The Amazing Spider-Man Review Part 2: So Was It Good?

Posted by Mister Mets 05 July 2012

I’ll admit that I’m easily pleased as far as superhero films go. I will be satisfied by a competently made film, such as Thor or the  Daredevil Director’s Cut, and The Amazing Spider-Man is slightly better than that. In the context of the genre, it’s good but it’s not one of the all-time best. To compare it to the rest of the series, I’d say that The Amazing Spider-Man is not as good as Spider-Man 2, although I would say it’s slightly better than the perfectly respectable 2002 Spider-Man, and significantly better than Spider-Man 3. I can’t say that it was better than The Avengers, but I can’t say that it was worse either.
Earlier, I wrote about the decisions the director and writer had made in the adaptation. Now it’s time to look at the execution and the performances to figure out why it’s a good movie.
Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are great together. I don’t mean it as a backhanded compliment to say that there wasn’t anything obviously wrong with the pairing. The lack of chemistry is more noticeable in a film than actual chemistry between leads, with the possible exception of films that are more risque than PG-13 superhero action films. I liked their initial awkwardness, such as when Peter Parker asks Gwen out, and both realize that he’ll be busy with community service. They’re both pretty damn likable. And it’s also impressive to have a film in which the leads are two teen scientists.
It’s a smart script. One thing I respect Vanderbilt and the other writers for is not dumbing things down, and letting the audience do some work. A lesser talent would feature a lot more repetition. It fits a subtle, and less bombastic (for the most part) Peter Parker. Although it is slightly maddening when this Spider-Man never expresses guilt over Uncle Ben’s death.
Marc Webb was a competent director. There wasn’t a noticeable visual style to the movie, as there was with Raimi. He made a good film, and justified Sony’s decision to give a blockbuster to a guy with only one film, and a lot of music videos, to his credit. Webb captures the experience of being Spider-man pretty well, and there’s some clever choreography. Two very different sequences show Webb’s skill: the much-discussed bridge rescue, and a fight scene where Peter Parker is stuck to a pole, just after he discovered his powers.
Rhys Ifans was an unusual choice for villain, lower on the totem pole than any of the actors cast for villainous roles in previous Spider-Man movies, or John Malkovich, who was supposed to be the Vulture in Spider-Man 4. I’d also say he was less well known than Garfield, Stone, Sheen, Field and Leary. His lead role in a major film was the recent Shakespeare flop Anonymous. Still, Luna Lovegood’s dad provides a capable performance.
His Connors is a good, but not particularly brave man. His Lizard is an effective mad scientist. He may vacilate a bit too much, although the payoff is effective when the Lizard is beaten.
There are promising seeds for future movies, with shady dealings at Oscorp and a mystery about Peter Parker’s parents. That includes one final twist that raises the stakes pretty well, and suggests that there’s more to one character’s story.
Martin Sheen and Sally Field are effective as a nice couple who have been married for 37 years, a fraction of which was spent taking care of a kid who is quite different form them. They pretty much disappear from the film after the first half. Sheen has an excuse, as his character dies. I can understand the cuts, as this is already a two+ hour film. Field’s problem seems to be that there isn’t enough room for both her and Dennis Leary’s Captain Stacy, who plays a bigger role in the continuing education of Spider-Man. He’s pretty good as the substitute for JK Simmons’s J Jonah Jameson, a gruff police captain and fairly sweet family man.
I like the little details, such as Peter Parker making webshooters using Oscorp technology, combined with a mechanism he had made earlier to lock his door.  When Manhattan is evacuated below 53rd Street because of a mad supervillain, the ensuing traffic jam makes it feel real.
I saw the movie in 3D. The 3D is mostly unobtrusive, and I never thought that the film was poorly lit. There were a few “Wow” moments, but I’m honestly not sure the experience is worth the surcharge. It’s not a lesser filmgoing experience by any means, but it’s not an obvious improvement either.
Cross-posted from my blog What Would Spidey Do?

I’m going to split the review into two parts. First, I’ll look at some of the choices Director Marc Webb and Writer James Vanderbilt made regarding their incorporation of the source material:the comic books they adapted, as well as the original Raimi/ Maguire trilogy. And then I’ll go with a general review of the film. Though if you just want to know whether it’s worth seeing, I would highly recommend it.
An initial concern was that the movie would just be a remake of a fairly recent blockbuster. While both this and the 2002 Spider-Man feature the wall-crawler’s origin, there are enough differences in The Amazing Spider-Manto ensure that it doesn’t feel repetitive. There’s enough new material that it feels as if we got a sequel that went in a slightly different direction, rather than any kind of redux.
There’s generally a new aesthetic sensibility, so even the stuff we’ve seen before feels different. But for the most, it’s a whole new ball game. This Peter Parker doesn’t graduate high school yet, and he’s guided by the mystery of what happened to his parents more than anything else. There’s no Harry Osborn, although he does have more interactions with Flash Thompson, who actually grows a bit over the course of the film. They’re not friends at the end, but it’s certainly a possibility in the future.
Despite this being another version of the story in which the geek falls in love with the hottest girl in his High School, Peter’s relationship with Gwen Stacy in this movie is a shift from his romance with Mary Jane in earlier films. They’re different women, and their roles in the stories diverge. Gwen is smarter, so she’s more of an obvious match for Peter. She’s  capable of helping against the Lizard, and puts herself in harm’s way on two different occasions.  Her access to Oscorp is a plot point.
Gwen quickly learns that Peter is Spider-Man. Before that, she didn’t really think much about Spidey. There isn’t any romantic triangle this time around, as the male lead and female lead quickly fall for one another. The biggest obstacle is her father, taking over J Jonah Jameson’s role as chief Spider-Man critic. That complication is new to the films, although Peter did have a much worse relationship with Harry Osborn’s father.
Gwen and Captain Stacy appeared in Spider-Man 3, where she was mainly object of Eddie Brock’s affections, and a spoiler in Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane. Gwen was smart in the comics, but that was rarely relevant to the story. She was mostly known for her death, although she often found herself in danger because of Spider-Man’s enemies. While Mary Jane was the damsel in distress in the Raimi films, that was Gwen Stacy’s role in the comics. She never learned his identity, which led to the classic superhero problem with Gwen Stacy loving the secret identity, while blaming the alter ego for the death of her father. That’s something that won’t happen in this movie series.
I suspect Gwen’s passive role in earlier iterations of the story was largely a product of the times for a character introduced in 1965 and killed off in 1973. It seems unfair to consider that a knock against the character. The new film shows how the character could have been used instead.
Gwen’s knowledge of Spider-Man’s identity is going to be a weird set-up to the future films. If they kill off a Gwen Stacy who knew what she was getting into, Peter’s going to have even more problems heading into his next relationship, as the next girl would be making the same exact decision. Considering Gwen Stacy’s willingness to fight the Lizard, there’s no indication that the next girl would do better.
This Peter Parker isn’t the wallflower from the first page of Amazing Fantasy #15. While he has an interest in photography, he doesn’t go for a job at the Daily Bugle, which is just as well as this film doesn’t feature any financial problems for the Parkers. Spider-Man also doesn’t try to become a celebrity, and there’s no wrestling sequence. This Spider-Man uses mechanical webshooters, so even his power set has changed. He also seems to be more clever in how he uses the webbing. I can’t recall the character having a spider sense in this film. It results in subtly different action sequences.
The circumstance in which this version of Peter Parker is bitten by the spider is novel. The old Peter Parker would not have stolen an intern’s ID to get into Oscorp, but he didn’t have as good a reason to try. In this version, the emotional trauma of the loss of his parents is what drives him, more so than a love of science, although the kid is clearly quite bright.
With the mystery of his parents, and his willingness to sneak into Oscorp to find clues about that, you could imagine the Andrew Garfield Peter Parker as the lead of an action film, even if he never gained super-powers. That’s a difference from the timid teenager inAmazing Fantasy #15.
The costume’s fine, an improvement over the raised webbing in the Raimi films. At times, it looks like a Joe Jusko painting come to life.
One of the most disappointing things about this adaptation is how they handle Uncle Ben’s death. Its effect on the story is rather minimal. he main thing that happens is that the best actor in the cast (no disrespect intended, but The West Wing and Apocalypse Now trump the best work of the other actors) suddenly disappears from the movie. Uncle Ben’s death is no longer the central point of his maturation as a superhero, taking third billing to the mystery of what happened to his parents, as well as Captain Stacy’s arc.
Uncle Ben’s death leads Peter to hunt down the killer, a man with a star tattoo, but it doesn’t seem to affect him or his relationship with Aunt May much. He didn’t seem to learn anything from Uncle Ben’s death, which is an unusual take on the character to say the least. The lessons about responsibility came later, as he started to realize how he had sometimes screwed up by taking justice into his own hands.
I can understand why they went with a different approach. There’s a strong argument  that there’s no need to show anything the audience has already seen. Why harp on about Uncle Ben’s death or Peter’s feelings of guilt when the audience has a pretty good idea about that stuff? Most of the audience will have seen Spider-Man, so they’ll have a vague impression of how Uncle Ben’s death affected Peter, and they can just figure that the character is internalizing his feelings about that. They’ll also just assume that there’s stuff going on that isn’t shown on-camera. But with this part of the mythos, I think Webb and company went too far in the interests of making sure that this film covers different territory than the 2002 Spider-Man.
The Lizard isn’t exactly like he is in the comics, although this iteration makes for an effective supervillain. His motivation is altruistic, and his decision to inject himself with a potentially dangerous and untested substance makes a lot of sense, especially considering the alternative. When he goes off the deep end, he does so in an interesting way. This Lizard knows that he’s Connors, which is a departure. He seems himself as the first of a new species, and his goal is to make others similar to him.
There’s no hint of a wife or children, although it’s vague enough that it could always be revealed in a sequel that Martha and Billy were just out of town. He’s a tragic villain, who screws up badly and tries to do the right thing in the end. As the Lizard, he kills Captain Stacy. As Connors, he saves Spider-Man’s life and tried to help the Captain.
Despite the differences, there are a handful of odd scenes that seem to cover the same territory as the Raimi saga. This includes a fight between Peter Parker and Uncle Ben, as well as a conversation Curt Connors had with his other half, which is similar to Norman Osborn’s Psycho-esque conversations with the Green Goblin. After September 11, Raimi tacked on a scene in the 2002 Spider-Man which a bunch of New Yorkers interfere in a battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. There’s a similar sequence to the 2012Amazing Spider-Man, but for a variety of reasons, it feels earned as a particular blue-collar group of New Yorkers come to Spidey’s aide in a clever way, because one guy really does owe him.
Webb and company uses the audience’s knowledge of the characters in interesting ways. With Peter and Gwen at the end of the film, the writers are playing off of how different versions of Spider-Man’s story have gone. The idea that Peter Parker may sacrifice his relationship with Gwen Stacy echoes the ending of the first Spider-Man movie. But there’s also the specter of how the real relationship ended, and how Captain Stacy’s final words may come back to haunt Peter.
Norman Osborn wouldn’t be as effective as a mostly off-screen presence, if he weren’t so familiar to the viewers. But it works pretty well, keeping the focus on the Lizard while seeding the larger conspiracy. It also means that Sony didn’t have to make a decision about casting the villain in the sequel currently slated for 2014 while they were shooting the current film.

The Amazing Spider-Man review part 2>>

Cross-posted from my blog What Would Spidey Do?


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