Theatrical Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

Peter Parker is having a pretty rough life. As a young boy, his parents suddenly disappear from his life leaving him to be raised by his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Peter’s always wondered what happened to them and has just never found out. As he gets older, he gets pushed around by the school bully, Flash Thompson and has an eye for the alluring Gwen Stacy.

While helping his Uncle Ben with a flooded basement, Peter discovers an old satchel with his father’s initials on it and within, Peter finds some clues that he hopes will help him discover what really happens to his parents. Those clues leads him to Dr. Curt Connors, a lead scientist for the Oscorp Corporation. As Peter starts to investigate at Oscorp, he discovers a room that’s designated by the same project name that his father was working on. Peter goes into the room to discover this amazing web construct made by hundreds of spiders. One of these spiders latches onto Peter and bites him and soon Peter starts to display some amazing abilities. All of which leads him to become Spider-Man and soon on the trail of a new menace, The Lizard, who is in fact a transformed Curt Connors.

That’s the premise to The Amazing Spider-Man, Columbia Pictures re-boot of the film franchise originally started by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire. This new version comes from director Marc Webb (who’s best known for the comedy (500) Days of Summer– which I haven’t seen) and lead Andrew Garfield, who now assumes the role of Peter Parker. Marvel’s The Avengers did damn near everything right for a comic book movie, and now we have this new version of Spider-Man that does everything completely wrong. This is a pretty godawful mess.

Oh, where to start? Well first off, the movie is just plain boring. Almost the entire first hour is spent with re-telling Spider-Man’s origin but this time with the added inclusion of the “mystery” about his parents, which is about as unnecessary as it gets. This mystery isn’t resolved at all and only gets furthered by an extra scene nestled within the film’s end credits. This of course is Columbia trying to emulate what Marvel has done so well in their own films but there’s nothing there to wow an audience into looking forward to the next film. This “mystery” is basically supposed to be the glue for the next two films to follow and it’s just not compelling at all and further it’s just not needed. Everything you need for who Spider-Man is and his reason to be is within the original story that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko told in Amazing Fantasy #15. Expansions on some of that stuff is fine, but additions like the untold story of Peter Parker’s parents just aren’t needed. Whenever this stuff has been done in the comics, it’s always felt to me like it’s more a writer’s attempt to make his lasting mark on the character as opposed to being something that’s really needed. Here it feels the same.

But that’s not all that makes it boring. Marc Webb just isn’t the guy to direct this film. His pacing is meandering with many scenes just having me say to myself “Will you just please get on with it!” His action scenes get interrupted with just totally unnecessary bits of business with a prime example being a bit at the end where Curt Connors in his Lizard form is about to enact a master plan. Spider-Man can’t get to the Lizard in time, but thanks to a group of construction workers who just happen to pull together at various points across the city, Spider-Man makes his way to Oscorp. The thing is, there’s so much time spent glorifying this scene, that it just sort of brings the momentum to what the Lizard was planning to a stop.

Then there’s the characters themselves. Peter Parker was always supposed to be this nebbish kid who was more nerdy than anything else at the start of his story, but that’s not here. This Peter Parker is a sort of an edgy genius who knows all of these amazing things but also happens to just love his skateboard. He gets pushed around by an extremely thuggish Flash Thompson, who seems like he should’ve been in some other film that concentrated more on violent school bullying. Gwen Stacy is all over the map, going from being school ingenue to the super-smart assistant to Curt Connors (well, of course) to just plain goofiness when she interacts with her father. And speaking of that, that just brings to mind one of the very worst scenes in the film- Spider-Man has just had the living crap beat out of him and the first thing he does is go to Gwen. Her father, a captain of the NYPD played by Denis Leary, is coming to her room to basically say they’re making cocoa, and what follows is just some of the most inane dialogue yet- here this dark scene with Spider-Man has just happened, and this bit of “comedy” gets inserted and just feels like it was written for another movie entirely. Of course what really takes the cake in the comedy department is a scene that’s entirely unintentional (at least to me) as comedy, and that’s the discovery of what the Lizard formula has done to a lab mouse. This is supposed to be horrific, but it just came off as hilarious, and again, entirely out of place.

Spider-Man is supposed to be a fun character and Marc Webb and the assorted writers of this piece have done everything they can to just suck the fun right out of the character. They try to give Spider-Man his funny lines during his action sequences, but as delivered by Garfield (who is a fine young actor, but just totally miscast for this film- as is the entire cast) they come off as obnoxious. Spider-Man is a character who operates during all times of the day, but here it’s mostly done at night, mostly done (I figure) to hide the “seams” in the effects, but also to add something that more dark in the atmosphere which just isn’t right. Spider-Man operates out of New York City, but there’s very little here that says this is New York City at all, it just feels generic, and if it was all more New York-centric, it would’ve added to the fun. And for all of the times that Spider-Man has his mask taken off in public here, you’d figure that some enterprising New Yorker would’ve at least caught it on video- well, I would’ve figured that. I’m really starting to get tired of this trend of the hero in a comic book movie having to reveal his face in climactic action scenes, it’s the one little complaint that I have with The Avengers, though due to that movie’s sheer drive, it’s not as bad. But in The Amazing Spider-Man Peter Parker has to show his face quite often when he’s in costume- it’s not necessary and it feels more like it’s a stipulation in Andrew Garfield’s contract more than it’s vital to the story. And most egregious, there’s no J. Jonah Jameson at all in this story. J. Jonah Jameson, as long time Spider-Man fans know, is the publisher of the Daily Bugle and pretty much begins his tirades against Spider-Man right from the start. He’s also one of the most fun characters that’s ever been in the series and as far as I’m concerned just as important to the series as Spider-Man himself. I’d figure that Jameson would probably be set to be included in sequels, but maybe not. Who knows? Maybe they saw him as too much of a clown to be included in this darker and grittier version of Spider-Man.

Everything is lackluster here, even a score by James Horner that you’d never know was a score by James Horner, except for being told so in the end credits. About the only positive thing I can say is that the 3D was pretty good in some of the action scenes, but they are few and far between.

Getting back to the casting, I suppose the idea of casting Rhys Ifans as Curt Connors was supposed to help give this a little more gravitas than anything else. Ifans is a good actor, but here he just seems overtly pretentious. And his transformation as The Lizard, well overall physically it’s quite imposing, but when you get to the Lizard’s face, it’s just doughy and stands out like the literal sore thumb.

Earlier this year, I thought I’d seen the worst movie I was going to see this year with The Hunger Games. I really thought a movie was going to have to work extra hard to be worse than that. The Amazing Spider-Man does it with ease. This movie is so ill-conceived on every level that it makes Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 look like a masterpiece. If you’re going to re-boot a film franchise that already was a proven winner, then maybe you should be looking at the things in that franchise that worked and still retain them. Here, it looks like Columbia, Webb and everyone involved were looking at what they could do to just make it different and not retain a thing that made it special. In the process, they made a movie that’s just not any fun at all and is more boring than anything else.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

08. July 2012 by Darren Goodhart
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