Arriving only five years after Spider-Man 3, 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man represents a reboot of the Spider-Man film series, starting again from scratch a mere decade after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy kicked off. It’s important to note, though, thatThe Amazing Spider-Man was not produced because the filmmakers had a fresh new story which needed to be told – rather, the Sony Corporation hastily rushed it into production because their film rights to Spider-Man would elapse if they didn’t have another movie in the can by 2012. Thus, afterSpider-Man 4 was cancelled, Sony decided to just reboot the franchise with cheaper actors and a more obedient director. In other words, from its very inception, The Amazing Spider-Man was about business, not passion, and every frame of the film’s torturously extended running time therefore feels like the worst kind of soulless, passionless, mechanical, assembly-line, commercially-focused, corporate filmmaking. Worst of all, the movie actually feels like a remake of 2002’s Spider-Man since it treads the same narrative ground, failing to justify itself for hitting the reset button.
As a young boy, Peter Parker (Garfield) was left in the care of his Uncle Ben (Sheen) and Aunt May (Field) after his parents left under mysterious circumstances. Growing into a reserved teen with an interest in photography, Peter begins looking to learn more about his father and the work that he did with Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans). While sneaking around Connors’ workplace, Peter is bitten by a genetically engineered spider, which in turn gives him superhuman abilities and heightened senses. Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben is soon murdered by a street criminal, leaving the teen hungry for revenge. Peter begins to prowl the night-time streets of Manhattan in search of the culprit, eventually developing into an enigmatic, web-slinging vigilante known to the pubic as Spider-Man. As Spider-Man’s reputation grows and as Peter’s relationship with classmate Gwen Stacy (Stone) burgeons, the one-armed Dr. Connors tests his latest serum on himself. Using lizard DNA in an attempt to bestow limb regrowth abilities upon himself, Connors’ experiment goes awry, transforming the scientist into a giant, psychopathic lizard.
Rather than conceiving of a whole new origin tale, writers James Vanderbilt, Steve Kloves and Alvin Sargent (who actually co-wrote Spider-Man 2 and 3) lazily stuck by the narrative beats of Sam Raimi’s movie: the death of Uncle Ben, Peter being bullied by Flash Thompson, Peter getting bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter creating a suit and going vigilante, Peter falling for a young woman, a mentally fractured villain showing up whose experiment makes him go haywire, and so on. Plus, it’s executed here with far less gusto than it was a decade ago. Furthermore, the second half of The Amazing Spider-Man is a rhythmic remake of 2002’s Spider-Man, following the same beats but substituting a different villain. It might be true to the comics, but it only serves to trigger déjà vu, feeling like reheated script leftovers rather than an audacious new adventure.
To its credit, while the broad narrative strokes are exactly the same, The Amazing Spider-Man does introduce a few new elements to Peter’s background. Problem is, the new stuff is completely awful, alternating between the outright wrongheaded and the laughably coincidental. See, Peter’s father’s science partner just so happens to have been the future The Lizard and they just so happen to have worked for Norman Osborn, and their experiments just so happen to be tied to the genetically engineered spider that turns Peter into Spider-Man. And Gwen Stacy just so happens to work for Dr. Connors. Wow! Writers may think that they’re being clever by making everything interconnected, but they’re only serving to make a sprawling world of possibilities feel small, in the process removing the “accidental everyman hero” aspect of Peter’s personality. Another problem with the script is that it’s, for lack of better word, lame. At one stage, the writers start to care about where Spidey’s webs are attaching, leading to a set-piece moment during the climax that’s meant to be moving and uplifting but is instead the stupidest thing ever witnessed in a Spider-Man movie (Spider-Man 3‘s emo dance included). Such malarkey constantly shows up throughout the film, extending to a horrible showdown with Flash Thompson on a basketball court and a groan-worthy moment on a football field. Oh, and for unknown reasons, Flash becomes a sensitive soul off-screen and befriends Peter…right after Peter humiliated him.
Worse, the film cannot quite figure out who Peter Parker is (other than not Tobey Maguire and not the guy from the comics). Differing from scene to scene, Parker alternates between a slacker, an emo kid, a wiseass, a hipster, a loner, a skater, and a mumbling Michael Cera type. Plus, there’s no arc to Peter’s character: he starts out as an adolescent dick obsessed with his own problems, and he is exactly the same at the end of the film. A lazy Uncle Ben voiceover at the end tries to establish that Peter has changed, but the next scene completely undoes this intention. Little care goes into establishing Spider-Man and his reputation, too. Raimi’s film examined how Spider-Man was portrayed in the media, and established that the public perceived him as a hero. Here, all of two minutes are dedicated to Spider-Man’s public introduction. Not to mention, Parker’s transformation into Spider-Man feels equally rushed. But it’s Dr. Connors/The Lizard who fares the worst. There’s literally no justification for his transformation into the story’s villain – he’s just a guy who’s pissed about having one arm and whose scientific experiments turn him into a lizard. There is nothing at the root of his evil beyond his boss wanting to shut him down. From there, he turns into a reptilian fascist who wants to turn all residents of the city into lizards because… Errr… Fuck, I don’t know. We’re never told. The film has no idea who this character is or what his motivations are. And in the space between a couple of scenes, Connors single-handedly manages to haul heaps of laboratory equipment from Oscorp to the underground sewer system. Okay…
Raimi’s Spider-Man movies were colourful creations which felt like true comic book movies, but The Amazing Spider-Man is grittier and more morose in tone. As a result, it often feels self-serious, stripping light-hearted fun out of the equation. And, on occasion, the film looks surprisingly cheap despite its large budget, with strictly workmanlike technical contributions across the board. And the CGI Lizard looks horrifically inept. Seriously, The Lizard looks like the result of bad ’90s CGI rather than the digital effects of a big-budget 2012 blockbuster (even The Asylum would be embarrassed to have this shit in their films). To his credit, Marc Webb does show promise in his handling of the smaller scenes. Webb cut his teeth with the fantastic(500) Days of Summer, so it’s unsurprising that isolated dramatic moments do work here and there (Peter’s verbal stuttering is spot-on, and the death of Uncle Ben is affecting). On the other hand, Webb’s handling of the action is less interesting and, for a summer blockbuster, there is a distinct lack of thrills and exhilaration. Furthermore, the film cheats by having Parker be instinctively good at everything from the get-go. In Raimi’s Spider-Man, Peter is shown feeling out his powers, developing strategies and doing a lot of trial and error. Here, Peter masters his skills without even trying, illustrated by an awful subway sequence that devolves into silly slapstick.
The 3-D must also be mentioned. While The Amazing Spider-Man was shot natively in 3-D, this is definitely the worst 3-D presentation I’ve seen in years. It’s not eye-gauging; it’s just obnoxiously underwhelming and flat. Literally, it looks 2-D more often than not, as there’s no sense of space between objects or, indeed, any sense of depth. I removed my glasses constantly, and the image looked exactly the same (except brighter). Save yourself the ridiculous cost of a 3-D ticket, and see it in 2-D…if you have to see the movie at all.
It almost goes without saying, but Andrew Garfield cannot pass for a 17-year-old Peter Parker – he looks his real age (28). Garfield shows some promise as Parker, but his acting is overblown for the most part, and the Brit has trouble masking his natural accent, which is troublesome. (Not to mention, his performance is actually reminiscent of Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen…) Emma Stone easily makes the best impression here; she’s a pitch-perfect Gwen Stacy with immense spirit, quirk and likeability. Her chemistry with Garfield is also better than expected, and Stone’s innate charm helps make the leaden dialogue sound much better. Meanwhile, Denis Leary makes for a terrific Captain Stacy (Gwen’s father), and Martin Sheen is wonderful in the role of Uncle Ben. Sheen is easily the best thing in this movie; his Uncle Ben is kind, well-articulated, responsible and level-headed, and his performance resonates in a hugely effective manner. On the other hand, though, Sally Field is a tragically vanilla Aunt May who lacks everything that made Rosemary Harris such a standout in the role. Rhys Ifans is also wasted here as Dr. Connors.
Not only is The Amazing Spider-Man a bad movie, but it’s also one of the most despicable and deflating motion pictures of the summer. In the right hands, a Spider-Man reboot could’ve yielded a refreshing new take on the character, something akin to Matthew Vaughn’s exceptional X-Men: First Class. Instead, it’s a riskless, artless, unimaginative, pointless, lackadaisical endeavour which only exists because Sony believed that even the laziest Spider-Man feature would turn a profit. In other words, the makers had nothing but contempt for their audience. Even the film’s okay parts – the fights, web-slinging, etc – have been done better within superior movies.