[The Amazing Spider-ManDirected by Marc Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, and Rhys Ifans
MPAA: PG-13 - For Sequences of Action and Violence]
Reviewing a remake is a thankless task because you simply shouldn't review it based on the merits of the original source material and just stick with the actual merits of the new film itself. However, it's impossible to do that with The Amazing Spider-Man simple because "too soon" isn't enough of an exaggeration for just how unnecessary this reboot was. Yeah, I know that this is supposed to be a reboot and not a remake, but there really is no way to separate your feelings towards this film with your feelings towards Sam Raimi's 2002 version of Spider-Man starring Tobey Maguire.
So I might as well get this much out of the way: The original Spider-Man movies from Sam Raimi are a huge part of my childhood. The first film came out when I was in the second grade, it was the first PG-13 movie I had ever seen, the first superhero movie I'd ever seen (Though I'd seen the cartoon enough to be familiar with the material), and it blew my fucking seven-year-old mind. The second movie ended up being better than the first to my nine-year-old amazement, while the third movie was...yeah, you know.
So when I heard that a reboot was coming along, the first thought in my head was "why?". Well, it was to make money obviously, but they could've easily just gone ahead with a fourth Spider-Man film without Raimi, or Tobey, etc. Why reboot it?
Another thing that critics shouldn't do is talk about the production of the film in question, but of course, this being The Amazing Spider-Man, there are just too many behind-the-scenes misfire stories to simply just ignore. The main thing I can discuss without boring you all to tears is that Sony doesn't wanna give away their Spider-Man franchise rights to Disney/Marvel, mostly because it's one of their most lucrative franchises, well, ever. And one of the reasons why their franchise is so successful is because of Raimi, Maguire, and yes, Kirsten Dunst too. So a Spider-Man 4 without any of those factors would make the general moviegoing public angry, but a reboot will give them an excuse for starting things over with a new cast and director up for the taking.
That's it. The main reason why we're getting a new Spider-Man reboot so soon is because Sony didn't want to share their toys with another company. Really. The main reason why we have a new Spider-Man movie is because Sony needed an excuse for a new Spider-Man movie. In case you haven't figured it out yet, this movie is just dull, pointless, and completely and utterly hollow.
You all know the story so you might as well sing it along to the tune of the TV show's theme song: Peter Parker is a high school outcast living with his aunt and uncle who ends up getting bit by a radioactive spider that gives him superhuman abilities. He can walk on walls,
spin webs, has increased strength and agility, and can sense danger with his signature spidey-sense. Look out, here comes your friendly neighborhood derpy derpy doo.
But this version has the nugget of an interesting twist to the story! Rather than just shrug off the death of his parents, in this reboot Peter starts to unravel clues that something about his parents' deaths might not have been an accident. It then turns out that his father had something to do with cross-species genetics, which of course leads him into crossing the species barrier by having a run-in with the radioactive spider.
It's an interesting twist, it gives the movie something to surprise audiences who are already familiar with the original films with, and...then doesn't do anything with it. Huh...
The main problem with The Amazing Spider-Man is that the script just sucks on the most basic levels. Characters are inconsistent, plot threads are left unfinished and dangling in the air, and the tone is all over the map. You can tell that the filmmakers were going for a darker, grittier, less cheesy tone than the original Raimi films, except because Spider-Man is inherently cheesy, there are still some moments of awful humor and cheese that get in the way of it. And even then, the serious tone doesn't fit either.
The original films' slightly cheesy tone worked because it was aware of how silly the material was, but then undercut that with moments of genuine drama that worked. That was because the guys behind those films had respect for what the material was. Because they understood that the material needed to be cheesy at moments, they were able to let the viewer buy into the film's world and therefore buy into the dramatic moments. Here, however, that doesn't apply. The dark tone feels less "gritty and serious" and more "angsty and mopey". Meanwhile, the moments that are actually cheesy feel grating and facepalm-inducing.
But that's not the biggest problem. Usually good performances are enough to sell an uneven tone. Thankfully the performances aren't bad at all. Emma Stone is charming as Gwen Stacey, Rhys Ifans does nice work here as Curt Connors, Sally Field isn't given much to do as Aunt May but she's fine in what little she's in. The one that really shines is Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben, who really feels authoritive and caring in the best possible way. And the icing on top? He gets more screentime than the original Uncle Ben.
Of course, that doesn't stop the main problem in the casting: Andrew Garfield. Now before you start throwing your tomatoes at me, let me just point out that I really like Andrew Garfield. He gave one of my favorite performances of 2010 for The Social Network, he's got serious talent and acting chops, and I like seeing him get the mainstream attention he deserves. Also, he isn't bad as Peter Parker. He is bad, however, as Spider-Man. A lot of people say that that was the big problem with Tobey Maguire's rendition of the character, but I think it's doubly true in Garfield's case. At least when Maguire donned the costume, he didn't act like a jackass. Garfield is effectively awkward and sympathetic when he's under the Parker persona, but when he puts on the suit, it's like he's a completely different character. The thing that makes Spider-Man so appealing is that he's an everyman. When you take away that aspect and he starts to feel more like a cartoon than anything else, you lose that everyman quality and you cease to root for him.
This can be credited more towards bad screenwriting than Garfield himself, but he shouldn't be totally excused either. Because while the writing is bad, Garfield could've at least acted his way around that haul by making the two personas act consistent even when the dialogue suggests otherwise. But as Spider-Man, he just acts and sounds like a douchebag, a smart-ass, and just overall annoying.
Because of this, Peter Parker feels less like a character and more like a cipher. He talks and acts in the specific way that the screenplay demands him to talk and act, but not in ways that are consistent to his previously established character or arc. He's just a blank-slate, he's nothing, and try as Andrew Garfield does to make him likeable and charming and sympathetic and nuanced, he's just poorly written and Garfield doesn't use his previously established talents enough to mask that fact.
The other thing about the acting that doesn't work is that Garfield and Stone have a lack of chemistry in their scenes together. This was appalling to me since it turns out they're actually together in real life and this was directed by the man behind (500) Days of Summer which is a romantic comedy with incredible chemistry between the leads. Here, it doesn't feel passionate, natural, or even believably awkward. It just isn't there, it's completely and utterly hollow. There's really no way for me to describe what it was that made it feel hollow since something like romantic chemistry is made up of unidentifiable factors, but they just didn't exactly fit for some reason.
Then, of course, we have the villain. Like I said, Rhys Ifans does a good job as Curt Connors. It's just such a shame because the Lizard just doesn't work as a villain. As hard as Ifans tries to inject some personality into Connors, we can't really sympathize with him because his sole "flaw" is that he has one arm. That's it. There's really nothing else about him as a character that is made clear to make us sympathize when he ultimately becomes a monster. And then, when he makes the jump to being evil, it's made unclear how exactly it happens because he's a generally good guy in the earlier scenes. Yet for some reason, transforming into a giant lizard-man turns him into a fascist dictator-like figure who wants everyone to be lizard-men because...because lizard-men are just better than humans? And even if that is the case, why suddenly turn evil at the drop of a hat when Connors has been previously established as a generally good guy? Because, well, the screenplay demands it. His transition is just entirely unnatural, and isn't explained to any good effect.
But back to the screenplay, I can go on and on about how many basic script problems there are in the film, but the most glaringly obvious ones of all are that two of the three main plot threads of the film, the ones that define Spidey's motivations. First is the "fresh" take: Parker trying to discover the origins of his parents. And indeed, it starts out with him trying to discover what really happens with his parents. Hell, the film has been marketed as "The Untold Story" of Spider-Man, so you'd expect them to actually tell the god damn untold story. But they don't, stupidly enough. In fact, all of that stuff is instead replaced with a lame post-credits sequence that promises more answers IN THE SEQUUEEELLL. So all that stuff that is promised is left ambiguous. Except unlike Prometheus, which was a good movie that left a lot of things hanging in the air and ambiguous, it doesn't raise thought-provoking questions or leave the audience giddy with anticipation for the sequel. It's just unsatisfying on the most basic level.
Secondly, it's no spoiler that Uncle Ben is killed in act one. With great power comes great responsiderpyderpydoo, we're all on the same page here. However, instead of having Peter exact quick vengeance on the man that killed Uncle Ben, in this version we see Peter fail to catch the perpetrator the first time and spend the rest of the movie going from criminal to criminal looking for him. There's nothing wrong with going with this kind of structure so long as it's interesting. Except it ends up feeling more like unnecessary padding in an already unnecessary movie.
And worst of all: There's no payoff to this plot thread. The guy is never caught, but that's okay because we can at least have a scene in which Peter learns that revenge is not the answer and it's time to move on...except that doesn't happen either. They just abandon this plotline without giving it any lip service because apparently the giant lizard-man is more important. It's because of this that every scene feels pointless. They don't build up to anything, they just feel like a random assortment of stuff. It's barely a story, it's just stuff. This is just lazy, lazy screenwriting that makes me cringe at the fact that paid professionals wrote this crap.
Now, this wouldn't be a superhero blockbuster without some action, and the action is...there, I guess. The action sequences aren't terrible, but they aren't particularly thrilling either. The CGI is decent, certainly a step above the dated CG of the original trilogy, but since we don't feel stakes, it doesn't give the viewer the same satisfying thrill of something like The Avengers. It is worth noting, however, that they try to pull a Spider-Man 2 by throwing in a moment where the citizens of New York help Spidey defeat the bad guy, except this time around it ends up being one of the dumbest things I've ever seen in a superhero movie since the dance sequence in Spider-Man 3. Yeah, it's that bad.
I've heard a lot of defenders of this movie talk about how this one is better because it's closer to the comics. Firstly, I can't attest to that since I myself haven't read the comics and only barely remember the animated television series, so I'm not the best judge on whether this one is more accurate to the source material. Except I don't care. I don't care because it shouldn't matter whether it's "closer to the source material". What matters is whether it's a good movie, and saying that it's good for no other reason than "it's closer to the books" is just as short-sighted as people who think that something automatically sucks because it isn't merely a retread of the original source material. Making a good movie should come first, appeasing the fanbase should come second.
All in all, the biggest complaint I can give to The Amazing Spider-Man is that it just doesn't have a soul. Yeah, I know we all like to crap on Spider-Man 3 for being ridiculously lame, cheesy, and bloated; but there was an earnestness to that film that showed that Raimi was desperately trying to make the material work in spite of the fact that the studios forced him to put Venom in it. They were actually trying in Spider-Man 3 is what I'm trying to say, and there's a cynical sense that nobody involved in The Amazing Spider-Man cared about the material this time around.
The Amazing Spider-Man is just a mess for all the worst possible reasons: Not because the creators didn't know what to do with the material, even though that is part of it; not because there was no talent involved in it, because there are some talented people involved in it; but because this is a movie that looks and feels like it was manufactured by soulless accountants that are desperately trying to take your money. And in some cases, that is the worst offense. I wouldn't say this is the worst superhero movie ever made (We all know that crown proudly belongs to either Batman & Robin or Fantastic Four), but I'll be damned if this isn't one of the laziest and most cynically made.
Final Verdict: Some good performances and decent action can't mask the fact that The Amazing Spider-Man is an astoundingly poorly written film. The pacing is dull, the characters are inconsistent, the romance between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey is lackluster, the movie doesn't know which story it wants to tell, the villain is laughably bad, and the way it haphazardly throws away important plot threads is appallingly bad. A boring, nearly worthless movie with no reason to exist other than to cash in the general public's love of a much better movie.
That is all. If you liked this article and would like to read more, you can do so by clicking the following links: CinEffect on BlogSpot, CinEffect on Tumblr, my own personal tumblr, and my Twitter account @CGRunyon where you can follow me for more reviews, articles, and other random thoughts about what I like. Also be sure to follow my two friends who help out with CinEffect with their own reviews or podcast cohosting sessions: @TBBucs20 & @ThatGuyBrady.
See ya next time. Now if you'll excuse me, here's a picture of a side-by-side comparison between Spider-Man and Stupid Sexy Flanders. Bye!