Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (dir. by Marc Webb)


It was in the summer of 2002 that the superhero film genre finally entered it’s Golden Age (or Silver Age for some). X-Men had come out two years before to positive acclaim and, most importantly, in the box-office. It wasn’t until Sam Raimi released the first in what would be his trilogy in the Spider-Man film franchise that superhero comic book films became the power in Hollywood it remains to this day. The first film from Raimi easily captured the pulp and campy sensibilities of the source material and for an origin story film it was done quite well in that it introduced the titular character and what made him tick. In 2004, Raimi and company released what many consider the best comic book film with Spider-Man 2. The film brought a level of Greek tragedy to the fun of the first film and it definitely brought one of the best realized comic book villains on film with Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus. Then the franchise hit a major bump in 2007 with Raimi third entry in the franchise with the bloated Spider-Man 3.

Sony Pictures, who owned the film rights to the Spider-Man franchise, were so quick to churn out a fourth film, but in doing so lost the filmmaker and cast that made the trilogy happen. In the studios’ thinking they needed to get a fourth film up and running in order to keep the rights to the film from reverting back to Marvel and Disney. So, out goes Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and in comes Marc Webb, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Instead of getting Spider-Man 4 we get The Amazing Spider-Man which doesn’t continue what Raimi had established with the first three films, but reboots the franchise all the way to the beginning.

Marc Webb takes the screenplay worked on by a trio of screenwriters (James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves) and reboots the origin story of Peter Parker’s transformation into Spider-Man. We find Peter Parker back in high school as a student and still getting bullied by Flash Thompson while remaining awkward around girls (especially one Gwen Stacy played by Emma Stone). yet, before we even get to this part of the film we get an introductory coda where we find a preadolescent Peter Parker playing hide and seek with his scientist father. These early scenes show hints that the enhanced spider thatwill bite and give eter his abilities may have had his father’s research and work written all over it.

This intro influences much of the storyline and leaves a huge impact on the character of Peter Parker which the previous three films never explored. The rest of the film has Peter investigating the circumstances of his parent’s disappearance and his adjustment to having been given the superhuman abilities by the spider that his father may or may not have been responsible in breeding.

First off, the film does a good job in re-establishing Peter Parker as a high school student. The original film spent some time in this part of Peter Parker’s life but never truly explored it. We see Peter not just the class genius, but also one who also shows an affinity for photography (something that the original trilogy never really explained other than he needed the job and money). There’s also some added layers to the character as this version of Peter Parker is more than willing to stand up to the bullies picking on the weaker students other than himself. It’s a huge departure from the meek and geeky Peter Parker of the past. We still get a geeky and smart Peter, but one who is also a sort of a well-intentioned slacker. We also get a proper introduction for Gwen Stacy (something the third film criminally mishandled)

The film introduces once again many of the characters the first film in the series had already done. From Uncle Ben (played by Martin Sheen this time around) and Aunt May (Sally Field) right up to the robber who runs into Uncle Ben and changes Peter Parker’s outlook on his role as a hero forever. Again these were character that had already been explored by the first three films and they’re scenes that had an air of familiarity to them though Sheen performance as Uncle Ben added more layers to the character who becomes Peter Parker’s moral center.

Another thing that the film did a good job with was the design of the film. It has been ten years since the first film and the technology in CGI-effects has leapfrogged exponentially since. The look of the OsCorp Tower was a beautiful piece of architectural design. The building loomed over New York City like something dark with a hint of malice. There were changes to the suit Peter wears that really harkens back to the McFarlane years of the Spider-Man comics. Even the return of the web-shooters was a nice surprise that I had some reservations when first hearing about it.

A third good thing about the film was the extended montage when Peter Parker realizes he has gained new abilities and begins to test them out. It’s familiar territory from the first film, but Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield adds a new level of youthful exuberance to the proceedings. Even the use of parkour by Peter Parker to show his growing abilities didn’t come off as silly. Garfield’s performance as Peter Parker in this montage was pretty great. One could believe at how much fun he was having at discovering each new level of abilities. Even some of the growing pains he goes through after getting bit were some of the more hilarious moments in the film that ultimately lacked much of it in the end.

Which brings us to what made this entertaining film end up becoming a failure in the end.

I admit that the film entertained me in the end, but there were things aboutThe Amazing Spider-Manwhich nagged at me throughout and afterwards. While the film was entertaining the story self and most of the characters were inconsistently written. Once one looked past the action and some of the witty dialogue in the beginning the film’s many plot-holes and head-scratching moments become too glaring to ignore.

The character of Peter Parker does get some new layers of characterization in the beginning, but as the film played out the more the Peter Parker of this film began to stray away from not just what Raimi had created and guided through the first three films but also most of the character’s decade’s long growth in the comics. Yes, we see Peter Parker as the science-genius and even moreso than the one portrayed by Tobey Maguire, but we also don’t get the awkward teen who grows into his abilities, but most importantly, one who learns through tragedy that he has a responsibility to the people around him to protect them even if it means sacrificing his wants and dreams to do so. We don’t just see Peter Parker saving people, but also one who seemed to relish beating up and abusing those who used to do the same to him and/or others. Spider-Man in this film acts more like a bully than a reluctant hero by film’s end. Even the events that should’ve taught him the lessons of self-sacrifice and heeding the needs of the many fail to make much of an impact on the teen superhero. All one has to look at as the perfect example of this darker and more selfish turn to the character was Peter’s whisper to Gwen about promises not being kept being the best ones.

Other characters get inconsistencies in how they’re written. The other big one being Dr. Curt Connors who begins the film as a scientist so intent of not just curing his disability but also helping the world. It’s a character similar in tone to Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus, yet where that villain remained a tragic one throughout the film and we could see the path which led him to become a villain with Dr. Connors in this fourth film there’s such a huge turnabout in the character’s motivations that whatever sympathy we may have had for Connors was squandered.

Not every character fails to impress. Martin Sheen and Denis Leary as Uncle Ben and Capt. Stacy respectively were fully realized characters who become Peter Parker’s moral centers and voice of reason. In fact, both Sheen and Leary helped anchor the scenes they appeared in and thus made their characters’ fate have the sort of emotional impact that a growing hero needs to move from being reluctant to accepting of his lot in life. It’s a shame that the writers failed to capitalize on the performances of these two character actors to help make Peter Parker more a hero and less a teenager more in love with what he can do instead of realizing that he has more to offer those who are weakest.

This is not to say that the performances by the cast was bad. From Garfield and Stone right up to Ifans, Sheen, Leary and Field, the cast did a great job with an uneven and inconsistent script that was too full of themes and ideas but no focus on any one of them. It’s a wasted opportunity to build on what the previous cast of the three films had created. Even the third film which many would agree as being a huge, bloated mess actually had a singular focus. It was a story that tried to explore Peter Parker’s darker side andhow his life as a superhero negatively impacts everyone around him he cares for. With this Marc Webb production we get a Peter Parker who at times was compassionate when it came to others being bullied and then we get one who relished on doing the same to those he now sees deserving of payback. Even Parker’s hunt for his uncle’s killer which the film spent a considerable time following just got dropped without any sort of resolution. One of the most significant events in Peter’s life gets dumped to the wayside to concentrate on finally pitting Spider-Man against the film’s Lizard.

Did The Amazing Spider-Man need to have gotten made? The answer to that would be a yes.

Did Marc Webb, the three writers in Vanderbilt, Sargent and Kloves and the new cast get the reboot correctly? I would say no.

This was a film that spent too much time reintroducing characters both comic book and film fans already knew intimately. The storyline itself shared many similarities to the second film in the series yet none of the cohesiveness which made that first sequel such an instant classic the moment it premiered in 2004. The Amazing Spider-Man spent so much time trying to come off as a grittier and edgier version of the character (I call this the Christopher Nolan-effect) that what should’ve been coming off as a fun-loving, albeit self-sacrificing hero, came off as a dick once he finally got the full costume on. The people in charge of this reboot sacrificed what was fun about the film franchise for realism that the character and his universe were never steeped in to begin with.

Gritty, edgy and realism may work for Nolan’s take on the Batman film franchise, but for Spidey it fails and just turns what could’ve been a fresh new take on the franchise into another entertaining, but ultimately forgettable entry in the series. Maybe it’s time Sony just realize that it’s just pushing this franchise downhill and let the rights revert back to Marvel who seem to have found a balance between pulpy camp and serious realism.

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