in 3D since I hoped there might be a few exhilarating web-slinging sequences that would make the upgrade worthwhile. While those sequences did exist, they were few and woefully short and there was little else to necessitate the 3D experience. I suggest enjoying the film with your regular, human eyes. The Amazing Spider-Man swings its way to a respectable, if not stellar, three out of five stars.