Synopsis: Peter Parker finds a clue that might help him understand why his parents disappeared when he was young. His path puts him on a collision course with Dr. Curt Connors, his father’s former partner.
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Sally Field, Martin Sheen
Director: Marc Webb
Running Length: 136 minutes
Random Crew Highlight: Metal Fabricator ~ John Kelso
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: The popularity of the “remake” has now given birth to the “reboot”. Instead of simply remaking a movie from years past, now studios are moving to wipe the slate clean from existing franchises and start anew. It’s worked wonders for Warner Brothers and their Batman franchise and Sony is hoping they’ll have the same luck by kick starting a new Spider-Man series with a younger cast and fresh director. If the results are more serviceable than amazing, it’s not the fault of the people up on screen or the idea behind the whole movie — The Amazing Spider-Man works chemistry wise but not in terms of execution.
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man came out in 2002 and was followed by sequels in 2004 and 2007. I enjoyed the first one, thought the second broke new exciting ground, and felt the third entry was a stinker – so I can see why Sony wanted to scrap the lot of ‘em and try a fresh take. The slant here is decidedly younger and I think that works for the overall feel of the Spider-Man universe.
Peter Parker (Garfield) is a put-upon, parentless, high-school angst machine and even though he has a supportive aunt and uncle (Field and Sheen…two perfect casting choices) and is catching the eye of Gwen Stacey (Stone, more on her later) he can’t get over feelings of abandonment and loss. A discovery of old lab papers from his scientist father and a trip to medical pioneer Oscorp brings Parker face to web with a spider whose bite changes his path forever.
The film has a lot of ground to cover, resulting in a movie that feels rushed in certain places and heavy in the middle. I enjoyed Parker’s discovery of his new powers and the fact that they made his costume/utilities more practical than the Raimi version. Here Parker is protected from sight while in costume but not from serious injury. The webs he tosses come from a clever device and the tall buildings he swings between are sometimes juuuust out of reach. That gives his crime stopping a bit of a realistic edge by showing us that he can just as easily hurt himself as a criminal.
Still…director Webb (was he hired for his name?) is inexperienced in the action film genre (his only previous film was the snappy rom-com 500 Days of Summer) and it does show. There’s a lot of focus on impressive visuals – several scenes of Spider-Man flying through the streets of New York are breathtaking and crafted extremely well. However…the movie starts to achieve a bit of a stop and start feeling about halfway in and that caused me to feel jarred in the process.
The problem is that what could have been an elevated superhero movie starts to be boiled down to a formulaic action flick with lots of brawn but no brain. It will deliver for those looking for action sequences of stature but won’t fill your appetite for believable scenes in between to tie it all together. The film can never really decide what its tone is. Is it more concerned with Parker struggling with vigilantism after crime affects his family, or is it about Parker and Gwen’s budding relationship? Should we be interested in the baddie wanting to turn NYC into scaly lizards or do we want Parker to find out the truth about his family history? A smarter director/script could have struck a balance between all four plot points but The Amazing Spider-Man ends up half-assing everything.
My biggest beef with the film is that it leaves so many questions unanswered. Large plot points and characters are introduced and then totally forgotten. It’s as if the filmmakers wanted to throw a lot of stuff on the table that they can weave back in in sequels. That doesn’t work in my book. Sequels need to build and expand the universe created by the first film…not clean up the mess the first film leaves. Parker’s main reason for becoming Spider-Man is forgotten as is Field who disappears for most of the movie until she’s needed for Wise Words with Aunt May near the end. I also felt the film didn’t follow through with the plot points it does focus on…and there seemed to be a choppy edit job done to reduce its running length as several scenes lead into others with large gaps of time in between. Again, I feel this was due to the film feeling the need to put way too much in…it’s like they combined two full length adventures into one but didn’t increase the running length.
With all of this exposition flying by, Webb needed to cast his leads with actors that can easily handle the material and do some heavy lifting on their own. If Webb doesn’t succeed in fashioning a perfect film, he’s absolutely cast the film with a smart eye. Brit Garfield (The Social Network) was an inspired choice for Parker and he brings out a vulnerability and charm that’s Parker to a T. His anger is fueled not just by his past but his present feelings of loneliness. It’s a nuanced performance that is a strong anchor to the picture and a good building block for future installments. He’s matched well with Stone’s forward thinking, funny, and delightful take on Gwen. Stone’s created Gwen as a female of today with her own opinions and motivations which meld well with Garfield’s questioning and shy Parker. The two actors have great chemistry and it’s no wonder they are involved off-screen as well. I did feel that Gwen was used as a bit of an obvious plot device in order to get Peter into Oscorp, but that’s just another example of the film being a bit lazy.
It is hard to describe a movie that zings by so fast as lazy but that’s just what some of it felt like. As the film chugs toward its non-ending I saw a lot of instances of the screenwriters just creating exit strategies of Spider-Man because they could. At one point The Lizard (Ifans – a weak villain) turns several NYC cops into Lizard henchman…yet we never see them transform…so what’s the point in showing this?
I’d now like to turn your attention to one of my favorite “howler” moments of the 2012 Summer. Near the end Spider-Man is injured and needs to make it across several city blocks. Pay attention to what a voice-over narration from a news anchor says about him. Then try not to laugh as the construction works of NYC (led by an 80’s star that Spider-Man conveniently helped out earlier in the film) bond together to help him get to his destination. It’s all pretty ridiculous.
The effects are spectacular but are only slightly enhanced by 3D and IMAX. It’s not necessary to see the film with these added expenses though if you wanted to submerse yourself into the movie it might be a nice distraction from the weak plot and pacing. James Horner contributes a nicely heroic score that plays nicely with a few impressive flying sequences.
I’m sure there will be a sequel in this new Spider-Man reboot and I’m hoping that a more experienced director is brought on and a tight script is developed. Sony has the pieces in place to make a smart and exciting franchise take off…they just need to give it a better game master to let it fly.