The Amazing Spider-Man

Bland corporate thrills meet edgeless romance!
★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
2012
Director: 
Marc Webb
Starring: 
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Dennis Leary
The Setup: 
Relaunch of Spider-Man movie series with a new cast.
Discussion: 

Okay so you know the deal, they're retelling Spider-Man's origin story only ten years after the last round. Apparently because it was quite lucrative, and if Sam Raimi's no longer an option, why wait on ceremony? There's money to be made. So they brought in a director who had only done one indie romance, recast the whole thing, and here we are. I was cynical, but became interested when it seemed it could be pretty decent. And the good news is that it's not bad. Unfortunately, the bad news is that it's not good.

We open with a dark night when young Peter Parker's parents' home lab is broken into, they whisk him over to Uncle Ben and Aunt May's, and split. Then Andrew Garfield as Peter is beaten for defending a bullied boy, and cute Gwen Stacy likes him, and he finds a secret file of his parents, which leads him to Oscorp, on a tour led by, surprise, Gwen Stacy. You might find yourself surprised by Oscorp's sad state of security. Peter wanders off, finds genetically-engineered spiders spinning super-silk [that he ends up using for his webs, a convenient two-fer], Peter gets bitten, blah, blah. He finds himself with super-strength, which causes him to break numerous household appliances that never seem to become an issue. He also involuntarily sticks to things, which conveniently vanishes within moments. He gets comeuppance to the bully from earlier, but seems to me that guy deserved far worse.

So Peter is being a slightly irresponsible, which leads, through trumped-up circumstances, to Uncle Ben buying it. The way it's handled here is short on pointed moments, and personally, if this is going to become Peter's central life trauma and be the primary motivator to his life of crime-fighting, I'd like a dash more drama. Aunt May also adjusts to being a widow in a blip's time. Peter goes around looking for the guy that killed Uncle Ben, slowly and directionlessly drifting into crime-fighting. By the way, this film exists in the remembered crime-ridden New York of the 70s, where subways are filthy and filled with thugs and lowlifes just waiting for a brawl, and alleys are also rife with criminals who will mass in a moment's time. Eventually he makes his costume [still not convinced any non-seamstress and avant-garde fabric technologies person is inventing THAT suit], evades the police, gets an Internet video, and is considered a menace by the police.

Meanwhile some doctor who knew his parents has used the formula Peter found to try to regenerate his lost arm, making him turn into a giant lizard in the process. He knocks a few cars off the Williamsburg bridge, Peter saves them, but he and the lizard don't have any confrontation. Peter saves some little boy in an unexciting and sentimental sequence. Then it's over and you're like...

THAT was my action scene? That was quite low-energy, low-excitement. Then you start to maybe think: I'm a little uninterested here. The first hour has very little action, with lots of character, but you know, these characters just aren't all that interesting. And besides, we've seen all this before! And not only that, but things just aren't adding up. We never see Peter decide to fight crime, or even decide that he likes it, he just drifts into it. So when all of a sudden he's a police menace and a city-wide sensation, it kind of seems like: But wait, he hasn't even done anything yet. The movie is missing the all-important montage of Spider-Man fighting various criminals and becoming well-known city sensation. And there is a lot, lot of talk scenes [some believe this film is trying to skew Twilight-ward in its focus on emotion], and while they don't bring the movie to a halt, they bring it to a near-standstill. And even with all this, it still ultimately seems like some crucial scenes are simply MISSING. Things just don't add up, the characters and scenes are bland. And then you start looking at your watch. And you start thinking "This is REALLY LONG."

Eventually it comes to a climax that isn't bad--but also isn't good. By now one has cause to admire the few new things this movie has brought to the mix. The most enjoyable for me was a much greater fluidity to Spider-Man's movement, with him doing graceful, acrobatic flips and skittering up and around walls and ceilings in a convincing way, the camera often following him around in loop-de-loops. I'm still not quite sure how his adhesive powers work through tennis shoes, but I guess that's one of those givens along the lines of the Hulk always maintaining his pants. His swinging through the city is also more fluid and approaches the gracefulness I missed from the Raimi films, and the city has been reimagined from the amber sunlit world to a cool blue nighttime city that is appealing. Nice, but just slight shadings on what we've seen before.

Then there's the lack of action, and low-key nature of the action scenes. I was ready to accept that maybe they were going for the feel of ordinary people caught up in bigger-than-life circumstances, but if so, the result is a flat feeling where the pulse gets only gently elevated. I appreciate that the whole movie has shape and the climax is the biggest action scene--if also, a bit of a blip--quickly over, and back to talking. Maybe this represents the tastes of younger audiences, who distrust bigger, over-the-top action and traditional story markers? I have noticed a lot of reviews citing the "corniness" of the Raimi films. But, maybe I'm old and tired, but if we're talking about larger-than-life events, I don't mind a little drama. Or excitement? Or something other than bland characters having endless bland conversations?

My impression--and this is all pure speculation--is that Sony hired indie director Marc Webb to bring some character focus to the thing, then undermined that throughout by groupthinking him toward safe choices. The script is credited to three writers, but has the sense of a draft by one passed to the other, and then to the other, all edges neatly sanded smooth. The only reason this exists is to continue the revenue stream into Sony's coffers. It's a safe, corporate entertainment designed to please the greatest amount of people possible--pandering not just to the United States, but required to be generic enough to please audiences in Japan and India and suchlike--and it really seems like it. It's just plain bland.

Should you watch it: 

The best reason to see this is air-conditioning.