The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
written by: Steve Loves, James Vanderbilt & Alvin Sargeant
produced by: Avi Arad, Laura Ziskin & Matt Tolmach
directed by: Marc Webb
rating: PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence)
runtime: 136 min.
U.S. release date: July 3, 2012
It’s been five years since Sam Raimi ended his “Spider-Man” movies with the awful “Spider-Man 3” and ten years since he started it all with a movie simply called “Spider-Man”. No “Amazing” needed. It certainly wasn’t a perfect movie, but it was fun and had an infectious style and tone about it. Raimi’s best though was his first sequel, “Spider-Man 2” and with the second sequel leaving everyone sour, Columbia Pictures felt it was time to spin a reworking of the iconic character for a brand new audience. Maybe. My gut feeling is that they just wanted to put out another Spider-Man movie before the rights went back to Marvel Studios (who are currently doing pretty “amazing” on their own in the superhero genre). So, in an effort to continue they decided to reboot the franchise, or rather remake it. Actually, the more I think about it, rehash is more appropriate word. “The Amazing Spider-Man” certainly boasts a better cast, has superior special effects that really dazzle, but the story just winds up being all too familiar. How could it not, when it’s essentially telling the same story?
That’s not to say it’s not a good movie. It is a good movie. It’s just not great. But it could be. It should be. I mean, it’s Spider-Man after all. Okay, to be fair – everything isn’t the same as the first movie – it just kind of feels like it though.
Granted, there are some new twists to the origin tale of our conflicted teen hero, but most of it felt like the same beats falling into place in different ways. It’s all entertaining, yet applying a new coat of paint on what already exists, doesn’t change the fact that it’s just a new coat of paint. I suppose it seems odd then to say I liked what I saw, it’s just that I wasn’t amazed by any of it, since the overall package wasn’t anything that new.
We know that Peter Parker was raised by his loving uncle and aunt, but this movie starts out by expanding on that a bit more. As a child, his scientist father, Richard (a nice cameo by Campbell Scott) mysteriously left him with his brother – that’s Peter’s Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and his wife, Aunt May (Sally Field). We learn it was for the boy’s own safety, but we’re never told why and next thing we know, Richard and Peter’s mother Mary (all-too brief Embeth Davitz) leave with no definitive plans to return. Maybe it had something to do with his father’s interest in arachnology. Hmmm….
All this obviously had an effect on Peter, who we now meet during the uncomfortable high school years. Teenage Peter (Andrew Garfield) is a lanky kid who stays out of trouble (the most rebellious he gets is skateboarding in the school hallways), sticks up for those getting picked on by the school jock, Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka, “Piranha 3DD”) and has a thing for both science and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a feisty girl who happens to be both a knockout and a science whiz who’s even smarter than Peter. She also happens to intern at Oscorp scientific research facility, which introduces Peter to the one-armed Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who has been studying reptiles in hopes of finding ways to regenerate human limbs. When Peter learns that the enigmatic Connors was a partner of his father’s, he becomes interested in his work, hoping to get a better understanding of his father and his work. the two are impressed with each other and form a science geek bond. While sneaking around Oscorp, Peter stumbles upon a room full of genetically-engineered spiders. One of them sticks with him and winds up biting Peter, giving him extraordinary abilities like wall-climbing and heightened senses which give him impressive reflexes.
We see him work out these newfound abilities in an old abandoned warehouse, gleefully skateboarding and swinging on chains, all to the tune of Coldplay’s “Til Kingdom Come” – a truly cringe-worthy montage.
Feeling responsible for the sudden death of Uncle Ben, Peter sets out to make things right by using his new powers to track down the killer. After a couple of nights out with just a mask, Peter decides to whip up a red and blue skin-tight spider-themed suit (inspired after falling into a wrestling ring – one of many eye-rolling scenes that felt rushed and shoe-horned) and pilfer Oscorp’s own biocable webbing. The gadget geek uses this fluid to his create web shooters to add to his outfit and takes to the skies, roughing up anyone that matches the killer’s description.
Known of his web-slinging antics go over too well with Gwen’s father, who happens to be police Captain Stacy (a fitting and likable Dennis Leary), a man who sees this Spider-Man as reckless and an endangerment to both the police and the public. That certainly makes getting closer to a reciprocating Gwen an even greater challenge.
Meanwhile, Dr. Connors is motivated to test a healing formula (that he and Peter created) on himself when he is told by his superior, Dr. Ratha (the great but underused and incomprehensible Irrfan Khan, “The Namesake”) that funding on his research has been halted. Hmmm, this sounds all-too familiar. Didn’t this happen to Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn back in Raimi’s first film? (In fact, this Dr. Ratha has some kind of indecipherable ties to Osborn – so, the character is in the Spier-Man universe, which will likely play out in the next two films). Well, basically the same thing happens to Ifans’ Connors, who experiences similar unfortunate results when he transforms into a massive creature known as The Lizard. All of this gets to Connors’ head, resulting in him going into “crazy talk” mode with himself, just like Osborn did with his Green Goblin in the Raimi films. Hoo boy. Well, at least Connors/Lizard has enough humanity left in him to drag all his equipment into the city sewers and set-up a lab for himself – not sure when he had time for all that since we don’t see it happen.
When Peter learns what has happened to Connors, he again feels responsible and is compelled to stop The Lizard from turning New Yorkers into superior human beings, aka lizard people. Exhausted and hounded by NYPD’s finest, Spider-Man gets some unforeseen local help (yep, one of them is played by C. Thomas Howell) as he races to an obligatory Lizard/Spider showdown on top of Oscorp tower. Maybe Peter can make everything right, save the city and then get back to figuring out how to get through high school.
The biggest problem with “The Amazing Spider-Man” is its screenplay, which for some reason was written by three writers. Since most of the movie is spent revisiting familiar origin beats, it’s a mystery to me why there was a need for more than one writer. At no point did it feel like there was anything all that different, as far as the Peter Parker/Spider-Man story or the typical superhero ones we’re used to. Does the love interest have to know the main character’s secret identity? Really?
Strangest of all is the inclusion of 85 year-old screenwriter Alvin Sargeant (former spouse of the late Laura Zisken, who produced this movie), who co-wrote all previous Spider-Man movies. I guess there was no need to inject a younger/fresher voice to the reboot. The other co-writers, Steve Kloves (who adapted all the “Harry Potter” movies) and James Vanderbilt (“Zodiac” and “The Losers”) seem to have more than suitable pedigrees that would’ve given Spidey a new spin. Of course, I’m unsure how the writing duties were divvied up three ways, but to include one of the guys who’s already gone three rounds with Spidey, seems like asking Stan Lee to ghost write the screenplay.
There’s no getting around trying to be loyal to the comic book source material, but much of the deja vu here had more vigor to it when Raimi did it. There, I said it. I enjoyed Sam Raimi’s take on Spider-Man and company. Those movies had goofball comedy, vibrant sets and cinematography and manic, semi-horror action (especially in the first sequel) going for it. But it’s the thing now to bash Raimi’s work on the Marvel Comics hero, just because his last one was a mess.
One pet peeve of mine that Raimi’s movies have in common with Webb’s “Amazing” is the constant unmasking of their superhero. I get it. The actor’s face has to be seen for a variety of lame reasons, but it’s just a disservice to the character. Only one time does it actually work in this movie and that’s where Peter voluntarily takes off his make in order to help save a little boy trapped in a car that’s dangling from the Williamsburg bridge. That’s the one and only instance it works. Any other time, I wound up following it with some tired eye-rolls.
What “Amazing” has going for it is a superior cast and some stellar CGI. Basically, every actor here is better-suited for the roles previously played by other actors. Come on, there’s no getting around it – viewers are going to be sitting in the theater, thinking of the other actors that have played these characters.
Garfield and Stone not only have great chemistry together, but they bring a palpable freshness to their individual roles. It’s just too bad that most of the time the screenplay has Garfield doing stuff we’ve seen before, which is probably why his best work can be found in the relationship moments he has with Stone’s Gwen Stacy. In fact, there are times where it really feels like Garfield ups his fame whenever he’s around her. Stone comes across present and alive in each scene she brightens. Like much of her previous work, she really is the best part of the movie. It also helps that the costume designer got everything right with her character too, from the black hairband to the those knee-high socks, she looks just like artists John Romita, Sr. or Tim Sale have depicted her.
Cliff Robertson never really did much for me as Uncle Ben, so it was easy to see Martin Sheen fill the role in such a believable manner. He felt relaxed, patient and someone worthy of respect. Just like I’ve imagined Ben Parker. Unfortunately, Sally Field’s Aunt May isn’t given much to do here except worry about Peter, in stereotypical fashion, each time he comes home all banged-up and bruised. The two of them together though convey a humorous and endearing lived-in quality to their marriage.
As for the villain, Connors’ path just feels too close to Dafoe’s Norman Osborn. In that sense, it just felt like more of the same and I couldn’t help but think what Dylan Baker (who played Connors in the Raimi movies) would’ve done with the role if Raimi had a crack at The Lizard. That being said, the fact that Ifans plays a character who is linked to Peter’s mysterious past makes him quite interesting, but the concept design of his scaly alter-ego is laughable at times.
Director Marc Webb shows that his strength is in characterization and relationships, which is no surprise considering his last film was the wonderful “(500) Days of Summer”. Still, nothing about his action scenes feels unique, but at least the audience is invested in the action because they’re already invested in the characters. Notable on a technical level though is Webb’s use of 3D. Having shot the film in 3D instead of a rush post-conversion, the third dimension rarely feels like a gimmick. As much as one would think that a 3D Spider-Man would emphasize all the swinging and swooping, but here the creativity of it all is most notable in the scenes at Oscorp lab, where we see holographic displays used and a creative sense of depth on display. It certainly makes it an entertaining theatrical experience.
Webb certainly sets everything in place for more films and even has an end credit scene (which oddly showed up in one of the movie’s trailers actually) that didn’t have me all that curious.
Overall, I guess I’m puzzled to find myself kind of on the fence about “The Amazing Spider-Man”. It has its ups and downs, but I guess my familiarity with the material didn’t have me all that excited as I left the theater. As a comics fan, I’m used to reboots, with issue number ones of iconic characters happening yearly. It just doesn’t settle in with me in the same manner when it comes to comics on the big-screen.