The Amazing Spider-Man, a quick-turn reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, has quite a hurdle to overcome: direct comparison to the three films directed by Sam Raimi, which came out from 2002-07, were generally well-received (well, the first two, at least), and are still fresh in the minds of most audiences.
Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy wasn’t perfect (though Spider-Man 2 came pretty close), but there’s one thing it got absolutely right: tone. His films beautifully captured the look and feel of the comic book, and set a standard for superhero movies that has been followed by Marvel’s own producing efforts from Iron Man through The Avengers.
The Amazing Spider-Man, directed by Marc Webb, improves on Raimi’s original film in a number of ways (including effects work, pacing, and general coherency of the action scenes) but it struggles with tone throughout. This is a darker effort, influenced by Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, but it doesn’t completely mesh with the concept; the more fantastic elements of the film, including a giant Lizard running around Manhattan, ultimately come off as silly given the more realistic approach.
Those familiar with the 2002 Spider-Man (or the original comic books) will know where the first half of this movie is going, beat by beat. I’m not sure we needed to see another origin story – I think, by now, we can accept the existence of Spider-Man without needing to see exactly how he came to be – but here it is again, with some minor alterations.
A greater focus is placed on Richard (Campbell Scott) and Mary Parker (Embeth Davidtz), whose disappearance after the film’s opening sequence leaves an air of mystery over the rest of the movie.
Years later, their son Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is living with Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). Research into his parent’s disappearance leads him to OsCorp, where a bite by a genetically-altered spider gives him superhuman powers.
Despite the familiarity, the first half of The Amazing Spider-Man is easily the better half, with Peter adapting to his new powers, confronting school bully Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka), and embarking on a career of crime-fighting. The development of his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), affectionately portrayed, is the film’s high point.
There’s a really good two-hour origin story in here somewhere, but the film also feels the need to throw a supervillain into the mix: Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), whose research into the healing properties of lizards transforms him into the mini-Godzilla creature The Lizard.
He wants to turn the rest of Manhattan into lizard creatures for some reason, and plans to release a toxin into the air that will do so (this sounds familiar…Batman? Batman Begins?)
During the second half of The Amazing Spider-Man, director Marc Webb starts to lose control of the film; the origin story is cut short, with many threads (including the Uncle Ben storyline) left unresolved, and the Lizard material feels rushed and arbitrary. And what’s up with Lizard’s plan? The toxin, as we’ve seen, is only temporary – Connors has to re-inject himself to turn back into the creature. What’s the goal here, to cause a temporary inconvenience?
Director Webb was an unusual choice here (outside of the surname, at least); his only previous feature was the low(ish) budget (500) Days of Summer, one of the best romantic comedies in recent memory.
While that film didn’t necessarily suggest Webb was the right choice for a $230 million blockbuster, he handles things more than adequately here until the film starts to fly off the rails towards the end. Still, this Spider-Man looks great (if too dark), with tight editing and crisp cinematography by John Schwartzman.
I like a lot of what I’ve seen from Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, Never Let Me Go, the Red Riding trilogy); he should make for a good Peter Parker, but the character feels underwritten and the performance is up and down. Stone fares better as Gwen Stacy, and whenever she and Garfield are sharing the screen, the film starts to soar. As Aunt May, Sally Field is badly miscast and a major distraction, especially when compared to Rosemary Harris.
While many of the changes from the 2002 film are cosmetic, fans of the original comic books will appreciate at least couple of them, which pay respect to the original comics: the organic web shooters are gone, replaced by a material Peter swipes from OsCorp and develops into the webbing, and Gwen Stacy has replaced Mary Jane Watson, who originally came into Spidey’s life later on.
A sequel featuring the Gwen Stacy/Green Goblin storyline should be great (as long as the filmmakers stick to the original concept), but one wonders if a sequel will be made, given this film’s lackluster reception.
For a movie that titles itself The Amazing Spider-Man (after the original 1960s Spider-Man comic), there are a lot of divergences from the source material; this one simply doesn’t capture the essence of the character as well as the Sam Raimi films. Still, it’s a mostly worthwhile take on Spider-Man, and would probably fare better on its own without such a recent comparison.
Stick around during the credits for an additional scene.