By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Sally Field, Martin Sheen and Campbell Scott
Movies are made for a variety of reasons. Most summer films are made to just take the audience on what is often billed as ‘dumb roller coaster fun.’ Almost all the time, of course, they are made for that silver dollar, which is sure to follow the makers and stars as they take the audience on these so-called roller coaster rides in the course of a two hour running time. However, for the life of me, as I sat down to watch The Amazing Spider-Man, I was more than a little baffled as to why Sony Pictures was this adamant on ‘rebooting’ a franchise that is only ten years and three films old, shelling out an estimated $215 million to make it in the process. Then, about an hour into the film, it hit me: ladies and gentlemen, we now have a super hero movie made for the Twilight generation. A film where Captain George Stacy (Leary) is every bit the villain as Ifans’ Curt Connors/Lizard. A film in which everything feels as you would imagine a corporate mandated film would, which is cynical and unnecessary. And, sadly, a film in the super hero genre that just isn’t very good.
What is ungodly bizarre about director Marc Webb’s (yes, that is his real name) retelling of the story is that it pretty much hits all the same origin beats that Sam Raimi’s 2002 original did, if at a bit more of a snail’s pace. Again, was this even necessary? I had so many cases of déjà vu within the course of The Amazing Spider-Man’s 136 minute running time that I wasn’t sure what was causing more headaches: these instances or the film’s more off than on 3D. We have 28 year old Garfield and 22 year old Stone doing their best 1990s Beverly Hills 90210 cast mate impressions by playing high schoolers (as if even more proof has to be made, Garfield’s hair is more than a little reminiscent of sparkly vampire Robert Pattinson’s). Now, I do not want to sound as if there were not any hints of enjoyment here, because, truth be told, Garfield was excellent in the role of Peter Parker. Absent from the big screen since his big break in 2010’s excellent Social Network, Garfield plays Parker as awkward and introverted, which was a welcome contrast to last Spider-Man Tobey MaGuire’s nerdy insecurities. This being said, the first hour of this film was starting to feel so familiar and dark that I was literally expecting him to fall into a pit of spider webs at any moment.
The supporting cast surrounding Garfield was, for the most part, more than adequate. Field is a joy as Aunt May, and Sheen surprised me with his portrayal of the kind hearted Uncle Ben. After all, most of the Spider-Man character evolves from his soft uncle’s words that were uttered so beautifully by Cliff Robertson in Raimi’s first film. Maybe it was just because I was expecting someone to tell him how sweet the smell of napalm was in the morning, but I was really taken in by how Sheen took this performance on. Stone, who has been the go to girl for both quirky comedies (Easy A) and heart wrenching drama (The Help) gets to play Parker’s real first love Gwen Stacy. It is unmistakable that her and Garfield show an unbelievable amount of chemistry, and the scene in which he finally gets the gall to ask her out is hilariously awkward and greatly played by both of them. The performance I was most disappointed in, however, was that of Leary. While his gruff portrayal of Gwen Stacy’s police captain dad George Stacy did make me believe that he would be the type of father who would sit on his rocking chair with a shotgun in his lap waiting for his daughter to come home from a date, I greatly preferred J.K. Simmon’s J. Jonah Jameson, Parker’s hilariously more animated than not human antagonist from Raimi’s films.
I know. It is unfair to compare the two. But, it has to be expected. And, I am probably going to please some by comparing the two and having The Amazing Spider-Man be the benefactor: the villain in this film is much better than the Green Goblin from the 2002 film. While the notion of going crazy is there for both, Ifans’ emotionally damaged Dr. Curt Connors (who was also in Raimi’s trilogy, that time being played by Dylan Baker) has perhaps the most nuanced character arc of the entire movie. Like most emotionally unbalanced comic book villains, Connors’ efforts to improve the world slowly manifests itself into a madly insane plot to take it over. I enjoyed the inference that as Parker was getting more comfortable in his new 8 legged persona; the emotional angst of Connors is slowly taking him over. Also, in a bit of a surprise, I thought Webb’s action scenes were, for the most part, pretty decent. Being directed by the same man whose only other film was (500) Days of Summer, I half expected the human interaction to carry more emotional depth than the action. But, that wasn’t the case here. I especially enjoyed the car rescue scene and the ‘Spidey POV’ shots. These added a spectacle not seen in a Spider-Man film before, and it was nicely introduced here. However, as already alluded to above, the darker color palette made for some pretty shoddy 3D, and while there were a couple moments of surrealism at its spectacle, the technology is clearly wasted here and comes off as a money grabbing tool more than anything. And, there were times that The Lizard looked way off and even a bit fake.
In the end, while there were some great action scenes and some almost chuckles, The Amazing Spider-Man just comes off as a heartless attempt to capitalize on something we have already seen, with just a little more added in. In fact, the whole beginning involving Peter’s parents literally felt like the writers telling us, the audience, ‘see, we’re doing something different!!’ You haven’t seen this before!!’ I do not like being talked down to as both a film goer and a critic. And, that is exactly what it felt like this film was doing. And, of course, stay tuned for the credits sequence that, as always, sets up a sequel. A sequel that feels as if it is trying to be released as The Dark Arachnid. If this is the beginning of a new trilogy, allow me to crawl back on my web to avoid the other two.
3 out of 5