Pros: Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, good cinematography
Cons: Lazy script, workmanship direction, too soon of a reboot
TLDNR REVIEW: “Amazing Spider-Man” is almost good, just like powdered mashed potatoes are almost real.
Look, guys. I realize that anyone that is reading this review has already made up their mind about seeing the 2012 too-soon reboot about Spider-Man. I get that. There’s absolutely nothing that I can do to sway you one way or another. And, to be honest, there are worse ways of spending ten bucks.
Like seeing “Prometheus”. Boy, that was a dumb movie.
It’s just that, once the post-credit scene rolls, you’ll realize that there wasn’t anything else to say about Spider-Man’s origin.
In this latest entry for the Spider-Man franchise, Andrew Garfield puts on the bright tights under the direction of Marc Webb ( “(500) Days of Summer”). In this incarnation, Peter Parker is an anguished teenager, fraught heavily with parental abandonment issues. When he discovers a leather bag with his father’s initials on it, he is led to Oscorp Industries and Dr. Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans), who may hold the keys to what happened to his father.
Also, Peter gets bitten by a spider, gets super powers, kisses Gwen Stacy, and fights a giant lizard.
There aren’t necessarily two different films here, as the film doesn’t feel atonal nor separate from its halves, but there is a fun half and a hum drum half. It’s just that the hum drum half is the entire set up before the advent of Spider-Man.
I feel quite sorry for Marc Webb, along with screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Steve Kloves, and Alvin Sargent. He has a thankless job of directing a reboot that everyone is asking, “Why is this made?” Although, if judging the reactions from my friends means anything, Spider-Man 3 annihilated any good will for Raimi’s near perfect first two Spider-Man films. And they are near perfect, which makes it very difficult to try and put your own stamp on the material. While the filmmakers make some bold, smart choices in trying to establish an identity beyond what has existed, their choices just aren’t as interesting in execution.
For one decision, Peter Parker is intensely anguished in this film. He’s quiet, tempermental, broody, and mostly joyless when he isn’t doing the wall-crawling bit. His singular focus in the hum drum half is on finding out what happened to his parents. While I can’t necessarily empathize, as I’ve never been orphaned, I imagine that he’s suffering from Batman syndrome and isn’t allowed to think about anything else due to plot dictations. Peter has no friends, kind of talks to the cute girl, and is incredibly hard to penetrate as a sympathetic character. There’s very little to grasp onto when he is by himself.
Peter’s relationship with Uncle Ben and Aunt May is little better. Martin Sheen and Sally Field do serviceable jobs, but there is so little meat to their relationship. While I have no proof behind this, I’m fairly sure Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson (Uncle Ben and Aunt May from Raimi’s trilogy) had less screen time. Harris and Robertson, however, radiated a warmth that just isn’t in this material.
Ben is much harder, especially after a basketball game where Peter humiliates a school bully. While not landing a single punch and simply humiliating good ol’ Flash Thompson, Uncle Ben drops down a gavel of guilt on Peter. Similarly, Ben won’t let May walk twelve blocks to a subway station, despite his wife looking spry and quite youthful, and comes down incredibly hard on Peter when he doesn’t pick her up. This may be just a matter of preference but, when you have a character that is the crux of who your protagonist becomes, you truly need to feel something in order for it to be effective. Here, we understand why it’s sad, but it served more as a perfunctory “We need to get to Spider-Man.”
And that’s kind of my big issue with this film. A lot of the beats here feels perfunctory. We have Peter making the costume (Side note: Thank you for devoting a minute of screen time to the suit. A big qualm with superhero movies as of late is how much effing time they spend on the suits. Here, he just makes it, then back to the film.). We have Peter falling for the girl and vice versa. We have a big training montage. We have Uncle Ben getting shot by a burglar that Peter fails to stop. We even have a moment akin to the New Yorkers throwing bottles at Green Goblin in the first Spider-Man. We have so many moments that we’ve seen before, which were done fantastically. Here, they are placed here because they have to be for some reason.
This presents problems. Because there are so many of these forced beats, there are a bunch of plot things that are thrown WAAAAAAAAAAY to the wayside. For starters, WHAT HAPPENED TO PETER’S PARENTS? I can appreciate ambiguity. I really can. When the main question of the first, I don’t know…HALF OF THE MOVIE is based around the question, you have to come to some sort of feeling of closure. You don’t even necessarily have to answer it, but you have to have your protagonist come to some sort of greater understanding at the end of it, be it emotional or literal discovery of answers. You have to have an answer to what the big question is. While I disliked the first half of this film, you still have an obligation to answer the questions of the most boring part of your movie.
You absolutely cannot leave it uncompleted because you want to hold the answers for a sequel. If you do, you are a money grubbing idiot that is lazy and can’t tell a complete story in one sitting. For all its horribleness and redundant nature, even the Star Wars prequels came to some sort of closure in each film. This trend is unacceptable, but Hollywood will never learn the lesson unless we stop paying them to make DUMB MOVIES LIKE PROMETHEUS BECAUSE WE CAN’T KEEP OUR NERD BONERS TO OURSELVES.
*ahem* Excuse me. Sorry, just gotta get down off my soapbox.
Anyways, there are a tremendous amount of dropped plot threads here. Peter’s parents, Peter getting revenge on the burglar,
SPOILER (Highlight to read)
the mysterious case of dying Norman Osborn, the mysterious serum that Osborn’s henchman had in his ripped apart limo, if that prostitute that guy was beating up in the alley was secretly into S&M…
there were a lot of important threads that were simply not answered. Add to that an incredibly unrewarding quasi-post-credit tag and you get the frustrating nature of the existence of this film. A film that is trying so desperately to tell an original story, yet is still so lazy that it can’t bother itself to keep telling that story.
with all of these frustrations, that’s not to say that there aren’t dynamite decisions within this film. For starters, Andrew Garfield is absolutely fantastic with the material he’s given. When he’s not being required to be sad, I dare say his performance rivals that of Tobey Maguire. Garfield’s shy demeanor, coupled with a kinetic body language and a grin that speaks a billion words is an absolute joy. I hate him because he made me look like an absolute idiot when I was clapping like an idiot when Garfield did anything amazing. When he inhabits Spider-Man, you can absolutely tell it’s him in the suit with the way he conveys his performance through the red-blue layers. The way he moves his knees, his body contortions just in acting…it’s a fantastic performance that would make me come back to this movie.
Add to this the criminally underutilized Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. She seems to be slumming it here as love interest that also happens to be conveniently located and integral at all of the setpieces in the film. Webb and company never put her as an outright damsel in distress, setting her apart from Mary Jane, but she, like a lot of the elements, seems perfunctory. How upset I am, though, that the central plot wasn’t between Peter and Gwen, and what I wouldn’t have given for more Gwen scenes (I wouldn’t have given a lot, actually. It’s just a movie. Maybe, like, five bucks or something, but that’s pushing it).
Primarily, though, the best scenes are between Garfield and Stone. Both of them are perfectly awkward, romanced just the right way towards each other, and just fantastic. They have so much chemistry on the screen, Sweden called in order to announce they have a new element called Garstonium, which is just slightly more obtainable than Unobtainium, but simply due to the fact that they’ve already burned down a billion home trees in order to get it.
Honestly, it is a crime that this film was not about the love story between these two. Yes, it’s been done before, but when you get two actors that are radiating that much off the screen, you should recognize that and recalibrate to those strengths. While the rest of the performances were quite good (dragged down by material that just doesn’t give a crap), it is Stone and, appropriately, Garfield that elevate the material into being something that is quite entertaining to watch.
Again, I can’t sway you to not see “Amazing Spider-Man.” You’ve already made up your mind. And in no way is it a bad movie. You do have really great performances to revel in. It’s just that, when you put the first Spider-Man against this film, Raimi’s version explodes with a vivacious energy that simply does not exist in this iteration. If the ending (and multiple dangling plot threads) are any indication, we’ll be back with Garfield and company in a hopefully much less dour sequel. For now, though, we have this and, for a lot of people, I suspect it will be enough.