The Amazing Spider-Man
Tonally, Marc Webb’s reboot of Marvel’s comic book hero this is all over the place. This is in part surely a symptom of the kind of “too many cooks” meddling that marred Sam Raimi’s third Spider-Man film. But it’s also due to the absence of a director with a clear vision for the series. Webb seems to have got the job through the assurance that he could work magic with the Peter-Gwen relationship, having scored a minor hit with young love comedy (500) Days of Summer. And that aspect works reasonably well, but he comes unstuck blending it with the requirements of superhero storytelling. In particular, he’s uncertain how to approach the action.
At times the film goes for the Nolan Batman aesthetic, with stuntman Spider-Man seeming almost as grounded and unspectacular in his capabilities as the ’70s TV version. And getting very beaten up, which takes him much longer to heal from than you’d expect (this Spidey really suffers, you know). But there are also sequences where I got the impression that the more real-world approach was used as a crutch to hide Webb’s inexperience, evidence by choppy editing and confused geography. Having dissed him , I’ll give credit it where it’s due; he does manage to build up a palpable sense of threat from the villain at times, most notably when Spider-Man is perched in wait in the sewers. And his rescue of the child on the bridge also sees suspense chosen over wall-to-wall CGI to good effect. But Webb lacks Raimi’s skill with making the separate elements of a film flow together; even the overloaded Spider-Man 3 is more coherent than this.
Then there’s the choice of the Lizard as villain, which actively works against keeping a foot (or missing arm) in the real world. Everything about the character, from choice of actor for Dr Curt Connors to design of the creature, pulls towards the cartoonish rather than the believable. If Dylan Baker had been swapped places with Rhys Ifans, they’d both have felt more at home in the different Spider-verses. Ifans is okay, but nothing about his Connors makes much of an impact. He struggles against the over-familiarity of yet another damaged scientist with yet another diabolical ticking clock plan. Design-wise, the Lizard has been compared to Goomba from Super Mario Bros, and that’s not far from the truth. He’s not a patch on the design of the comics; they’ve adopted change for change’s sake.
I could merrily pick away at elements of the plot, but if reports are to be believed big chunks of it went AWOL in the editing stage. I didn’t particularly mind the unnecessary rewriting of the origins, but I found it difficult to believe the genetically modified spiders had been weaving away for ten years without further investigation into their properties. Maybe they encouraged them to bite a few volunteers and they all died?
Of the rest of he cast, Emma Stone stood out and brought enormous charm to a largely reactive role. She had great chemistry with Dennis Leary too; there was no stretch at all in seeing them as father and daughter. Martin “dentures” Sheen and Sally Field were also winning.
I was less convinced by Andrew Garfield. His natural charisma worked in the character’s favour, but he over-invests in a role where that level of turmoil felt inappropriate and indulgent (I know he’s a teenager, but really). It belonged in a different movie with a different character (the Nolan-verse, perhaps). In any emotionally charged scene, the characterisation felt over-cooked and overwrought. Maguire may not have brought enough wise-cracking fun to the part, and Garfield makes the most of the scenes where he gets to indulge that side, but at least he didn’t run the danger of becoming a tiresomely petulant brat. After yet another bruised and taciturn entrance at the end I was wondering why on earth Aunt May was putting up with him. The last scene between Peter and Mary only compounded this. I can accept that Parker has a lot to learn, but was the best way to tell us this having a laugh about breaking his vow to Captain Stacey (promises you can’t keep are “the best kind“)?
A few random thoughts. The music was rather sucky (I’m surprised to see James Horner was the composer); intrusive and simultaneously unmemorable. The Stan Lee cameo was a good ‘un (Webb directs this scene with aplomb – so why do other sequences feel so flat?) The New Yorkers unite to aid Spider-Man with their cranes was appalling; the writers appear to have been inspired by various other nauseating scenes of plucky and rousing American spirit winning out (The ferry sequence in The Dark Knight and protecting Spidey in Spider-Man 2). And the most bizarre moment. So unexpected and bad taste, it could have been excised from an early Peter Jackson film; the lizard mouse, snarling amid the remains of his poor cage mate. More warped inspiration along those lines might have given The Amazing Spider-Man the edge it needed to wash away the memory of the Raimi trilogy.