A BIT OF HISTORY:
In 2002 Sony and Marvel finally brought the world-famous Spider-Man to the big screen in a high-budget tentpole action movie that went on to spawn two sequels.
The Sam Raimi-directed trilogy most certainly had its flaws (most of them in the final installment), but it helped usher in a new wave of superhero films and more or less captured the essence of its source material while making a ton of money for the studio.
When the time came to start developing the fourth movie, Sony and Raimi had a falling-out concerning the direction of the series and the next villains to be included.
Raimi walked. Or Sony fired him.
Whichever way it happened, instead of finding a new director and carrying on with the films that spanned more than half a decade, Sony opted to reboot the entire franchise and start the whole thing from scratch – new director, new cast, new story.
Film and comic fans alike were outraged at the prospect of restarting a series that wasn’t even ten years old yet, but Sony persevered, hiring (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb to helm the film, casting Andrew Garfield as the new hero, and keeping scribe of the original three films, James Vanderbilt aboard to pen the thing.
In 2012, after all that grief, was it worth it?
Hell no. Not one bit.
The Amazing Spider-Man became the title of Sony’s reboot, and what mess of a movie it turned out to be.
“The untold origin”, as it was sold, is anything but.
After a nonsense prologue in which we discover Peter Parker’s father was some kind of genetic scientist working for OSCORP, ASM falls back into the old routine: Lonely awkward nerd gets bitten by a type of super-spider, his uncle is murdered, he decides to use his newfound powers for good and learns the meaning of responsibility.
This “all-new” take on the Spider-Man mythos turns out to be very close the first Raimi film.
Of course there are some minor differences. Besides Peter’s parents’ mysterious past, he also builds his own web-shooters now rather than growing the baffling “organic” ones in the Raimi films, the suit’s a tad more stylish, and instead of Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane, we see our hero fawning over Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy.
If there’s anything the film does right, it’s the casting. Stone makes an excellent beauty-nerd and her chemistry with real-life boyfriend Andrew Garfield is mesmerizing to watch on screen. Rhys Ifans does what he can with the thinly-written Dr. Connors and somehow makes him out to be more than the loony one-armed mad scientist he was designed to be. And I cannot stress enough that if ever there was an actor meant to play Peter Parker, it is Andrew Garfield. Not that Tobey MacGuire’s performance was at all bad (except for the third film, in which all things were bad), but Garfield captures perfectly the witty, smart-mouthed, basement scientist that Peter Parker is across most of his incarnations. The film also holds a great supporting cast in Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben and Dennis Leary’s Captain Stacy.
The acting was so good on its own I found myself wrapped up in Peter Parker’s “normal” life and dreading the inevitable moment he’d have to watch his uncle die and put on a silly costume to avenge him. In this way, Webb and his cast do something the original films never accomplished – they created compelling characters that serve as a platform to build the fantastic theatrics on rather than the other way around.
Where The Amazing Spider-Man really falls flat on its face is the story.
The Lizard was rumored to be a possible villain in the fourth Raimi film, and the whole reboot stank of a storyline transplanted to somewhere it didn’t belong. I don’t believe this falls squarely (or even mostly) on Vanderbilt’s shoulders. Major parts of ASM hinted at in trailers (what Peter Parker “really is”) were mysteriously absent from the theatrical cut of the film and storylines that are spun in the first act inexplicably disappear in the second.
The whole film is a jumbled mess and reeks of last-minute studio intervention.
Unfortunately for Ifans, the Lizard just isn’t a character that can serve as a top tier villain, let alone the only villain. It would seem Sony was trying to fix what it believed to be the primary flaw of the abysmal Spider-Man 3 – too many villains. They blamed the failure on quantity rather than quality – The Sandman, main bad guy of Raimi’s third film, will never make a good villain in any way in any movie ever because he’s a guy made of sand. Making him “also the guy who helped the guy who killed Uncle Ben” does not give him more depth, it just makes him more annoying and that is why SM3 was doomed from the start.
Now the Dr. Connors had potential. Peter Parker’s mentor transforms himself into a hideous reptilian monster. That’s superhero drama gold! But the Lizard, silly raving lunatic he is, can not be the lead antagonist and this is why: The Doc’s ultimate evil scheme is…wait for it…to turn everyone else into lizard people! Aaaahhhh! He’s so mad! And evil!
And completely, utterly comic book-stupid.
What I mean by that is, sure, that objective could work in a Spider-Man comic book, but never in a live-action tentpole feature film. Especially not one that exists in competition with The Avengers’ Loki and The Dark Knight Rises’ Bane. Spider-Man’s New York City deserves a better class of criminal and while the Lizard makes an excellent CG sewer monster, a criminal mastermind he is not and it was hard to buy into the idea that he would ever succeed in anything he did.
Connors is a great character, and again, Ifans portrays him marvelously, but his reptilian alter ego is better suited as a pawn in a greater game or the second in command to a true villain than as the lead antagonist for Sony’s second try at the franchise.
Amazing Spider-Man isn’t all bad. There’s some nice world-building through continuous references to the omnipresent OSCORP and NYC’s leading news source, The Daily Bugle, and none of it ever feels forced down your throat (I’m looking at you, Iron Man 2). This sets up a great environment to harbor multiple stories across the trilogy Sony has planned. The “Parker conspiracy”, while annoying and jumbled in the theatrical cut, actually does seem like an interesting route to take the new series in, and the new Spidey suit is a great design and the perfect way to separate the reboot from its predecessors. Still, these factors alone aren’t enough to redeem the movie entirely. ASM is Sony’s second chance at giving Spider-Man the big-screen treatment he deserves and there’s really no excuse for the amount of holes the film has.
The all-new Spider-Man isn’t exactly horrible, and not quite unbearable, but it falls far from “amazing”. Start the countdown clock for the next reboot.
2.5 out of 5