The Amazing Spider-Man
|Starring||Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Campbell Scott|
|Release||3 JUL (US) 3 JUL (UK) Certificate 12A|
29th June 2012
One of the most difficult things about being a film critic (you there, no laughing at the back) is divorcing the film you're watching from any of the surrounding hysteria. Maybe the film has arrived on a tidal wave of hype; maybe you're aware of a troubled production; or, let's say, for argument's sake, it's a reboot of a movie, or series of movies, that you hold dear. These things can influence an opinion; it's your job to make sure they don't. The Amazing Spider-Man is one of the first movies I've had to review where I felt I literally couldn't review the 136 minutes of film I saw without commenting on the fact that I fundamentally disagree with the fact that it exists.
Perhaps a broadsheet film critic wouldn't have the luxury of crossing their arms in defiance and drawing a line in the sand – professionalism dictates you must review what you see on screen. But I'm a blogger and part of The Amazing Spider-Man's key demographic, and I'm calling Sony out on this one. My memory isn't as short or selective as they'd like. However, I can't bring myself to just pen a furious rant on why I don't see the need to reboot the franchise – I do have a modicum of professional integrity, believe it or not. So here's the deal: a review split down the middle. On the left, my feelings on The Amazing Spider-Man: The Business Decision. On the right, my feelings on The Amazing Spider-Man: The Movie. Neither are particularly glowing, so even though I've separated them, it should be fairly obvious they affect one another greatly.
There wasn't much wrong with Spider-Man 3. It was overlong and over-ambitious and you could sort of tell Sam Raimi's heart wasn't really in at any more. But you can't blame Venom's insubstantial backstory or emo Peter Parker for Sony's decision to start the Spider-Man franchise over. This was not a creative decision. It was a financial decision. When Raimi demanded too much for Spider-Man 4 - too much money, too much creative control - the top brass would have had a meeting and someone would have mentioned the dreaded word: 'reboot'. They're cheaper. They're easier. They're, er, much cheaper. And so it was that Sony rebooted Spider-Man to make him amazing, with a new, cost-effective Peter Parker in Andrew Garfield, a 3D cash-injection and a new inexperienced director in Marc Webb, a man with only one feature film under his belt who was unlikely to rock the boat. Didn't you just feel so... inspired?
All of these gripes would have counted for nothing had The Amazing Spider-Man reboot explored fertile new ground. But it doesn't explore new ground. For the first half, it practically shadows Sam Raimi's footsteps. For the second half, it explores only the rough terrain that was previously avoided with good reason. Tellingly, not one moment in The Amazing Spider-Man makes you click; there isn't a single 'Wow!' moment, when you realise, actually, it was worth rebooting after all, because... well, it's amazing. That just doesn't happen. All of the prime Spider-Man material, the adventures and emotions core to the characters, have already been used. It's been done. Three times. A blind man being led by a guide dog might be using his own two legs to walk, but he's basically always going wherever that dog takes him.
You half wish the filmmakers had decided to go the route trodden by The Incredible Hulk, the last recent superhero reboot; dispense with all the origin in a pre-credits sequence and jump straight into fresh territory. But no, you have to sit through an hour plus of high school bullies, radioactive spiders, discovering cool powers, getting brash and over-confident, the death of Uncle Ben - the birth of Spider-Man all over again. Been there, done that, literally own the pyjamas. What else you got?
I loved (500) Days Of Summer, but at no point did I think, 'Man, the guy who made this needs to be cut loose on some crazy superhero shit'. Marc Webb showed himself to be a perfectly competent director, and 'perfectly competent' is just about what you get on The Amazing Spider-Man. The idea was clearly to bring some of that same twee meetcute mentality to Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, but in actual fact, the relationship angle between the two leads is rushed and barely explored at all. He likes her, she likes him - it's basically a foregone conclusion.
Garfield is an interesting choice for Peter Parker, but Webb's reimagining of the character is botched. Instead of a socially awkward dweeb, Parker 2.0 has cool hair, a cool jacket, a cool skateboard, stands up to the school bully, looks like Andrew Garfield and gets to go out with Emma Stone. Tobey Maguire, for reasons that are probably pretty close to the truth, felt like he'd suck all the energy out of any given room; Garfield is too charismatic, too jittery and too damn handsome to convince as a super-nerd. In fact, when he begins courting Gwen, at times he comes on too strong, which is behaviour you'd expect more from Flash Thompson than Peter Parker.
Stone is predictably fantastic in the scenes where she's allowed to do her own thing and not just react to Andrew Garfield's Rain Man routine (one exchange with dad Denis Leary about hot cocoa is particularly brilliant) but the character of Gwen doesn't really amount to much - just another skirt to be placed in mild peril. She's short-changed by the sheer speed in which the movie dispenses with set-up - the time between her finding out her boyfriend has superpowers and her being totally au fait with him jump off her building's roof is about nine seconds without the batting of a single eyelash. Garfield and Stone deserve better. But oh my, they aren't the most lacking area of The Amazing Spider-Man, not by a long shot.
Rhys Ifans' villain, The Lizard, is one of the most woeful bad guys in many a year. As Dr Curt Connors, Ifans is fine; convenient though it may be that he's Gwen's mentor and Peter's absent father's ex-colleague. But when Connors starts chasing the lizard, the movie is found wanting.