I review movies to discuss them, not recommend them. Spoilers.
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) takes on the mantle of…you know what? One of the very problems I’m going to be discussing is the unimportance of an origin story. It’s Spider-Man. You know the plot. All I have to do is tell you who the bad guy is (The Lizard).
This is another case of being confused over the frequently stellar reviews a movie is getting. The Amazing Spider-Man has a lot of problems that drag it down into mediocrity. It isn’t terrible, but it isn’t very good either. The cavalcade of negatives bears close scrutiny.
The pacing is just awful. Spider-Man is one of a handful of superheroes (along with Superman, Batman and maybe the Hulk) where a detailed origin story in a film version is totally unnecessary. Unless they are adding some gigantic twist to it, they don’t have to tell it. The Incredible Hulk with Ed Norton got all of its backstory done in a two minute, dialogue-less montage at the start, and was a better movie for it. The same kind of thing is very applicable here.
Instead of just jumping into the web-slinging, director Mark Webb takes on a torturously familiar tale of an orphaned boy, radioactive spiders, and some really bad attempts at early costumes. It says something when the “origin” part of the tale – that’s the moment the movie starts to the moment he puts on the costume proper – might actually be longer than the 2002 version. Amazing Spider-Man goes at a snail’s pace throughout its overly-long running time, bogged down by an opening hour we have seen time and time again in movies, animation and other media.
It’s not just that though. The whole film has a distinct sense of padding, of numerous scenes going on a bit too long. We get four separate Lizard fight scenes, one too many. The romantic stuff with Gwen Stacy is uniformly a minute too long each scene. That whole bit near the conclusions where they spend five minutes elaborating on how Spidey gets to the final confrontation, with the cranes, which was just plain boring.
There are some very strange moments of characterisation that kinda wreck parts of the film for me in terms of suspension of disbelief. To name a few, Stacy gives a heartfelt statement on her fears over her father’s longevity in his role as a police officer, but later sends him off, alone, to help Peter without referencing this at all, showing more concern for the guy she’s known for a few weeks then her father. This concludes near the end with Stacey showing a surprising lack of anger towards Peter for the death he is partly responsible for. The Flash Thompson character is explained in a really poor way, the atypical bully as he was in 2002, but then suddenly consoling Peter over the death of his uncle as if the two have a deeper relationship – a relationship that is not explained to the viewer in anyway.
Then there is the bad guy, Dr Curt Connors. The bad guy is a scientist who, with his ability to do science threatened, makes himself a lab rat for the Macguffin serum, undergoes a Jekyll/Hyde transformation, tries to get back at those who wronged him, becomes fixated on Peter Parker as the cause of his problems, puts innocent people in danger, before coming to his senses.
Wait, I am taking about Rhys Ifans Lizard, or Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin? The story arcs that both go through are very similar, save for the Goblin’s defeated remorse turning out to actually be a sham. Everything else is disappointingly replicated. Ifans’ Lizard is not a stand out villain, and the Welsh actor lacks the gravitas and menace that Dafoe brought to his turn as Spidey’s nemesis. I can appreciate putting a lesser known Spiderman villain in the limelight, but he’s a weak link.
There are plenty of scenes that are very unsubtle in the message they are trying to send as to be jaw-dropping. The consequences of Peter’s enhanced strength gets way more screentime then it deserved (how long was that bit with the basketball?), Curt Connor’s is responsible for the most painfully obvious Chekov’s Gun moment I’ve ever seen, and the way that the respective combatants discover each other’s secret identity is more laughable than anything.
Webb decides to put the burden of the fight scenes squarely on the shoulders of the CGI department to an extent I don’t like. Raimi was able to mix and match CGI and live-action really well, the final fight between Peter and the Goblin in 2002, as Maguire was flung into walls with force, was a real contest that stirred the blood in a way that CGI Garfield and Ifans cannot do, The actual fight scenes, in terms of chorography and the like, are fine, but don’t grab you as well as previous attempts.
One of the films biggest flaws though is the number of unresolved issues that it leaves. Peter’s hunt for the man who shot his uncle is dropped very suddenly in favour of the main plot line, he has a heartbreaking scene with Gwen Stacey’s dying father only to disregard any of the promises he made to the man, but the worst is the plot line regarding Parker’s parents.
This is Amazing Spider-Man’s big hook, that it is the character’s “untold story” and his greatest secret will be revealed. All that marketing, seen extensively in trailers, seems to have based around the mystery of his parents.
Here’s what you find out about the Parker’s from the trailers: they were involved in the same research as Curt Connors, vanished from Peter’s life in mysterious circumstances, and died in an apparent plane crash.
Here’s what the movie actually adds: Curt Connor’s and OsCorp know more about the Parker’s disappearance and death than they’re letting on.
That’s it. That is all the extra information you get from Amazing Spider-Man on a plot line that, from the marketing and the opening minutes, is supposed to be of primary concern. I understand that not everything can be revealed when there are sequels in the works, but this was just amazingly frustrating. Why were the Parker’s running? Who from specifically? Were they murdered? Did they work for SHIELD like in the comics? Is that oh-so-subtle hinting of a deeper conspiracy around Peter and his powers actually going to get resolved at any point beyond very vague inferring from the audience?
This kind of thing reaches its zenith in a totally worthless credits scene, which exists only to say “Yes, there will be a sequel!” and adds nothing to the plot as a whole. I have a very low opinion of post-credits scenes, especially the kind that seems to be par for the course on superhero movies nowadays, but this one was especially bad. I think we all know who the guy, credited only as “man in the shadows” is supposed to be, and hiding that fact seems very strange. And if it isn’t Norman Osborn, then I’m more confused then enthralled.
Pretty forgettable soundtrack too. I seem to say that a lot for the more recent superhero films. I have a pretty standard litmus test for scores: if I have themes in my head a few hours after I leave the cinema, success. I can’t remember any tune from this soundtrack. Failure.
That does seem like a lot of negatives doesn’t it? Positives abound also. One of them is Garfield. If this was Tobey Maguire circa Spider-Man 3 I would label Amazing Spider-Man as a total write off, but Garfield plays the shy, nervous, but very rebellious Parker to a tee, much like Maguire did in 2002 and Spider-Man 2. He quips well, he does the “gaining confidence” thing well. There is brooding, but not so much as many may have feared from early trailers.
The rest of the case does fine. Ifans is just retreading old ground but is sympathetic enough in the form of Connors, the man who just wants a “world without weakness” and struggles with the moral choices required. Emma Stone does a passable job as Gwen Stacy, though buying her as someone with a superior science mind to Peter is a bit much. Denis Leary, as Stacy’s police chief father, does fine with the limited screen time he receives, though I wonder just what he’s doing charging up to face the Lizard on his own near the conclusion.
Martin Sheen does his usual fantastic job as Uncle Ben, playing him in a bit of a harsher manner than Cliff Robertson did. Again, I was u happy with his lack of screen time. Sally Field as Aunt May has little to do other than fret at a constant rate. No one is really terrible, which is a plus.
The script is decent, nothing to really note there. I do think Koepp did it a bit better, but the writers for this one did Spidey proud, making enough differences so that it at least sounds like a different movie to the 2002 version at times. It’s beautifully shot too, and the locations, especially the OsCorp tower are pretty wonderful sets.
If I had to compare Amazing Spider-Man to another movie, it would probably be Green Lantern, in that it is a straight-forward adaptation of the source material, that takes little risks and is as by the numbers as possible. I felt little excitement watching Garfield in the role, probably because he, like the whole production, is basically telling the same story as Raimi told in a very general way right down to the closing shots of the main character swinging around New York. There is no major change of tone, no radical departures from the norm to differentiate Amazing Spider-Man from its predecessors. Batman Begins retold the origin of Bruce Wayne from scratch after Burton/Schumacher had largely ignored it, with dual timelines, multiple villains used effectively, and a rounded plot that worked extremely well (not to mention better scripts and acting). Amazing Spider-Man just cannot say the same. As a reboot, it has established pretty much the same old Spidey as we are familiar with, the different angle of his parents being underused to too much of an extent.
Amazing Spider-Man strikes me as a film where a lot of set-up is being done, in preparation for the “proper” Spider-Man story in a sequel, one that will have his parents fate and actions at the heart of it as marketing made out. That doesn’t excuse the hum drum approach towards this movie. Worth seeing because, well, it’s Spider-Man, but nothing to get too worked up about either.