When it was announced that Sony would be rebooting the Spider-Man franchise after they came into creative squabbles with director Sam Raimi, I’ll admit that like most I wasn’t pleased in the slightest. But perhaps the biggest disappointment was the fact that Raimi would no longer have his chance to make up for the badly received last installment in the Spider-franchise. Instead, that laid in the hands of new director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer).
Now, here we are some years later and the reboot has formed to a point where most people can at least accept the notion of the relaunch, while others still remain devoted to the original trilogy of films. Regardless, for the first time in five years the wall crawler is coming back to the big screen with The Amazing Spider-Man in an origins tale that we only saw 10 years ago. With an interesting troupe of actors, and sandwiched between two monumental superhero tentpoles, can Sony pull off their controversial move of pushing the restart button on the web slinger?
At it’s core, The Amazing Spider-Man suffers from a number of things. The script feels all too familiar and choppy to really push the film into great standards, the villain comes off as one of the weakest. But perhaps the biggest crime the reboot has is blending various elements that audiences have fallen in love with before from the first two Sam Raimi outings and rehashing them with new tones and faces. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film for what it was worth, and the ensemble this time around is much better suited to portray the characters at hand. But, at the end of the day there are plenty of scenes that make this reboot feel more like a copy and paste remake that allows little creativity to burst through.
There’s a lot you can easily praise about The Amazing Spider-Man. If one thing is undeniable, it’s that the film has a big heart. So big, in fact, that it can get a bit cheesy at times. It’s that emotional tie to Peter Parker that certainly serves as a path for most of the film, and Andrew Garfield does it justice. There’s something just undeniable charming about the kid that he does so well as Peter. Then again, there are mixed elements included that the heart goes for that you’re simply supposed to fall in line with. With the theatrical verison, it feels as if there have been some things left on the cutting room floor that easily could have explained a great deal of the pieces left out of the movie.
Gwen and Peter’s relationship feels rushed, especially as she makes the conscious decision to fall completely for the guy after he unmasks himself. I’d like to imagine that there’s some deleted scenes that better explore the psyche of Gwen, but for the better part of the film she does distance herself from Mary Jane by proving to stand on her own in a heroic sense. She’s not simply there as a love interest and to be nabbed by villains, which by the fourth film in a franchise is a thankful change of pace. But with so much time focused on Peter, it seems like at times Gwen’s mind is outweighed by her love-filled heart. While it sort of evens out later on, it’s the earliest parts of Peter and Gwen’s relationship that just feel almost as awkward as Peter’s proposal to go out sometime.
Perhaps the main challenge in Spider-Man’s origins is finding an incredibly interesting way to tackle Uncle Ben. Unlike the same courtesy the first film had, now its a wide known concept that the character of Ben always has to die in the beginning of Spidey’s coming-of-hero tale. And while Martin Sheen is absolutely phenomenal as the ill-fated surrogate father, the scene in which Ben dies is a carbon copy of the story every fan is used to by now. Regardless of how it plays out, the death itself doesn’t come as surprising or shocking which leaves a bit of an emotional gap in terms of a big reaction that it should provoke out of the viewers.
On a side note, and really nod to the bad script, did anyone else notice that Spider-Man just sort of stops looking for his Uncle’s killer like it’s no deal? He goes through the same round of criminals in his early days, driven by the need to bring the man who shot his innocent uncle to justice. And that happens up until the cops take notice. After that, it’s just dropped. Personally, I believed the film would bookend by having the newly changed and responsible hero come across the guy, but turns out it just was not the case. It was just left up in the air…
Where the true emotion (and really, the most emotion I felt during the entire film) ends up peeking through is in the aftermath of Ben’s end. There’s something both relatable and heartbreaking to see Peter grasping his cell phone in tears over a voicemail Ben left him, and something easily sympathetic in how Flash’s bullying turns around as Peter goes from threatening him to a dysfunctional man-hug. It’s there where you may grow the first true bond with the character of Peter, and it’s enough to really feel satisfying for a good portion of the feature.
The villain, on the other hand, is not so sympathetic. Dr. Connors in every sense feels like a mix between Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock but without ever really feeling threatening. Connors is a scientific mind that Peter can connect with on an intellectual level (Ock), while he’s also modified genetically by scientific research under Oscorp after his experiments are shut down before human trials can begin (Goblin). He even has a personal vendetta against Oscorp that oddly enough turns into a desire to turn the city into cross species animals like himself just…because. I’m not saying that Connors isn’t the weakest villain the franchise has brought yet to date (Hello, Sandman or even Green Goblin 2.0), but Lizard is certainly lacking in very crucial places.
We don’t get to ever feel compassion that Connors is losing a limb, or that even his work is being shut down. It all just feels boring until he transforms into The Lizard. After that…the only real thing propelling the character is the Peter’s connection to him. There’s no lost love story; there’s no tie to a best friend. He’s just sort of there. The Lizard is really just any kind of antagonistic force for the sake of having a villain. And in a movie that’s already filled to the bone with plotlines, it’s Connors that feels the rockiest in respective areas.
Among the crowded film, there’s more of an emphasis on the man behind the mask rather than Spider-Man himself, as we simply see the titular hero in his amateur form. We never get to see the impact he has on the city, and maybe that’s due to the lack of local circulation The Daily Bugle. With no J. Jonah Jameson in sight, instead that task of calling out Spider-Man lies on the shoulders of Captain Stacy. Stacy is in the film as a whole for perhaps 15-20 minutes of the movie, and is mostly a toss-away tale in terms of screentime. It’s not until the climax that Stacy proves his worth, and he actually has two moments that may just be the most surprising of the film. However, had he been delivered as a character with enough of an importance there may be some emotional resonance with either. Instead, they simply come off on a much more scaled down level than they should be. Still, Leary’s role has at least some minor impressions that certainly try to make up a rough start.
So yes, the film has a script that feels like a mess. But it’s Webb and the actors that actually improve upon that story to a great extent to make the problems all just feel so minor. Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Peter is fantastic. He hits every high note that he should, and proves how right he is to helm the franchise. Garfield is on screen for nearly every single second, and makes the most of his presence. Emma Stone has fantastic chemistry with Garfield, and that’s easily what masks some of the clunky teenage romance beginnings.
Webb’s direction is a bit of a half and half. Some of the scenes, such as those set in the high school and have the human appeal, are done fantastic as the helmer is best with just simple human interaction. It’s the action sequences where things can get a little bit iffy. There are some fast-moving scenarios filled with CGI that come off as almost a blur at times with the up-close-in-your-face style that doesnt’ quite grasp the full picture. Then there are some times where it feels as if that same concept helps connect you closer to Peter as you feel nearly behind the mask. It’s ultimately a toss-up.
But as said, what Webb does best is evoke the best performances from each actor. Even the more minor roles such as Sally Field as Aunt May all leave you blown away and almost feeling certain that it’s certainly an improvement upon the original cast. The only thing that needs to happen is create a better skeleton that feels like a fresh take rather than a “second verse same as the verse”. Honestly, that seems to be no real problem now that The Amazing Spider-Man is out of the way. From here the newly rebooted series can go anywhere it wants to. With the origin out of the way, there are certain hints within the film that point to a sequel. While this new trilogy may want to pace itself, the origin out of the way certainly leaves the opportunity to go where ever now with these established characters.
I hold Spider-Man to a high bar, because as a kid I was never really into Marvel superheroes until the first film turned me on to the spectacular world of Peter Parker. Spider-Man 2 still remains to this day one of my favorite sequels ever, and it holds a special place in my fanboy heart. Going into The Amazing Spider-Man, I wasn’t hoping it would reach that high. The most I was praying for was that it just didn’t suck as bad as Spider-Man 3. And for the most part, it doesn’t. At face value, The Amazing Spider-Man is at the very least enjoyable and watchable. But what might irk me the most is the fact that this doesn’t feel like a reboot. With plenty of the material seen before, it feels more like simply a remake. Did we have to go in depth to the story of Spidey’s origins once more? No. And for the most part, the film keeps that to a minimum by trying to package that in as small of a box as it can. But there are plenty of elements that feel like they’re dragging us through the same story over again that the feature doesn’t suck you in as much as it should be.
Overall, The Amazing Spider-Man has fantastic performances, plenty of heart and emotion, and those combined elements are certainly enough to distract you from the script that feels like recycled stories from the franchise’s past and in plenty ways just a familiar mess. My review sounds incredibly negative because the parts that are running this machine are all cogs that we’ve seen before but simply painted a different color. But, it’s what the film succeeds in doing that people are really taking notice to, and allows various audiences to walk away feeling satisfied. As the beginning of something new, The Amazing Spider-Man works. In its quest to convince fans that the franchise has shown a drastically different version of Spidey than we’re used to where it crashes and burns.