Note: Before completing my review for The Amazing Spider-Man I had an in-depth conversation with my nerdiest, comic book-reading friend. Our opinions on this film and the Sam Raimi franchise differed greatly. As such, I believe that your feelings toward the previous series of Spiderman films will play a big part in how you feel toward this outing. Be advised.
You can count me in amongst the (relatively small) ranks of hardened movie goers who appreciate a good reboot, especially as it pertains to the superhero genre. When done correctly, I believe the current trend of shooting a trilogy with a given actor and/or director allows for a story to be told without being stretched too far and opens up the possibility for a diverse set of narratives within the same general universe. To me, this is preferable to say, the overextension of the first Superman films or the constant revolving door technique used by the Bond franchise. The Amazing Spider-Man (from here on out, just Spiderman because I’ve already tired of that hyphen), though, has two things going against it in that it is trying to reboot a very, very good franchise only five years after the last film debuted and it is one of the first franchises to undergo the face lift that many other series’ will go through in the coming years. And while at times this film is excellent, it struggles mightily under the weight of these pressing issues, creating an uneven experience that could have (and perhaps should have) been much better.
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) hasn’t had an easy shake in life. His parents disappeared when he was very young, leaving him in the hands of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), who do their very best but who quite simply are not his parents. He is awkward in virtually every social setting, especially those involving his crush, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). But a discovery in his father’s old briefcase leads him to the lab of Doctor Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans) where he is bitten by a genetically enhanced spider. Soon Peter finds that he has taken on the characteristics of a spider, including incredible strength and lightning-fast reflexes and when tragedy strikes his family yet again, Peter begins to hone his abilities and takes on the persona of Spiderman. But while Peter attempts to avenge his loss, Dr. Connors sees his genetic experiments go horribly wrong, creating a monster that may be too much even for Spiderman.
I would like to be able to write a review for The Amazing Spiderman without comparing it to the previous series but unfortunately, director Mark Webb hasn’t given me that option. There are so many similarities between this film and the first of Sam Raimi’s series, especially in the early going, as to make it difficult to discern between the two. Given how recently the target audience for this film was immersed in Raimi’s vision, I think it would have behooved Webb and his team of writers to work toward separating this film from the Tobey Maguire Spiderman in an effort to give notice of a new take on the material. This is far from a shot-for-shot remake of the 2002 film but so many details, right down to the set design of Peter’s school, bear a striking resemblance to that film. As Spidermanprogresses, it pulls itself further and further away from its ancestors but the first act borrows heavily from Raimi’s Spiderman.
On the plus side, I found Garfield to be a pleasant, mostly believable, and effectively earnest Parker/Spiderman. The coolest thing about Spiderman is that he’s a teenager, a kid who suddenly becomes a force to be reckoned with in the middle of New York City. There’s a powerful appeal to Spiderman and Garfield does an excellent job of embodying not only the superhero side of his split persona but also the awkward and somewhat haunted teenage side. On this front at least, I think this version of Spiderman bests the Maguire version. At the same time, however, the development of Parker/Spiderman is uneven and a bit haphazard. Parker jumps too quickly from an awestruck kid who doesn’t know his own strength to a cocky, indestructible force and at times he seems to revert whenever it is convenient within the narrative for him to do so. Stacy is much the same way. In the beginning, she is a confident, accomplished young woman but as Parker’s importance builds, she becomes a one-note character who borders on the stereotypical damsel in distress. In much the same way that I questioned the casting of Natalie Portman in Thor, I found myself wondering why Stone was brought aboard in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Emma Stone; she might be favorite actress in the business right now. But at the same time, a hundred actresses could have done what little she was asked to do for this role. I kept waiting for her to break out and honestly, I felt like she herself was waiting for an opportunity to do something worthwhile. Instead, she’s just kind left there to look pretty and occasionally drive one of the subplots. With a runtime of over two hours, you would think some time could be found for character development but without it, the relationship between Parker and Stacy seems inconsequential if not superfluous. This was a real missed opportunity in my estimation because Stone is one of the more charismatic women in Hollywood and here she’s almost hamstrung by a lackluster character.
Spiderman does excel in pushing the tempo in the right situations and works hard (perhaps too hard) to strike an emotional tone. This isn’t as much fun as the typical superhero movie and while it isn’t as dark as The Dark Knight franchise, it definitely has more in common with that series than it does with The Avengers or the rest of the Marvel universe. The visuals are impressive (though a few shots are clearly geared exclusively to the 3D crowd, which I hate) and I personally dig the suit, though I prefer my Spidey with organic web shooters in his wrists rather than a super brain that allows him to build a device to shoot his webbing (which goes against the comics, I know). Webb displays a flair for the dramatic and as the film builds toward a final collision between Spiderman and his first real nemesis, I felt it really found its stride. As with any origin story, it’s almost impossible to truly judge this film until we see what sort of house Garfield and (presumably) Webb can build out of the foundation laid here. As such, there’s nothing within this film that I can call great but there is enough good here to expect much bigger things from the inevitable sequels.