Marvel has enjoyed a pronounced measure of success with their films of late. Captain America, X-Men: First Class, and especially The Avengers have proven worthy of all manner of flashy adjectives. And now we arrive at Marvel/Sony’s reboot of the character for which flashy adjectives are often indivisible from his name. The unfortunate irony is that any number of films on Marvel’s slate from the last year are more deserving of the descriptor “amazing” than Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man. That’s not to say the film is a total disaster, but in the company’s current climate of quality, passable is not acceptable.
The hurdle facing The Amazing Spider-Man from the first frame is that it is a complete reboot – Spidey’s origins once again under the microscope. The problem is that not only have we examined his origins in depth in Sam Raimi’s films, but Spider-Man also has one of the simplest, most self-evident backgrounds in the wold of comic books. Radioactive spider+man=Spider-Man. There are, of course, a few major alterations made in the new origin story (namely the inclusion of Peter’s parents and the revising of the mechanics of the web-slinging, which actual reverts back to the traditional Spidey mythos). These changes are noble, but do they necessitate a complete backstory reset? Would anyone really have cried foul if continuity to Raimi’s divergence from canon had not been upheld? Also, the function of the mystery of Peter’s parents is merely to lead him to Dr. Connors, which has a paltry impact on the plot in general. So why restart everything, take up a majority of runtime retelling the story, if the additions serve little function? Giving credit where credit is due, I will say that the death of Uncle Ben felt far more emotionally resonant this time around than it was in Raimi’s Spider-Man.
Expectations for Andrew Garfield in this surely star-making role were exceedingly high before the film was even lensed, and many felt he had to bring back comic book elements of the character that were absent in Tobey Maguire’s interpretation. Here’s the thing, Peter Parker is supposed to be adeptly snarky and masterfully sarcastic, and while Garfield manages this while in the suit, he plays Peter Parker like he has a raging case of Aspergers. He kicks dirt, stares at the ground, and shakes his head like that Looney Tunes vulture every time anyone, especially a girl, talks to him. He’s oafishly child-like and largely charisma-free. There’s literally a scene where he pokes his head out from behind a chair and giggles, “a chocolate house” like an infant. I also don’t understand his obnoxious, pregnant pauses. They don’t so much add dramatic effect as they make it look like he can’t remember his next line. And I don’t know if its Garfield’s own vanity and desire for more face time or a marketing note from a producer, but for the love of Ditko, kid, keep your goddamn mask on! He strips it off at the drop of a hat and there is even a plot point that would preclude his future anonymity.
The relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a major component of this rebooted story, is dull and by-the-numbers. What kills me about this is that Marc Webb’s only other feature film is (500) Days of Summer. The lingering doubt when he was selected to helm this project was that he was a rom-com director with no concept of orchestrating action sequences. In other words, the romance between Parker and Stacy would be the only strong aspect of the movie. But Gwen never seems to genuinely have feelings for Peter, she only seems interested in him at his most vulnerable and damaged. They never develop any perceivable chemistry and seem to rely on the fact that their ending up together is a forgone conclusion instead of earning it with well-crafted character moments.
On the other hand, as it turns out, the action sequences are pretty stellar. Spider biology and characteristics are actually incorporated into the battles this time around. At one point, Spidey crawls the entire length of The Lizard in a very specific series of movements that will give arachnophobics the heebies as well as the jeebies. Free-running is also utilized to bring a more practical feel to some of the shots without sacrificing the superhuman aspect of these feats. Spidey evades gang members by demonstrating a prescient and preternatural understanding of environments, much in the same fashion as do real-world freerunners. So while I was soundly impressed with Peter Parkour and the action scenes, how does the director of (500) Days of Summer manage to flub a burgeoning love story between two young people? Bizarro!
The script largely offers no assistance to the actors or director. The Amazing Spider-Man careens wildly through illogical conveniences, such as Parker toppling from a skyscraper. Items are literally pointed at with a wink and nudge for no other reason than to let the audience know that they will play an important role in the third act. What possible benevolent purpose does the gas-emitting device sitting in the corner of Connors’ lab serve? And why when you press the space bar on The Lizard’s computer does his entire evil plot present itself, replete with clip art mini-Lizards? These may seem like nitpicks, but moments of frustrating laziness within the narrative populate the entire film and drag it down considerably. The stinger at the end is especially idiotic, especially since you see it in the damn trailer, and suggests a direction for the next film that will only further muddy Marvel’s attempt to reestablish this character and bring him into the new age of superhero cinema.
Spider-Man, Spider-Man, we expected more of you, Spider-Man.
The Upside: There are elements that work well within the revised origin and the action sequence are suitable for popcorn-munching.
The Downside: The rebooted origin is largely unnecessary, the script is weak, and Garfield’s Parker needs some serious tweaking.
On the Side: Donald Glover should have played Spider-Man.