Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-man

Spider-man swings back into the theaters, with new actors, a new director, a mutated origin, and brand-new webs of continuity.

Given how recent the Raimi/Maguire franchise is, I won’t even try to avoid occasional comparisons. Better questions remain, however: does this film hold up on its own, and will it appeal to the fans?

Title: The Amazing Spider-man

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Marc Webb
Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Knowles, featuring characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man / Peter Parker
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy
Rhys Ifans as The Lizard / Dr. Curt Connors
Denis Leary as Captain Stacy
Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben
Sally Field as Aunt May
Irrfan Khan as Rajit Ratha
Campbell Scott as Richard Parker
Embeth Davidtz as Mary Parker
Chris Zylka as Flash Thompson
Max Charles as Peter Parker (Age 4)
Kari Coleman as Helen Stacy
Leif Gantvoort as Fateful Criminal
Stan Lee as Librarian

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb.

Premise:

A nerdy high-school kid gains superhuman powers after he gets bitten by… Wait, are you serious?

In this incarnation, Gwendolyn is a science genius, Curtis Connor is an associate of Peter’s late scientist father, and a conspiracy lingers in the background that will be resolved in another film.

High Points:

1. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone do an excellent job capturing the essence of these characters. Behind the mask and the quips, the original, classic Spider-man was a broody guy who took a lot of punches. The comic-book Gwendolyn (pre-J. Michael Straczynski retcons) had a core of innocence and tragedy. We see all of those elements here, played convincingly. Just as Stan Lee wanted to take the comic-book superhero and make him slightly more realistic, so this film better grounds Spider-man in something a little closer to the real world, without losing sight of the comic-book origins.

2. Stan Lee gets his funniest cameo appearance to date.

Low Points:

1. Peter wanders into Oscorp on flimsy premises and then sneaks into a high security area, where he can tamper with a delicate experiment. Later, the 17-year-old intern of a man who’s been sacked has full access to sensitive equipment. Seriously, most modern high schools have better security than Oscorp. Further comments follow under “Story.”

2. 3-D. For all of the impressive shots of Spidey swinging over NYC, this film gives us little reason to be in 3-D, even if you’re among those who still think 3-D movies are a pretty nifty idea.

The Scores:

Originality: 1/6. Spider-man can only be so original and, five years after the last movie series, this feels very familiar. Nevertheless, this cast and crew manage their own take on the web-slinger even if it means nobody says “With great power comes great responsibility,” and Spidey’s early efforts at being a superhero have to do with revenge, not living up to a moral precept.

Effects: 6/6 The film features excellent wallcrawler effects—I never felt like I was watching excerpts from the videogame. The production crew also makes the lizard CGI work.

Acting: 5/6 I’ve addressed Garfield and Stone elsewhere. Strong though these actors are, Hollywood really needs to stop telling us 29-year-olds are 17. This becomes especially annoying, given how much this film takes on the ethos and angst of teendom.

The supporting cast members also turn in impressive performances. Ifans is strong, if a bit Marvel-melodramatic and inconsistent, as Curtis Connor. I was leary of the performer they cast as Captain Stacy, but he turned out to be not too much of an as-hole, and he had good repartee with Garfield. Chris Zylka only appears briefly, but he’s far more the Flash Thompson of the original comics than Joe Manganiello in Raimi’s films. Speaking of Raimi’s films: Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson were perfect as Aunt May and Uncle Ben, but Sally Fields and Martin Sheen bring weight to the roles—and I can’t wait for the future moment when Spider-man realizes his aunt also has super-powers.

The characters have a little too much exposition to deliver, but that problem emanates from the script, not the actors…

Story: 4/6 The movie does a great job grounding the characters and their world; it fails mostly in its third act, which relies heavily on implausible developments, even for a film where altered spiders convey superhuman powers. The film also throws out a lot of problematic threads it fails to resolve, and I frankly dread the moment when the conspiracy involving Peter’s parents will resurface.

Production: 6/6

Emotional Response: 4/6

Overall: 5/6. Raimi’s Spider-man was an event in the way this film could not be, it gave us a couple iconic movie moments (something this film lacks), and it did a better job of introducing the various familiar elements of the Spider-man mythos. Webb’s film more clearly captures the essence of Peter, and it does a better job of setting up for future sequels—in part, by leaving so many familiar elements out of the first film: no photographer’s job for the Bugle, no Osborn family with tortuous dynamics (Osborn is a reference, but not a character), no trace of MJ, and no echoes of the theme song.

In total, The Amazing Spider-man receives 31/42.

So…. Did this movie need to be made?

1. No. No movie needs to be made.
2. Yes. Sony was going to lose the rights to the character if they didn’t make some kind of Spider-man movie.
3. No. So soon after the Raimi/Maguire franchise, they should have just James Bonded the character and continued with a new Spider-man adventure. We don’t need to see his freakin’ origin yet again, five years after the end of the recent series.
4. Yes. They’ve done a better job of planning for future sequels, and this required a full reboot.
5. No. If Sony lost the rights, Spidey might have been folded into The Avengers-related Marvel movies. That would have been, like, so boss.
6. Yes. Sony wasn’t going to let #5 happen.
7. Your turn….

8 replies on “Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-man”

  1. J_W_W says:

    My answer to the last question.

    No, this movie didn’t need to be made.

    Because of the reasons for its existence and the company behind it, I will not be seeing it. My stand against the evil MPAA is generally pretty weak, but with this one I just can’t get past the lameness of doing a reboot so soon for the pure greedy motive of maintaining the character rights.

    Plus, there are so many good things that could happen if the rights reverted to Disney (I know, they’re evil too, but they’ve yet to root kit CD’s and aren’t really a force in the music business like Sony).

    This time I’m keeping my money in my pocket and its the first time I’m skipping a movie for that reason. Unless the MPAA backs off on their quixotic quest to make sure they make us pay the maximum amount for the minimum delivery of entertainment, its not going to be the last time.

    • I’ve been thinking about this comment. I don’t like to argue with readers as a general rule, but I need to disagree on this one. Yes, Columbia Tristar picked the time frame for production based on Disney buying Marvel, but they were already talking reboot after Raimi and Maguire stepped away from a very lucrative property. This isn’t Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four in any way, shape or form. Whatever the studio’s plan, Webb and his team clearly were doing this as a labor of love. Refusing to watch this because it follows so soon after the Raimi/Maguire movies is like refusing to watch the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland because that was adaptation 23 in 34 years. How many people are even aware of the previous 22? In my opinion, this is better than any of the Raimi films (the first two of which I really, really enjoyed as our review archives will testify) and suffers only by trying to deliberately tread a new path and avoiding some of the classic elements that the prior films used. This got Flash Thompson right for the first time ever, giving him characteristics beyond “bully,” set up the Stacy family beautifully, and really focused on emotions and the use of action to support the emotional path instead of action for the sake of action. I understand the desire to vilify the incredibly deserving MPAA, but in this particular instance, you are really missing out.

  2. Dark Nexus says:

    What happened to #2 in the “Did this movie need to be made?” section?

    I have yet to see it, but I’m okay with the reboot, but they probably should have kept the origins part of it to an opening credits recap sequence. No need to completely re-tell it, and such a recap could focus on the changes they made vs the previous trilogy.

    I would have preferred to see the rights revert back to Marvel Studios (along with X-men and Fantastic Four from Fox), but that just wasn’t going to happen.

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      What happened to #2 in the “Did this movie need to be made?” section?

      That section was an afterthought and I forgot to proofread it. Actually, two numbers were missing. Corrected now.

      And yes, I would love to see a certain other studio own the rights to Spider-man, but it really isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

  3. I finally got a chance to see it, and felt it had much more emotional weight than the Raimi films. It felt more like the comic to me. I think the Incredible Hulk approach of just making the next movie could have worked, but going back to mechanical webshooters and bringing in Gwen without writing out MJ needed a reboot. So, yes, it was time for another Spider-Man movie, but they only needed the full reboot because of the story they chose to tell. They could have chosen another one, but this was a good one.

  4. Fez says:

    I think the Emotional Response should have been a bit higher here, personally. I can’t explain quite why, but this movie tugged at me in that regard in ways that the previous three never did, all in a good way.

    And I’ll be damned if the theater didn’t get a little dusty when the guys were lining up the cranes.

    Also, this movie managed to get my 7 year old to run around acting out scenes for hours and going home and putting on a set of spider-man PJ’s that are made like a costume and refusing to take them off for more than a day. The previous three on DVD didn’t seem to have the same effect on him for whatever reason.

    Sure this one is not without its flaws, but I found it superior to the old three.

    I had my reservations about the movie in general, but I’m glad we decided to go see it rather than skipping it.

    Also, it should be subtitled Starring Emma Stone’s Thighs or am I the only one who noticed that she seemed to favor a certain combination of clothing?

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      I responded well to the first half; the flaws in the second half blunted me a bit. I think what may be winning many fans over (including young fans in pajamas!) is the character. Flaws aside, this film gives us a version of what made this character so popular.

      As for Gwen, she always did favor a certain combination of clothing.

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