The Amazing Spider-Man is one confused mixed bag of a superhero movie. The first ten minutes say a lot about the dramatic tone that director Marc Webb was most concerned with establishing, although much of that particular air of self-seriousness just kind of lays limp, waiting for the next intermittent scene of humor to relieve the audience’s yearning to just have a good time. It’s true that the film only seems to pop when it lets loose the shackles of this oh-so-personal Peter Parker origin story. Indeed, the film covers much of the same ground that Raimi’s first film did… too bad it seems laborious here – that is, until the talking CG lizard turd shows up to declass the proceedings. Yet through it all, there are plenty of moments in the film that work: actors who brighten up a scene, genuinely funny audience-friendly bits, and Spidey images that are just neat to see. It’s just too bad that one can’t sift the good stuff through a strainer and leave out the celluloid fat.
The script’s pork lies mostly in this backstory that reinvents Peter (Andrew Garfield) as a loner orphan who conveniently finds a nondescript parcel belonging to his long-lost father, whose tale once paralleled a comic story that cast him as an American spy (itself an orphaned subplot cut out for the theatrical release), which leads Peter to conveniently jump to the conclusion that he should investigate and get this plot a-rolling. Lucky for him, the popular gal he’s got his eye on, Gwen Stacy (charmingly played by Emma Stone), is a lab intern for Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), the very man Peter is seeking out because he worked with his father. Though the i’s are never dotted for Peter – or the audience – in this particular deadbeat dad/coworker relationship seemingly so key to the story, a common intellectual ground is found between the two while the inquisitive teenager is visiting the company that the one-armed scientist works for, Oscorp (cue sequel clues here). Soon, Peter is bitten by a radioactive spider at the lab and we’re off to the races, crossing off iconic character moments like a checklist (Uncle Ben dies, Peter seeks revenge and discovers powers while trying out his new alter ego) that eventually lead to the showdown between the now-vigilante Spider-Man and the Lizard, a mutated Dr. Connors who seeks the new evolution of mankind through cross-species DNA mumbo jumbo.
Clocking in at the theaters at fifteen minutes beyond two hours, the picture shifts from serious land to B-movie mayhem at around the halfway point and really doesn’t stop smelling funky from there on in. The lizard is a mess – looks-wise, as well as in his poorly laid out intentions. The computer-generated villain mugs for the camera aplenty, with Ifans’ voice absurdly spouting out dialogue that only underlines how dopey the end result is in comparison to the brooding drama that makes up much of the rest of the picture. Spider-Man himself barely grows out of his young cocky mode before becoming a non-expressive digital stuntman in much of the film’s finale. It’s too bad, because Garfield has it in him to be a good Peter, albeit a different one than we’ve seen before. Stone, along with Denis Leary as her father, provide the most well-acted scenes with Garfield that honestly work and provide the best backbone the flick possesses. Unfortunately, the cast’s keen chemistry ends with Aunt May and Uncle Ben, both played by terrific actors (Sally Field and Martin Sheen, respectively) who are never given the right chance to connect with the warmth and emotionality of their characters.
As in most cases with Marvel movies not made in-house during this time, there’s just something off with this Spidey outing that hurts it in the long run. Many will say it’s missing the fun that Raimi effortlessly brought to the character – a shared ingredient that made The Avengers such a crowd-pleaser. Comparisons aside, The Amazing Spider-Man just seems like too much of a compromised product. Its former indie director wanted it to be one thing, yet by definition of a modern superhero film, was forced to include expensive action regalia that he wasn’t cut out to handle. Perhaps the film will end up being a necessary studio sacrifice just to continue on with the character in future outings. In that case, it’ll be interesting to see what they learn from this semi-honorable, but ultimately shabby effort. leave a comment --Jeremy Wheeler