The Amazing Spider-Man

Director    Marc Webb
Starring    Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Campbell Scott
Release    3 JUL (US) 3 JUL (UK)    Certificate 12A
2 stars


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?

Er... slightly different pyjamas?

As it turns out, not much - and you have to suffer major deja vu to get there. You get the impression Webb wanted to take The Amazing Spider-Man to places it's never been to, but can't tear himself away from the form guide. For example, having Gwen Stacy instead of Mary-Jane Watson is a conscious choice to do something different, but the character is the self-same love interest (albeit with different colour hair). You feel the choice of The Lizard for chief villain is less about how the character slots into Webb's Spidey universe, but is more about being the only guy not yet picked on the playground. That struggle, trying to be fresh and familiar, ends up cocooning The Amazing Spider-Man into a web of mediocrity.

This reaches a head in the movie's most iconic exchange: the sacrosanct moment in which Peter's Uncle Ben teaches him that "with great power comes great responsibility". Webb has clearly been told it's absolutely vital that this scene be included - hell, it's the only reason Uncle Ben exists as a character: to impart his wisdom and then fuck off dead - but Sheen's dialogue is squirm-in-your-seat awkward. I'm paraphrasing, but the line is something like "With immense abilities there comes a huge need to account for one's self" or something equally obtuse. JUST SAY THE DAMN LINE. Either spit it out or leave it unsaid.

Time and time again, you're constantly reminded that you're watching a movie you've already seen, but through a slightly different lens. Everything about The Amazing Spider-Man feels familiar yet out of sorts.

Younger viewers, too young even to be taken to Spider-Man 3 in 2007, might enjoy it much more than I. At some point, it was inevitable that the superhero genre would no longer be pitched solely at overgrown children like me. I have no problem with that, just as I have no problem with any movie aimed at an audience that doesn't include me. But to redo Spider-Man while the franchise is still so vivid in the memory, and to trace over lines drawn by another so lightly you barely make an impression, feels like a blatant cash-grab at the expense of existing Spider-fans.

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.

This isn't it, by the way. It's much worse.

For starters, he doesn't even look like a lizard. As predicted, he looks like a Goomba from the Super Mario Brothers movie. Reptiles have a pretty distinct look - you wonder if anyone involved with designing the character has ever actually seen any. His motivations are foggy (Become evil? Check! Hate on Spider-Man? Check! Do big mad thing to the entire city for some vague reason? Check and check!) and his limitations are equally mysterious. So he's a hugely powerful green rage monster (ahem) but one capable of eloquent reasoning in his human voice? He's a brilliant scientist that's happy living as a clumpy great frog thing? (*fart noise*)

Webb puts together a few half-decent action sequences but offsets them with a number of odd scenes. One excellent set-piece midway through sees Spider-Man juggle a number of cars thrown off a bridge, hanging them from his webbing like wet laundry out a window. However, before that we have to suffer the mandatory 'I've just discovered my powers and they totally rock' scene, which takes place in an abandoned warehouse that's filled with skate ramps, like the first level of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.

One astoundingly heavy-handed scene later in the film sees Spidey helped to his goal by the citizens of New York - not by carrying him or tending to his wounds, but by aligning cranes. There's no stand-out sequence and few money shots you didn't already see in the 17 trailers.

The Amazing Spider-Man just feels dreadfully disjointed. Nothing really affects anything else. You don't buy that Gwen and Peter make for a dramatic relationship; you don't feel like Spider-Man and the Lizard share much commonality; the missing parents angle ('The Untold Story', remember) goes nowhere save for a cheap mid-credits sequel sting. You don't even get the feeling that Peter Parker ends the movie wanting to continue being Spider-Man - it just ends. Amazing? Nope. Totally average. Even if you've never seen a Spider-Man movie before in your life, you still won't get what all the fuss is about. So again, ask yourself... what was the point?

So there it is: on both levels, The Amazing Spider-Man should be considered a failure. It's almost impossible to watch the film without thinking of what could have - and what already has - been, therefore it's extremely difficult to enjoy on its own merit. Maybe you're willing to forgive it a lot, but I'm not. Why should I? One of the only positive things I can say about The Amazing Spider-Man is that there is absolutely no excuse why the sequel - unshackled by the need to slavishly stick to its predecessor's script - shouldn't be absolutely brilliant. I sincerely hope to be proved right on that one.

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