Here’s the deal with Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-Man”: it’s good; it’s fine. There is, however, a but. We’ll get to that. There’s web-slinging adventure, a good amount of fun, and some wonderful actors giving solid performances. Andrew Garfield has the wise cracking, awkward loner thing down pat, and pulls off a near perfect Peter Parker. Emma Stone’s take on Gwen Stacey is charming, adorable, and in a couple moments, heartbreaking. This isn’t a perfect movie, by far, but overall “The Amazing Spider-Man” ends up a decent summertime popcorn movie. But, is fine good enough for Marvel? Will decent cut it? Given the hot streak they’ve been on, especially with the massive success of “The Avengers”, this will never be more than a slight disappointment.
You spend the bulk of “The Amazing Spider-Man” wondering if this is really necessary, and the film never quite crawls out of the shadow of being a reboot. The story is so familiar, as are the primary characters, that even while you’re being entertained, you can’t shake the sense you’ve been through this all before. There’s not anything new or different about Webb’s picture to set it apart. There are attempts to differentiate the plot from previous versions of the Spider-Man origin story, but they don’t do the trick. Fanboys everywhere raised a ruckus when they found out that there would be more emphasis placed on Peter Parker’s parents rather than Aunt May and Uncle Ben, as is the standard. And honestly that element is tacked on and creates more problems that it solves.
What “The Amazing Spider-Man” does is insert the additional factor of Peter’s scientist father (Campbell Scott) and mother (Embeth Davidtz) running off and leaving the young boy with May and Ben (Sally Fields and Martin Sheen, who, again, both give solid performances). If you were to edit any mention of his parents out of the film, you’d be left with the Spider-Man story you already know: nerd with a penchant for photography, radioactive spider bite, superpowers, uncle getting murdered by a guy he could have stopped, great power begetting great responsibility. Throw in a pretty girl, shake, and voila, Spider-Man.
The parent issue only confuses the big picture. It is more of an aside, a red herring that is set up to be the main source of conflict, but never follows through. It brings a bit of additional characterization, but also causes the focus to bounce back and forth between Peter’s search for answers and his quest for Uncle Ben’s killer. Because of this the movie meanders, directionless, for too long, you’re not sure what the actual point is. By trying to make “The Amazing Spider-Man” different, they only muddy the waters.
It isn’t until the final third of the movie that “The Amazing Spider-Man” steps up and claims the story as its own. Once all of the comic book set up is left in the rearview, things smooth out somewhat. The relationship between Peter and Gwen is given room to grow, and real-life couple Garfield and Stone show that chemistry on screen. Eventually the plot abandons all the peripheral distractions—which are important to developing Spidey, but presented in a jumbled way—and the plot narrows down to Spider-Man and Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard (Rhys Ifans). When this happens, the pace picks up and carries you on a roller coaster ride towards the end.
What they should have done instead of trying to retell a well-known, oft-recounted origin story, was keep the familiar stuff to a minimum, and focus on what is new. But they don’t, and as a result the most interesting bits of “The Amazing Spider-Man” are compressed and never fully developed. The film is hamstrung before it has the chance to truly take off.
Adding the Lizard into the mix as the villain is a let down. First off the creature looks terrible. In the comics he looks like an actual lizard, here he is a god-awful mess that looks like a burn victim who can’t stop smiling. Scales do not a reptile make. Before he becomes the Lizard, when he’s Connors, he’s just this dude with one arm that mopes around lamenting the fact that he only has one arm, gazing at his stump. You get it; you’re supposed to equate Connors and Peter. Both are after a missing piece of themselves, one literal, one metaphorical. At first you feel for Connors, and you think he’s going to provide some connection to Peter’s past, but his shtick gets tired, and the parent thing falls by the wayside.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” isn’t terrible. There are nice pieces, but they don’t amount to much more than a middle of the road superhero rehash. A too familiar story rebooted too soon, with a lackluster villain, results in a movie that you’ve already seen. At the end of the day, if you’re not overly invested in the source material, this is fun enough action romp. For fans who were hoping for something special, this is not the movie you wanted, and you’ll walk away thinking “The Amazing Spider-Man” should be better.
Marc Webb (director)/James Vanderbilt (writer)/Alvin Sargent (writer)/Steve Kloves (writer)
CAST: Andrew Garfield…Peter Parker/Spider-Man
Emma Stone…Gwen Stacey
Rhys Ifans…Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard
Denis Leary…Captain Stacey
Sally Fields…Aunt May
Martin Sheen…Uncle Ben