I don’t typically start reviews by bluntly stating my opinion, but I feel that in the case of Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-man, no amount of flowery adjectives and complex rhetoric can accurately capture my feelings more than just flat-out stating “good God, this movie is a mess.”
I’m usually the first to defend a Spider-man movie. I’m a huge fan of Sam Raimi’s trilogy starring Tobey Maguire. It’s action-packed and highly character driven without taking itself too seriously. And yes, I know that Raimi’s Spider-man films have gained infamy for their silly moments (or in the case of Spider-man 3, silly hours), but I still feel like they did the character justice and offer everything you would want from a comic book movie. Plus Bruce Campbell’s in them, which is icing on the cake.
Awesome, manly icing of badassery … and chin.
Even with all my admiration for the previous films, I find myself hard pressed to come up with anything in this movie that really works. If I were to describe Amazing Spider-man in a word, it would be contrived. There’s a feeling of artificiality that plagues the whole film with plot developments and character attributes being forced on the audience simply because they move the story along. While the film does a good job building up to Spider-man (Andrew Garfield), his ultimate transition to superhero is abrupt and awkward. Everyone knows by now that it’s the murder of Uncle Ben that drives Peter Parker to a life of crimefighting, which initially manifests itself in donning a mask and hunting the killer, but the whole superhero angle comes off as an obligatory afterthought. The journey from Peter to Spider-man simply feels like going through the motions. He adopts this attitude of “this is what superheros do, so I guess I have to do it too.” There’s one especially frustrating scene where he’s sitting on the bleachers with his girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and basically shrugs and goes “I suppose I have to go protect innocent people now.” It could not be any more disingenuous and fake.
Speaking of fake, I need to talk about the Lizard (Rhys Ifans) for a moment. He’s your stereotypical “villain with a God complex” and though a bit dull and predictable, he proves to be a competent adversary for Spidey. However, he looks pretty silly. It’s to the point that his character design and CGI effects actually undermine his ability to pose a threat. I know that the Spider-man films aren’t exactly held in high regard when it comes to designing their antagonists, but after a Green Goblin that looks like a Power Ranger and a Venom that looks like Topher Grace, you think they would’ve learned by now. It’s hard to take a villain seriously when he looks like the goofy cousin of Toad from the Super Mario Bros. movie.
I also found the relationship between Peter and Gwen to be very forced and surreal. It’s as if the filmmakers took for granted the audience’s expectations that Peter and Gwen would get together and therefore put no thought into the development of their relationship. The movie establishes that Peter has the hots for Gwen and Gwen at the very least respects Peter, but when he finally asks her out, it’s awkward and comes completely out of left field, and she practically leaps at the chance to date him despite no previous indication that she had any interest. Their dynamic as a couple is anything but natural. One minute Gwen’s horrified by Peter’s wounds from a run in with the Lizard and the next, they’re joking around and making out. One minute they’re having a serious talk about the implications of being a superhero then out of nowhere, Peter blurts out, “I like kissing you.” Their whole relationship plays out like a scene from The Room, but without the humour of knowing they genuinely tried to get an emotional response from the audience.
“I should fight crime. Anyway, how is your sex life?”
What disappointed me the most about Amazing Spider-man, however, is that it seems like they kind of missed the point of the titular character. At best, Spider-man is inconsistent. At worst, he’s an insufferable little snot. One thing that I always appreciated about Raimi’s films is Peter’s inherent goodness and selflessness. His personal life suffers dramatically because of his higher calling as a superhero and he struggles with the temptation to just do as he pleases, but that famous theme of great responsibility accompanying great power remains consistent throughout the whole trilogy. This is who Spider-man is supposed to be. People often make fun of Maguire for portraying Spidey as a meek little crybaby, but at least he captures the moral essence of the character.
Besides, only real men cry tears.
They try to establish the Peter of this film in a similar way by showing him sticking up for his bullied peers at the beginning of the film. Even when he gets the ever-loving tar kicked out of him, he doesn’t shy away from doing the right thing and the audiences knows this is a superhero in the making. Then it just disappears. Like any Spider-man origin story, when Peter first gets his powers, he gets a little corrupted and tries to capitalize on his newly-acquired abilities. Then dear Uncle Ben is killed by a thief that Peter could’ve easily apprehended earlier, but refused because he was too proud. In most cases, Peter is devastatingly humbled by this realization and through his own guilt, he learns of his responsibility to protect the innocent even if it means sacrificing his own pleasure.
This doesn’t happen in Amazing Spider-man. Peter refuses to stop a convenience store robbery, which results in Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) getting killed when he attempts to stop the thief, but the way in which the scene plays out ends up crippling Peter’s ability to develop properly into Spider-man. In most other Spidey origin stories, Peter is not present when Uncle Ben is killed and he flies into a vengeful rage when he finds out. It’s only when he finally tracks down the criminal that Peter realizes the murder was indirectly his own fault and he experiences the emotions necessary to put him on the path towards becoming a superhero. In Amazing Spider-man, Peter witnesses the murder and his immediate desire for revenge overpowers those essential feelings of remorse and accountability. To make matters worse (MINOR SPOILER) Peter never ends up finding Ben’s killer, so there’s no closure and he can’t move on. As mentioned earlier, he ends up becoming Spider-man kind of inadvertently and once he takes up the superhero mantle, he’s still driven largely by personal reasons rather than a responsibility for the safety of his fellow man. Sure, he saves the occasional innocent bystander if it’s convenient for the plot, but this Spider-man is not about protecting the innocent. He’s just out to take care of his own problems so he can feel better. Because he’s driven by selfish reasons, Spidey becomes a selfish character, who seemingly puts more people in danger than out. For example, a key reason why Spider-man keeps his identity secret is so he can protect his loved ones from his enemies. It’s noble, it’s selfless, and it’s what a superhero would do. In this movie, however, Spider-man carelessly reveals his identity to pretty much everyone under the sun, completely unaware of the dangerous burden he’s placed on them. He only hides behind a mask to protect himself because after all, Spider-man only exists in this movie so that Peter Parker can sleep better at night.
Sweet dreams, jerk!
You’re probably wondering if there’s anything I actually enjoyed about this movie. There are a few things. I really liked the action scenes. They’re well-filmed and the choreography is remarkable. With the exception of the unholy offspring of the Rancor and Barney the Dinosaur that is the Lizard, I thought the visual effects were stunning as well. The acting is quite decent. I found Andrew Garfield to be pretty awkward at times, but everyone else does a good job. I especially commend Martin Sheen and Denis Leary for their portrayals of Uncle Ben and Captain Stacy respectively. Both characters are far more fleshed out than their previous film incarnations – most notably Ben, who died in Raimi’s trilogy before my Yogen Fruz melted – and both actors rise to the occasion. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to compensate for all the film’s weaknesses.
The Amazing Spider-man misses its mark on so many levels. It’s like they were so desperate to get from point A to B, they didn’t put any thought into what happens in between. So much of what goes on in this film feels shoehorned in and the pacing leaves much to be desired. The film can’t decide how to handle its titular character and ends up making him a self-centered turd, who only lifts a finger for others when the script calls for it. The supporting cast, while enjoyable, are ultimately reduced to a bunch of Yes Men, who exist to keep reminding the audience that Spider-man is in fact the good guy because the film does such a poor job of showing us. When a superhero movie has to resort to this, it has failed.
I give it 2.5/5.