The Amazing Spider-Man, 2012.
Directed by Marc Webb.
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan and Chris Zylka.
Teenager Peter Parker begins to develop super powers after being bitten by a genetically engineered spider.
You might remember that I expressed a few negative thoughts about The Amazing Spider-Man two months ago in this analysis of the trailer, but since then, I’ve tried to avoid reading reviews and watching clips, as I wanted to go in with a clear mind. I did not want to prejudge the movie. After all, I love Spider-Man: I love the comics, films, games, toys, cartoons, so I didn’t want the new film, directed by Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer), to disappoint.
And after watching it? Well, I’m not going to compare it to Raimi’s films. This is its own thing and I respect that. I’ll also admit right now that I was wrong about some of the things I wrote in the trailer analysis, but y’know what?
I was right about a few things as well.
I’m not sure if there’s any need to provide a plot summary, as we all know this story so well. Peter Parker is abandoned by his parents at a young age and grows up with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Peter grows up to look like Andrew Garfield and is a social outcast at school, super intelligent but also as dumb as a post when it comes to not getting punched in the face and talking to other people, especially the gorgeous Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Discovering clues about his father’s work, Peter goes in search of “the truth”, which leads him to get bitten by a fancy spider, meet Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) and inadvertently create a monster while learning to use his powers and become a super-hero. Will he be able to get the girl and stop The Lizard?
Parts of the film are great, especially the acting. Garfield brings depth and vulnerability to the role of Peter Parker. Stone is perfectly cast as Gwen Stacy, giving a brilliant performance as a well-written female protagonist, who is neither constantly in danger nor in need of being rescued, and has her own agency and gets things done. More female characters should be like this. Denis Leary as Captain George Stacy is phenomenal. His performance is possibly the best part of the movie for me, due to the presence he has on screen and the balance he creates between angry police chief and caring, protective father, as well as his involvement in the film’s climax.
In fact, I really enjoyed the first act of the movie. The character and personality of Peter Parker is given plenty of time to develop and grow, and his relationship with his uncle and aunt is very engaging and human. There’s humour when appropriate and brilliantly realized drama, especially in an argument between Ben and Peter. The whole thing with the parents at the start actually works quite well: being abandoned at a young age gives Peter a reason to be a moody, angst-ridden teenager, and I didn’t hate it like I did in my trailer analysis.
But as time went on, perhaps around the point when Peter finally has the suit on and is swinging around New York, plot holes appear and characters start making really stupid decisions (I won’t go into these for the sake of spoilers), and my patience started to wear thin. I think I was most insulted by the sequel bait in the post-credits sequence.
You know how the trailers and posters have gone on about “the untold story” and built up the mystery of the parents? That… that’s rubbish, I’m afraid. Okay, it’s sort of there: it makes up the first five or so minutes, and gives Peter a reason to meet Connors in the science labs, and provides the Macguffin needed for Connors to make his Lizard serum, but that’s it until the bit at the end, which teases how “the truth” of Peter’s parents will be explained in the sequel. The untold story is, in fact, left untold.
Blow that nonsense. Prometheus has already done the whole “here’s a bunch of questions with no answers, but don’t worry, the sequel will sort it out” thing this summer and rightly got called on it.
Then there’s Curt Connors. Ifans gives an okay performance, and Connors is written fairly well: we are not too sure whether he is a good guy or bad guy, whether he wants to help Peter, or whether he is guilty over something from the past… but then he injects himself with a serum and goes insane, deciding to embark on mad fantasy of “ridding the world of weakness.” How dull.
I think this is a cliché unique to the Spider-Man universe, where Spidey is the only person allowed to have powers and use them for good. Whenever someone else gets powers, no matter how good or normal they are and no matter how similar the process is to how Peter gained powers, they always end up going mad with power and turning evil. The same happens here. In the Marvel Studios movies, at least the bad guys are generally not very nice people, even before they gain superpowers.
And, of course, the Lizard still looks bad. He looks less jelly-like than he did in the trailer, but his head and face are distractingly weird. Even the filmmakers seem to think he looks rubbish: after Connors initially transforms into the Lizard, it then skips to him being on a bridge, messing with some cars and getting kicked by Spider-Man. There’s no establishing shot to make him look imposing or powerful, to attempt to showcase how “great” he looks (or could have looked). Compare this to how the Abomination in The Incredible Hulk was introduced. We catch a few far-off glimpses of him, see the damage he causes, and then as an army jeep races towards him the camera zooms in and we get a full-body shot of this monstrosity, leering into the camera in all his glory. Whatever you think of the design of the Abomination (and I know it’s not the best), the filmmakers at least had confidence in it, and it was certainly a more exciting introduction of the main villain.
What about the rest of the film? In my trailer analysis, I thought the film was trying to do too much. I was right.
The initial act of the film is great, with its focus on character building, high-school drama and family interactions. Marc Webb’s ability to direct drama and character relationships is used to full effect. But once Peter gets bitten, it starts to fall apart. Early in the film, he discovers information about his father, but he ignores what he finds for ages, discovers his powers, then goes back to look at the information, then he discovers more powers, then he interacts with a bunch of characters, then finally gets around to exploring and testing his powers! There’s an intense, emotional scene between him and May that seems like it is going to go somewhere… then May is left out of the picture for about an hour, and the film only remembers she exists towards the end! I could go on about how things keep repeating themselves, like how in one scene, Peter uses his powers to get revenge and acts like a jerk, then Uncle Ben calls him on this, only for Peter then to act like a jerk while trying to get revenge again a few scenes later, as if he’s learned nothing, until Captain Stacy calls Spider-Man on it. There’s just too much stuff going on, and the film only focuses on one thread for a few scenes at a time. Eventually the plot just felt chaotic, with characters disappearing and things being left unexplained.
One thread explores how Peter becomes a hero. In fact, the whole film is meant to show the evolution of Peter from a nobody into a vengeful jerk and then into the protector of New York, and it does this really well. It’s essentially using the plot from Batman Begins for its own ends (and there’s nothing wrong with that), attempting to provide realistic reasons for why Spider-Man looks and acts the way he does, and this stuff is great! I really liked this approach. This sequence is well-plotted, as it explains why he decides to wear a mask, then why he needs web shooters, then why he needs a spandex outfit. Although, considering it attempts to take this pseudo-realistic path, it doesn’t explain why the spandex outfit is bright red and blue, or why he needs to wear silver sneakers with the suit…
So there you have it. It has some brilliant performances, some good writing and story ideas, but the execution, especially of the action and the design of the Lizard and the Spidey suit, just doesn’t work. Worst of all? If you’re borrowing jokes from X-Men Origins: Wolverine, you’re probably doing something wrong…
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★