[Review] - The Amazing Spider-man

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

In any other year, a new Spider-man movie would have been big news. Judging from it's box office returns, it's had a very good week at the cinemas, but it got lost in the shuffle between The Avengers and Dark Knight Rises. The PR campaigns for those two films so completely overshadowed Spider-man's that Sony ultimately ended up releasing nearly thirty minutes, almost a fifth of the length of the film, in footage beforehand, including a scene from the post-credits sequence in the trailer. Even last year, going up against Captain America, Spider-man would have been the star of the summer.

However, if it had still been this Spider-man, it still wouldn't have made it any better of a film. The risk of putting any adjectives in your movie title is that it invites comments, and frankly this Spider-man isn't amazing. It isn't, as the sequel could conceivably be called, spectacular. It is, from the outset, badly paced, poorly constructed and utterly forgettable. In terms of Marvel's output, this is on par with Daredevil.

Hit the jump for the review, where I attempt not to draw comparison with Raimi's films, and end up spoiling a few things.

A thought before we begin. Every major character in this film was introduced in Spider-man 3. Even the suspicious absence of Norman Osbourn, or any Osborn's, fits into the conclusion of the last Raimi movie. It was well known that Raimi wanted to use the lizard. My thought is this: how much, do you suppose, of this film started out as the potential Spider-man 4? My follow up: would that have been so bad?

I honestly don't know why studios, and the public seem so enamoured with 'reboots'. All they end up doing is littering my DVD shelf with a bunch of films telling the same damned story. So, the cast leaves. So what? Hire someone else. James Bond did it for fifty years before they started calling them 'reboots'. Do they think the audience is so stupid that they can't divorce the character from the actor playing them. Would Andrew Garfield so befuddled the masses, wondering who this stranger was wearing Toby Maguire's suit, and where was the real Peter Parker? What would have happened, do you think, if they had made with film, with a new director, a new cast, hell, keep the title even, but kept it in the same 'continuity' (another franchise word I hate) as the first three films?

I'll tell you what would have happened. It would have been a shorter film. Maybe even a better one. We would have been able to skip the first forty five minutes revisiting the same scenes over again. Seeing Parker get bit, seeing him react, seeing Uncle Ben get shot, and Parker lose it. Seeing him make the costume, and all that stuff that didn't needed to be retread. It didn't. It doesn't. People aren't dumb. They will, if at the beginning of your film, you say that Peter Parker has spider powers, and you show him using spider powers, will believe he has spider powers. Unless you have something new, something fresh, something so incredibly different that it changes the narrative, you don't need to repeat yourself. Look at the Incredible Hulk for an excellent example of how not to be patronising and repetitive (for how Banner became Hulk, anyway).

The film is all over the place. Peter worries about the spider DNA overtaking his, which you'd think that once his lab partner turns himself into a giant lizard, would only exacerbates those fears, but he never mentions them again. In fact, what at first plays out like a very natural suspicion and fear of his abilities completely disappears once the movie remembers that,oh yeah, he's Spider-man, so lets go do that. So too does his hunt for Uncle Ben's killer disappear completely, despite it being that hunt which gets the police on to him in the first place.

At least it gives Parker something resembling a motivation. Conners, barely played by Rhys Ifans, had no motivation beyond "I want my arm back", which is repeated ad nauseum, as if that makes it complex. Once he becomes the lizard, he has an out of place and again, never again mentioned, Gollum moment more befitting Norman Osborn from the original films. He immediately embraces his new form, and then decides to make all of New York into lizard men, and all the film offers is some passing remarks about removing weakness. In that case, the script should have been turned into a Gila monster.

At one point, I had to stop myself from saying aloud "are there really that many lizards in New York", only for the next scene to show that Conners' presence was summoning lizards from all over the city, something that is never again referenced or explained. Catching a trend? It's a jigsaw puzzle made out of pieces from three different puzzles. They might fit together loosely, but the picture makes very little sense. Ideas that could have served any entire film, or at least huge chunks of them, disappear without a trace. The strongly accented man whose dialogue I couldn't understand and whose name I never picked up on, who was going to does a hospital, completely vanishes, despite Spider-man clearly saving him during the bridge attack. I guess while Conners and Spidey were fighting in the school, he was mutating a bunch of veterans. And don't get me started on the pointlessness of the post-credits scene, which didn't provide any additional material for this film, and did a piss poor job setting up some for the next one, gods help us.

The acting is, I want to say minimal, because no one has a lot to do. Garfield is much better at being Spider-man then Maguire, but that wouldn't be hard. Maguire wasn't ever really Spider-man, because Spider-man didn't have a personality in those films. Here, he does, and it's the one truly good improvement. Spider-man acts like Spider-man. He never shuts up, tells jokes, and is pretty much annoying when masked. When masked, which implies that he takes his mask off a lot, which he does, and completely defeats the purpose of him creating it at the start of the film.

The rest of the cast don't have characters, they have narrative moments. Ifans as Conners, Denis Leary as Captain Stacy, Sally Field as Aunt May, the kid playing Flash (once again wasted as a character). They don't bring anything to the roles, because there are no roles to bring anything to. Sally Field is way too big a name to waste having her look worried while standing over a sink. Leary tries, and has the most to work with, but it's a thankless task. There is an odd scene between him and Emma Stone about chocolate that I figure must have been added once those actors were cast, because they are both strong comedic actors. But the scene doesn't work, because, like everything else, it doesn't have a place in the rest of the movie.

You'll notice I failed to mention two actors there. Emma Stone and Martin Sheen. Emma Stone is the greatest failure of the movie. She has nothing to do. She is a non entity. She is barely a love interest, in the fastest "let get to the point" movie romance I've seen in years. She's not a damsel in distress, she's not even a woman in a refrigerator, like she is in the comics. Remove her completely from the film, and you know what you get? A couple fewer scenes, and nothing else. I'm sure on the cutting room floor, there are great scenes where she and Peter build up their relationship, act cute together around school. But it's not in the film, so I can't be given to care.

Martin Sheen, on the other hand, is the film' greatest success. His take on Uncle Ben is wonderfully acted, and wonderfully imbued with a humanity and caring I could almost guarantee wasn't on the page. In Raimi's films, Uncle Ben died and you were told to be sad about that. Here, Uncle Ben dies, and you actually are sad, because Sheen made you care about that character. It's just a shame that Peter and everyone else seems to get over it really quickly. He gets robbed of the iconic "with great power" line, another great failure on the part of the film, but Sheen makes it work. He's funny, obviously loving, and stern when Peter disappoints him. I'd have rather watched a movie about Uncle Ben raising Peter, while Peter meets and falls in love with Gwen., and in the last frame, have Peter get bit by the spider. And that's about the worst thing you can say about a Spider-man movie: it'd be better without him in it.

So much can be blamed on the studio, so much can be blamed on the writing. But director Marc Webb has to shoulder his blame too. He made the enjoyable, but also flawed, (500) Days of Summer, and that might have been fine if the script was about Peter and Gwen's relationship. It does not make him an action director. The action sequences are good, as digital effects have improved in the ten years since Raimi made his first, but they are stilted and never really spark. Only the school fight had me excited, as it was lengthy, progressive, and, well, exciting. It bares the marks, despite comments to the contrary, of a director too heavily influenced by Nolan's Batman films. Too many of the shots bore that mark, but none of them carried the same weight.

When you watch The Avengers, you watch a movie that was clearly loved - not cared for, loved - by those making it, and be damned the outcome. They made a good movie. And the audience picked up on that, and kept going back, week after week. Hell, in some theatres, they still are. I didn't get that feeling once while watching Amazing. I didn't feel any love behind the project. I didn't feel a connection to the characters, to the story, to the themes; this movie barely has any themes. I got the feeling that this was a movie made by people who wanted to make an easy $100 million in the first week, and fast track a sequel before the horse had even left the gate. This wasn't a loved film, this was a tolerated film. And it shows.

Everything that happened in this movie was as contrived as it could be. The sequence of Spidey getting to Oscorp via cranes was overly sappy and pulled from a video game quick time event. Every action, every event, every moment seemed to me to be the mark of someone who wanted to get from A to C, but didn't want to travel through B to get there, so they skipped it, or rushed through. About the best thing I can say about the film is James Horner's score, which gives Spider-man a Batman/Superman style theme that Danny Elfman never could. It's unfortunate that the score completely overwhelms the film's third act, and is underused the rest of the time.

But Spider-man does have a nice theme.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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