Director: Marc Webb
Length: 2h 16m
Synopsis: A reboot of Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy, this iteration of Spidey goes back to his origins. As a young child, Peter Parker’s (Garfield) parents run away for unknown reasons, leaving him with his Uncle Ben (Sheen) and Aunt May (Field). As a teenager, he begins to discover secrets about his parents that lead him to Oscorp and cross-genetic experiments. This leads him to a room full of genetically altered spiders, one of which bites him, giving him spider powers. Upon receiving these powers, he must learn how to use them in truly responsible ways. Peter is suddenly faced with a powerful adversary in his mentor Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans), who becomes the super-villain known as the Lizard after injecting himself with reptile DNA in the hopes of re-growing his missing arm. Connors then plans to infect all of New York with his affliction, giving Peter a challenge he may not be ready to handle.
Analysis: I don’t understand the intense hatred spewed at Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films. While the third installment certainly has its share of problems, the first two Spider-Man films are great, with the second one in particular being a masterpiece in the superhero genre. I love Spider-Man, and I think those films nailed what makes Peter Parker such a fantastic character. With this being said, news of a reboot only ten years after the release of the original film did not sit well with me.
I understand that The Amazing Spider-Man brings back elements from the comics that Raimi chose to exclude. I like that the mechanical web shooters Peter builds himself are include, and it’s nice to see Spidey cracking wise to criminals in a way he didn’t really do before. It’s all presented in a much darker manner than we’ve seen before as well, and the film makes very pointed efforts early on to make sure the character of Spider-Man seems more “realistic,” much like Christopher Nolan did with Batman. The results of this effort are fine overall, but nevertheless deeply problematic.
The main issue at hand in The Amazing Spider-Man is that it goes over a story that has already been told before. We watch once again as Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider, and then deals with new powers amidst extraordinary circumstances. It plays out beat for beat exactly as Raimi’s first Spider-Man film did, and exactly as it did in every other medium Spidey has been translated to. It just isn’t a new story. The new elements that were promised from the comics (the wisecracking, etc.) are only there momentarily, too. They don’t call back to them or keep them running throughout the film. To boot, important story elements that the writers set up are abandoned later. It feels as though no effort is really on display.
On top of its lazy quality, and the obligatory backstory, Peter Parker still isn’t very well characterized. Generally, Peter is a very awkward person; dweeby, shy, but charming all the same. Give him his Spidey threads, though, and he becomes a cool, invincible hero. That’s the charm of Peter. He’s like anyone who’s ever read a comic book, and given the right situation, all he needs to do is throw on his tights and he’s as powerful as anyone could dream. In this film, Peter is an angsty, temperamental teenager who is quick to lash out, acting more out of impulse and a desire for vengeance than a genuine sense of responsibility, even after the point in the story where he should be doing so. In fact, the first time he acts out of responsibility in the film is completely arbitrary, coming out of nothing that happens prior to that point. The simple fact is that while the film wants to make Peter Parker “edgy,” such a version of his character is not one that works with his Spider-Man alter ego.
While its two most important elements have fundamental flaws, the film is able to do a number of interesting things. Director Marc Webb of (500) Days of Summer fame puts very deep focus on the relationships between characters, particularly the one between Peter and his love interest Gwen Stacey. Webb is at his best when focused on these character moments, which provide for some of the best scenes in the film. He also makes great pains to establish the film in a realistic setting, giving Spider-Man a variety of very home-spun-feeling uniforms that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Frank Miller comic. Once the film’s villain, the Lizard, is introduced, however, the film takes a sharp turn into near fantasy. Suddenly, characters have lairs in sewers, and Spider-Man is flying around the city through middling computer animation. Even the fights are somewhat boring and uninspired. At this point, Webb fumbles with the story’s tone, not knowing quite how to handle it.
The lack of clear direction hurts the film in its second half, and it shows nowhere more explicitly than in the film’s handling of the villainous Lizard. By the time the Lizard shows up, we’ve been sold a grounded version of Spider-Man’s universe. Then, we get a silly talking reptile attacking the city. From his characterization down to his visual design, the character does not work. The visual effects make him look like a skinned bodybuilder with Heath Ledger’s Joker smile, and is weightless in the physical space of the film. The character makes a few big shifts between motivations and personalities based on what the film feels it needs him to do. It takes the film out of its established reality and places it in one closer to Raimi’s franchise.
The Amazing Spider-Man is a deeply flawed film, and these flaws do not justify the need for a complete overhaul of the Spider-Man franchise. It is hardly all bad, bolstered by great performances from Garfield, Stone, and Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben. There are even some great scenes that recall the best things about Spider-Man. In the end, though, the film is confused as to what it really wants to be, and suffers for it. Many of the core elements to the Spider-Man mythology feel either marginalized (Aunt May, for example) or completely changed so as to lose what makes them so special. Raimi’s films weren’t perfect, and neither was Tobey Maguire, but there was at least a sense of what made the character so great without any burning desire to make him anything different. Here, it feels like everyone just wanted another superhero movie. The Amazing Spider-Man is indeed a good superhero movie, but just not a good Spider-Man film.