When we think of New York’s most famous super-hero, sure, we might imagine the costumed Spidey swinging from building to building and slinging bad guys up in his web. But we also picture his alter ego Peter Parker, whose job is conveniently to take pictures of Spiderman for the Daily Bugle; Peter’s funny altercations with the Bugle’s manager, his slightly tongue in cheek narration, or even his efforts to woo his crush, Mary-Jane. These elements could of course just be construed as personal preference, but the fact is that none of them are present in Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spiderman”, making way for a more somber and brooding experience.
This does of course seem to be what many people want, and what the movie studios feel they want. The latest trend in superhero films tends to involve re-imagining the stories as “dark” as possible, which is all fine and well when it works (incredibly well, for instance, in “The Dark Knight”), but comes off as rather forced and unnerving when applied to familiar tales just for the sake of it. Shouldn’t there be some delight in watching Spiderman? I begin in this harsh way not to undermine the talent and qualities that are indeed present in the film, but simply to point out how it might have been better, and why some may leave with a sense of disappointment.
That being said, let’s consider what we get this time around. The movie begins by showing us Peter Parker as a child, being left in the care of his aunt and uncle (Sally Field and Martin Sheen) by his parents, who mysteriously vanish with no explanation and are never to be seen again. Cut to several years later, with Peter (Andrew Garfield) as an awkward and nerdy high-school student. He’s a loner who gets bullied by the likes of Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka), who is also the boyfriend of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), because the girl always has to go out with a complete jerk before turning to the good guy.
Peter finds his way into the lab of Dr. Kurt Connors (Rhys Ifans), where he gets bitten by the famed radioactive spider and finds himself almost immediately using his newfound, out-of-control powers. Dr. Connors meanwhile, seeking to regrow his arm and eliminate human imperfections, tests a new serum on himself, and turns into the Lizard. Now I get that the stakes have to be high, but his evil plan to turn everyone in the city into creatures like him seems poorly motivated and not especially original. This isn’t really a villain we care about; even the Green Goblin with his motionless mask seemed to have more personality, and Doc Ock (the best villain as of yet) was quite a bit more menacing.
Garfield, on the other hand, has charisma, and does a very good job with the role. Compensating for the fact that he looks like, well, a superhero, he puts on a lot of awkward speech tics and mannerisms. In one of his first significant scenes with Gwen, he stutters and pauses for what seems like forever, and somehow manages to convince us of his implausible geeky persona. Watching him deal with his spidey powers is amusing, but here unlike the Spiderman that Tobey Maguire played, where the spider bite seemed to trigger a 90-degree shift, his new abilities seem more of an extension of who he already was. Except now he can do way fancier skateboarding tricks. We’ve hardly ever seen a regular guy be as awed by his new powers as one would think he should be, and with Peter it’s no different. The more concerning aspect is how fast he and his Aunt May get over Uncle Ben’s death – a sacrifice that must come to teach Peter responsibility. Similarly, later in the film, a different character seems to mourn the passing of a loved one for no longer than the duration of a funeral. Oh well.
Now for those going to the movie for the effects, well, they are as good as CGI can offer, and New York City once again takes a bad beating while a couple of guys swing and thrash around the buildings. But there is nothing here that we haven’t seen done before, and with more fluidity and grace at that, without the constant cutting that is sadly becoming the norm for action sequences. It doesn’t help that after the first act, the plot evolves into not much more than a series of stunt and fight scenes.
“The Amazing Spiderman” can’t really be called a bad film, but it’s not exactly amazing either. Still all to familiar with Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy, which concluded in 2007, we can’t help but feel that this new effort is redundant and somewhat unnecessary. The updates it offers are not particularly interesting, but they have to be there to justify the reboot at all. Most importantly, this movie is a lot less fun than it should be.
Review By Michael Berlind