Review: 'The Amazing Spider-Man' Webs Unoriginality and Laziness
by Jeremy Kirk
July 3, 2012
Whether or not we needed another origin story for Marvel's web-slinger Spider-Man is a question as easy to answer as it is moot. No, a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise after three Sam Raimi efforts was anything but necessary. Once it came to the relaunch's inevitability, though, the question turned from "Do we need it?" to "Will it be any good?" That answer isn't as definite, but the dubiety for The Amazing Spider-Man may have been a foreshadowing of the film we got. Little effort in story originality and an extremely weak villain make the summer blockbuster feel like an inferior product—"product" being the operative word.
The assembly line this movie came out on remembered all the key plot points. Peter Parker, played here by Andrew Garfield, is an introverted high schooler, spending as much of his days pining over classmate Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone, as he does avoiding bullies. When Parker learns of his father, who left him with Aunt May and Uncle Ben when he was a baby, and of the man's scientific research, the curious boy has no choice but to look into it. This takes him to Oscorp and Dr. Curt Connors, his father's partner played by Rhys Ifans. Together the two attempt to perfect the father's cell regeneration serum while Peter, having been conveniently bitten by one of Oscorp's test-subject spiders, finds new abilities to scale walls and move with incredible reflexes. The web shooters aren't built-in this time. Peter invents them to appease the anger of die-hard fans of the original comics.
With three screenwriters working on the film—James Vanderbilt receives the sole "Story By" credit, though, so much of the blame can rest on his shoulders—there's no doubt that a lot of time and effort went into this story, even though, for the most part, we just saw it a decade ago. Peter getting bitten, learning his powers, even Uncle Ben's tragic death and it being indirectly caused by the boy's lack of "great responsibility" are all points the film had to touch upon. This isn't an issue if the events are done in a fresh or creative way. Neither Vanderbilt, nor any of the other screenwriters, add anything of interest here, particularly to the story we already know. Beyond that, The Amazing Spider-Man has little to offer with the things we haven't seen before, Dr. Connors and his ultimate transformation included.
The movie has a lack of weight, which is especially noticed in the moments where we should be feeling something. You can thank the space of time between Raimi's Spider-Man and this film for a lot of that. Seeing Uncle Ben get shot once again has little impact when it's essentially a recreation we've just seen. It doesn't matter how great Martin Sheen is as the character, and he is. It's not something you can really hold against The Amazing Spider-Man if you're going to critique the film for what it is, not for it's proximity to another film. Even still, it's not a feeling during that can be completely turned off while watching it. It doesn't help that the rest of the screenplay unfolds awkwardly, sometimes with a notion of slapdash, as if the ending wasn't planned while the middle was being written. Huge plot lines go completely unresolved regardless of how much screen time they take up.
But The Amazing Spider-Man's biggest problem is not with its screenplay. Director Marc Webb caught audience's attention with 2009's (500) Days of Summer, even hitting the top spot on some critic's top 10 that year. That film was a small romantic comedy with a genuine heart and a highly inventive technique for telling its story. There was speculation that jumping from that to a massive blockbuster such as The Amazing Spider-Man might have been a sign of Webb biting off more than he could chew. Unfortunately, that's exactly how the film feels. When Peter is in high school, the scenes work fine, nothing special but nothing distracting, either. Garfield and Stone carry enough honest charm between them to make those scenes work in pitch dark, anyway. It's the action scenes where Webb really loses his footing, sometimes missing moments in Spidey's battles completely. Other times the camera feels stagnant, lacking a sense of excitement that would really kick the film in gear.
This lack of excitement grinds the film's momentum to a screeching halt long before the typical giant battle of the CG characters explodes on screen with all the fury of a doped-up lab rat. The scene we knew we would get to with Peter learning about his newly acquired abilities and testing his limits plays to the tune of Coldplay's "Kingdom Come", not a bad song necessarily but not what you would consider and energetic beat. Similar tastes in music abounds from Webb throughout, some okay choices, others not as much. Nothing comes near the overall vibe of the soundtrack filling the lives of the characters we got from Webb's first feature, a small drawback, but you expect more from the director.
His handling of actors has, however, carried over tremendously with Garfield and Stone. Garfield's Peter Parker, though not as nebbish as Tobey Maguire's, fights battles within himself. Most of these are far more interesting, thanks in large part to the young actor, than when Spider-Man is butting heads with car thieves. The fight sequences include Peter's quips and verbal jabs at his opponents, most of them pulled off strongly by Garfield. The Peter Parker/Gwen Stacy relationship is a vast improvement over the lump of coal found between the protagonist and Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane in the original films. Emma Stone is as adorable as she is compelling, another sturdy factor in how believable Peter and Gwen are together.
Rhys Ifans, hindered by some seriously awful, post-production audio work, comes and goes from scenes without ever creating any kind of real presence for Dr. Connors. The poor design on his Lizard altar ego makes the entire character one, forgettable comic book villain, the worst the series has offered. Yes, we’re including Topher Grace as Venom in that. Other turns by Sheen—mentioned above—Sally Field as Aunt May, and Denis Leary as Gwen's police captain father who's on a crusade to see Spider-Man locked away, are all meritorious. C. Thomas Howell shows up for apparently no other reason than for you to say, "Oh, my God, that's C. Thomas Howell in 2012."
That latter role, by the way, is yet another strange element to The Amazing Spider-Man, not surprisingly something else this version seems to borrow from Raimi's original film—I'm not a fan of the comic books, I can't say if it's something taken from them. The sense of community Spider-Man brings out of New York City is an interesting aspect, the thought of everyday people helping a superhero fight his battles. This aspect does have a payoff just before the climaxing battle, but it's late in the game, it comes from an awkward left field, and it's downright stupid.
You can't say the same for the rest of the film, not entirely that is. Amazing Spider-Man has moments of stupidity, more lacking in substance than we're willing to accept even in a summer blockbuster. But, for the most part, the film feels more lazy than dumb, the kind of feeling you get when a studio is trying to grab as much cash from a property before it loses the rights. The standard mid-credit sequence reveals another unanswered mystery that we'll have to discover the meaning to in a sequel. We always knew there would be another Spider-Man movie after Raimi's days were over. We knew a reboot would tell Peter Parker's transformation into the web-slinger would hit us once again some day. We just didn't know The Amazing Spider-Man would be this familiar and have this little to offer, about as far from "amazing" as you can get.
Jeremy's Rating: 4.5 out of 10