The Amazing Spider-Man was the movie reboot nobody needed. Even with a strong cast, a competent director, and a bona fide bankable box office hero as the star, The Amazing Spider-Man suffers tremendously under the weight of a very uneven script. Instead of giving audiences a fresh, new take on the iconic webslinger, The Amazing Spider-Man falls quite flat, and leaves much to be desired from the eventual follow-up.
Slight spoilers ahead.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Directed by Marc Webb
Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves
The Amazing Spider-Man is a movie featuring a few wonderful character moments, and a bevvy of rather head-scratching decisions. Part of that disconnect between the smaller, more intimate sections and the bigger, superhero portions of the film might have to do with the radically different writing team on the film. Though Steve Kloves has some genuine quality scripts to his credit (all the Harry Potter film adaptations, Wonder Boys), both James Vanderbilt (The Losers) and Alvin Sargent (the last two Spider-Man films) are coming off of rather disappointing movies. It’s a shame that Marc Webb was given such an unbalanced, and quite frankly, non-sensical screenplay to work with when it came to bringing Spider-Man back to the megaplex.
Webb, fresh off the success of (500) Days of Summer, was given the keys to the Marvel Cadillac: rebooting the company’s biggest, most recognizable character for a new generation of movie-going audiences that grew tired of the campy villain-paloozas Raimi’s trilogy had become. Finally, we would get a director focused on character and relationship; an auteur more concerned with who people were and what made them special, rather than allegories to current events and slap-dash special effects. While we certainly did get to see some of Webb’s wonderful character-focused work, once the film turned into the tentpole action flick expected of a superhero movie of this magnitude, Webb was so clearly out of his element that the final third feels rushed, sloppy, and invokes the worst of the previous Spider-flicks.
If it wasn’t for the downright stellar cast, The Amazing Spider-Man may have been one of the biggest disappointments of the year. Webb clearly knows how and when to let his characters breathe on the screen. It’s only when confined by the skintight suits, or when the actors are replaced by CGI, that the movie starts to falter. Unfortunately, in a movie about Spider-Man, you’re going to see Spider-Man in costume for about 75-80% of the time. While this Spidey is full of his trademark snappiness, the only time you really connect with the character is when he has his mask off. Oddly enough, that happens quite a bit in this entry, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Early on, when Peter is growing up with Uncle Ben (played expertly by Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (played by Sally Field in varying degrees of panic and worry, and not much else), you get a great idea of what kind of person Peter is. Andrew Garfield (despite being another late-20s actor cast as an senior in high school) far surpasses Tobey Maguire both in and out of the suit. He’s both a frustrated, outcast nerd, and a quick-witted leading man with a devilish smile that wins the heart of Gwen Stacy. It wouldn’t have taken much to find an actress who could play Spider-Man’s love interest better than Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane, but Emma Stone not only showcases some rather impressive chops, she is probably the best leading lady in a Marvel film to date. And this is in spite of the relationship between Peter and Gwen coming together rather quickly, and seemingly for no reason other than the writers needed it to happen. Fortunately for everyone involved, Garfield and Stone have some great chemistry, and the moments they share on screen are among the best in the film.
Peter’s conflict with Gwen’s father, police officer Captain Stacy (played on the nose by Denis Leary), is much more interesting than the one he’s supposed to have with Rhys Ifans’ Curt Connors/Lizard. Ifans, doing the best he can, is relegated to a weak Jekyll and Hyde-style character, and his motivations and grand scheme are rather odd. Well, they might be more clear had the character been given any development other than he’s a scientist who can’t seem to get his particular science to work. There should have been some real strong parallels between Peter (growing to accept that his accidental acquisition of powers was meant for good) versus Connors (fabricating his abilities and then becoming mad for more power), however the film completely bypasses any and all thematic connection between the two. We even get a new spin on the classic “With great power…” mantra very early in the film, but that line of thought is never touched on again by the writers.
All these issues aside, the biggest problem I have with The Amazing Spider-Man is Spider-Man’s willingness to reveal his secret identity to just about every single person in New York. He starts out fighting crime without a mask whatsoever. He literally has people telling him, “I know what you look like.” Later, Peter reveals his identity to Gwen in one of the more ridiculous ways that conversation could have went. There’s a moment where you think we’re going to get a “Michael Keaton trying to explain he’s Batman to Kim Basinger” segment, but that’s quickly washed away by some straight up silliness. Later, Peter’s revealing his identity to a child (which, in truth, is one of the most compelling sequences in the movie), and then finally to Captain Stacy. IN THE MIDDLE OF A CROWDED NEW YORK STREET. Ah, but that moment is ever so crucial to the lesson Spider-Man learns from Captain Stacy during the climax. Which Peter then disregards a short time later. It’s baffling.
As bothersome as the final act of The Amazing Spider-Man is, the excellent casting saves this movie. It’s really disappointing to see that such a promising film in concept ended up being such an unbalanced production, but it’s also easy to see where The Amazing Spider-Man went off the rails. I’m actually looking forward to seeing Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone return on May 4, 2014 (yes, the sequel already has a release date), and I’m also optimistic that a second film in this new series can benefit by learning from this entry’s mistakes. But that movie isn’t out yet, and this movie is the one people are going to go see. The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t a terrible film by any means. It’s just not a very good one.
One final note. I saw the IMAX 3D version of The Amazing Spider-Man. Despite being shot entirely in 3D, The Amazing Spider-Man has some of the worst 3D I’ve seen. Don’t worry about paying the extra fee. It’s completely unnecessary.
The Amazing Spider-Man is rated PG-13, and arrives in US theaters on July 3, 2012 in regular, 3D and IMAX 3D screenings.