‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ Review
The very familiar and needless Spider-Man.
The original Spider-Man trilogy by Sam Raimi is a memorable one and the first film is generally credit for kickstarting the superhero movie genre as we know it today, because it was a fresh and accessible film that worked on many levels. What worked with Sam Rami’s Spider-Man series was the feel: when you experienced Spider-Man web-swinging through the tall skyscrapers of New York you felt it. For me, it was exhilarating, an achievement of top camera work and incredible CGI that encased a sense of speed and adventure. As a teen, I wanted to be Spider-Man after the movie ended. Despite its flaws, Sam Rami’s version had the correct ingredients that made an honest to goodness, superhero summer blockbuster.
The Amazing Spider-Man, however, falls just short of that.
The flaw begins with the plot itself. Fundamentally, it’s the same exact story with a slightly different twist peppered to make it look different. After they faced the bad buzz that a movie not even 10 years old and so fresh in everyone’s mind is being remade, the marketing really focused on the fact that this is ‘an untold story’. But don’t be surprised to know that this is essentially the exact same origin story told once again. Yes, Peter Parker gets bitten; yes, he wakes up find to himself powerful (and sticky); yes, Uncle Ben dies; and yes Spider-Man has to save the city from a green-colored monster by the end of it. But there’s no novel way in which this origin story is explored, pretty much hitting the exact same beats and plot points as the original. What results is an experience that you had before. You can predict what will happen next, and when that happens you know the film has failed to grasp you. I was looking at my watch for the most part of the movie’s 2 hours runtime. Even the “untold story” angle of Peter Parker’s parents felt inconsequent and unfinished, as if the writers did not know how to progress it further after amateurishly interconnecting it with the main story arc. For something that was the movie’s major marketing pull, this was disappointing and an incredible missed opportunity of interjecting a brand new angle into the age old story.
When the film works is when it is allowed to be original. The interaction between Peter Parker and Gwen are genuine. Marc Webb is the director whose previous film ‘500 Days of Summer’ was filled with great relationship moments between characters and that’s what got him a job on this project. And sure enough, it’s those moments that ultimately feel somewhat fresh and stand out. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s chemistry is fantastic, which makes their characters much more likeable that the script ever intended. Also, it’s quite impossible not to like Emma Stone. Denis Leary’s Captain Stacy is likeable too, and possibly is the only character that has received a fully formed arc. In fact, his scenes are the highlights of the film as he brings something new to know about and something new to experience. I guess it’s a testament to the fact that how much of an old-wine new-bottle the entire movie feels, and is.
While the plot remains more or less the same, Marc Webb did some changes to the tone of the story and the way it’s told. But unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it improves upon the original in that sense. The film’s attempt to tell a darker and grittier Spider-Man story results in a more humanized version of the character, where Peter Parker’s approachability and teen-like demeanor ultimately overshadows actions of a superhero that is shoved into single-handedly saving the city. Marc Webb’s insistence on wanting to show Peter in the Spidey suit as much possible as opposed to a CGI stuntman is an interesting approach but doesn’t always work. His version of Peter Parker comes across as mopey and wimpy, even despite knowing his powers can help him overcome many situations, and belies Spider-Man’s true nature of an acrobatic web-swinger that is confident and assured in his actions, on foot and in mid-air. Even Spider-Man’s trademark wit feels weak, not because it’s delivered poorly, but you half expect Peter Parker to say it.
The film ultimately feels off. On one hand it desperately tries to appear more mature and dark, while on the other it wrestles with trying to set itself apart from the original film, and shave off the cartoonish sensibility that is normally associated with a Spider-Man movie. This makes the film three-toned, if there is such a thing, and you just don’t how to set yourself for it.
Also new to film is Curt Connors/Lizard played by Rhys Ifans. Again, much like Spider-Man, the character is let down by sketchy characterization. My main beef with Lizard was that he (it?) is too much of a good guy to be a bad one. His motives are not clear enough. Curt Connors believes in making a world without imperfections, but his formula – and we won’t spoil it here – is not perfect and flat-out does not work (it turns him into a bloody giant lizard, for one). His ultimate motive is at odds with his character’s nature that the film previously sets up for him.
These are not the only moments were the film just gets out-right dumb. For instance, nobody uses Bing. But jokes apart, there are other many things that make you go “what?”. For example, just how did Peter manage to get hold of the webbing, an undoubtedly expensive material that is only made in the high-class tech labs of Oscorp? How did Peter manage to produce more of it without any equipment to do so? Also, one would assume that after receiving the ability to web-swing for the very first time, you would test it on a small, more confined space to see if it works alright. But nope, Peter just flings himself off a high skyscraper and then effortlessly lands on a Starbucks canopy without raising any alarm from the pedestrians at all. Oh and aunt May, when your nephew comes home beaten up every day, you do something about it.
Visually, the movie has the good and the bad. The poorest bit of CGI is the Lizard, which looks improperly rendered into the background as if he was pulled from a work in progress build. The action sequences with him and Spider-Man are a highlight, but they lacked imagination. Webb ensured every bit of the routine were involved – hovering helicopters, smashed cars, damsel in distress, unrestrained destruction, a time-constrained objective – but none of them managed to thrill as much as the previous movies did. Even Spider-Man’s web-swinging antics felt flat with the far angled shots and a general lack of speed and excitement in the camera work. The first-person shots were pretty good but they were randomly placed and lacked purpose other than allowing the visual effects team to pop collars.
Where the film ultimately succeeds the most is the casting, in the sense that the filmmakers make sure that they got a very talented cast to fill in the void of the actors that are no longer here. The biggest question of course is whether Andrew Garfield plays a good Spider-Man and there’s no surprise in the fact that his take on the character is excellent and more humanized. Even though Tobey Maguire played Spider-Man in an excellent manner and will be remembered as that, Garfield is more suitable in the early stages of the character as an awkward teen and brings empathy to that element of the story. Emma Stone is impressive as the love interest as well and as mentioned, the chemistry works. Rhys Ifans does the villain very well, even if he didn’t have the best characterization to work with from the script. Irfan Khan more than makes for Anil Kapoor’s embarrassment in ‘Ghost Protocol’ with his cameo as an evil corporate hand-man. He is effective and plays his part well, although I had a hard time understanding what he was saying, which is weird because I am Indian too, and his accent was way off.
The Amazing Spider-Man is unnecessary in the end. It’s a shame because it could have provided a wholly different take on the origin story and added to the lore. It just was unwilling to take the risk. With great power, comes great responsibility but Sony neither wielded that power to make something great nor it took responsibility to give its loyal fans a different experience.
Note on 3D: It was good but nothing that makes it a must-watch. It is clear that the film was shot in 3D but restrains quite well from throwing stuff at our face randomly. When it does 3D, it does it well.