This needed to be better.
There’s very little to get excited over in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” the needless reboot directed by Marc Webb. Well, maybe the cast. It’s got a fantastic cast, including Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Dennis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, and of course, C. Thomas Howell. No Spider-Man film is complete without the Howell.
The score by James Horner is interesting. Nowhere near as iconic as Danny Elfman’s theme, but strong nonetheless, and something that is a fun listen on its own. Horner does some interesting, unpredictable things with his score, but I only wish he had pushed himself further. I recently re-watched the Spider-Man films, and listening to the music still sends chills down my back. It is sweeping, epic, and truly elevates the emotion as any great score should. Watching the teaser trailer for Spider-Man 2 gave me goosebumps in a way that “Amazing Spider-Man” failed to do.
It’s no secret that Sony had to churn out another Spider-Man film in order to maintain the property, but what’s baffling is that they made the decision to completely start over as opposed to simply making Spider-Man 4 with a new cast & director. There’s absolutely nothing in this film that you haven’t already seen. Granted, you can say that about a lot of superhero films, but this piggybacks so aggressively on the goodwill of the first batch of Spidey films. Sure, some ingredients are different, but the outcome is indistinguishable. I know I should view this film as a standalone product, but it makes it very difficult to do that. There are some moments in the film that are genuinely good (all of which are in the first half), and some aspects that are superior to the original, like the acting at times, which renders “Amazing Spider-Man” the worst kind of bad film. One that is so infuriating, pointless, and worst of all, forgettable.
An example is how the film depicts the death of Uncle Ben. I won’t spoil it specifically, but for a scene that should be the dramatic centerpiece of this story, it lands with a thud. It’s a scene that should lead Parker to become the hero he does, yet here, it could have been removed completely and barely anything would have been affected. It’s ultimately inconsequential to the proceedings. Many emotional beats strangely play out this way, too. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the quick moment of Connors looking at a reflection of his arm in the glass. A moment that could have been chilling, somber, and foreshadowing has no time to breathe, cheapening the moment and denying its dramatic potential. However, the relationship between Peter and Gwen is effective, the actors bring a poignant tenderness to the characters, and it is probably the one few moments I felt invested. Peter reveals to her that he is, in fact, Spider-Man early on, a nice alteration to the sub-plot. Despite the fact that this is a C-rate retread, the actors make it palatable.
Rhys Ifans fares the worst out of the bunch, which is no fault of the actor. He tries his best with what he’s given, but is betrayed by the writers and director. The whole design of the Lizard is atrocious, and his actions are bewildering. I couldn’t figure out if he was a good guy with a horrible problem or a bad guy whose intentions are amplified once he’s exposed to the reptile serum. And to be honest, I don’t think the film knew, either. The film never builds any tension to the transformation of this beast. Connors just one night becomes the Lizard. So much of this film is “borrowed” from other, superior superhero films that it begs the question, why didn’t they just “borrow” the balance from the first Spider-Man. It’s pretty much the same character. Scientist has created a new formula/weapon. Scientist is faced with the threat of termination. Scientist is forced to prove worth by injecting himself with said formula. Results are menacing. But just so we won’t realize, the film throws in a little Magneto from the first “X-Men” film, in which the Connors plans to turn all of New York into Lizards by unleashing the formula from a device located on top of the Oscorp building. Why didn't he just unleash a gas that would cause everyone's arm to fall off? Anyway, Lizard escapes an attack at one point by spraying a team of officers with the gas, and we witness them in the first stages of transformation, but never again. They disappear completely from the plot, a serious missed opportunity for a horrifying scene. I would have loved to watch Spider-Man battle a group of lizard-men. Hell, they made ACTION FIGURES of the lizard squad, after all. There are moments when Connors is arguing with his other side, yet is no where near as brilliant as the scene-chewery of Willem Dafoe.
I want to discuss briefly the character of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. It has been said for months that this version would be more faithful to the wise-cracking Spidey from the comic source. However, despite a couple quips here and there, he’s really no more of a humorist than Tobey Maguire. And at least Raimi’s films were tonally consistent. And genuinely funny. Raimi’s touch heightened the thrill, whether it’s Peter initially attempting to shoot his web off a building, or the hospital scene from Spider-Man 2, or yes, even the dancing scenes in Spider-Man 3, something I will never stop defending. But that’s an argument for another article. Regrettably, like the character of Connors, Webb’s film can’t decide whether it’s a more grim and realistic approach (Batman Begins) or a lighthearted affair (Raimi). In fact, Garfield is significantly more dour and angsty than Maguire ever was, which only is appropriate in the scenes between Parker and Uncle Ben, played by Martin Sheen.
Watching “Amazing Spider-Man,” I was sort of reminded of J.R.R. Tolkien. There are scenes of action, but then a couple moments later, a character will explain to another IN DETAIL exactly what just happened, as if you weren’t present. Tolkien can get away with that because he’s an supremely elegant writer. Webb, unfortunately, is a sloppy action director and has no grace whatsoever. Honestly, the scenes between the actors are more compelling than the clumsily dull, careless action sequences, which have no sense of danger or a sweeping, grandiose scope. Thankfully, the POV shots that we saw in the trailer are only used twice briefly. The 3-D is just pretty good; there’s one shot in particular where he’s jumping off a building, looking down that was effective. More shots like that would have helped. A lot.
Where’s the prestige? Where’s the zeal? I’m baffled at the ineptness of this film. So many obvious choices were blatantly disregarded. Having Peter discover his powers in some abandoned factory while skateboarding is not as exciting as Peter wandering the city, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, scaling the city walls. The effects may be dated in Raimi’s films somewhat, but there’s an undeniable power and a passionate enthusiasm to every frame. It’s impossible not to smile at the sincere devotion everyone involved obviously had and felt towards the character. I realize I've made a lot of comparissons between the films, but that's only because it fails to try something different. If they would have gone "The Incredible Hulk" route, we wouldn't be having this conversation. That film served as a loose reboot/sequel and for the most part, it worked. "Amazing Spider-Man" is like watching a mediocre cover band sing your favorite Beatles songs. Of course you're going to compare the two, and in the future, you'll just listen to the original songs. Same applies here.
Marc Webb was simply a director for hire, and the film is a simple paint-by-numbers that won’t be remembered years down the road. Hell, even writing this review a day later, I’m struggling to remember certain stretches of the film.