MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ (Spoiler Free)

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

The Amazing Spider-Man

Directed by Marc Webb
Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves
Story by James Vanderbilt

Starring: Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Rhys Ifans (Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard), Denis Leary (Captain George stacy), Irrfan Khan (Dr. Rajit Ratha), Martin Sheen (Ben Parker), Sally Field (May Parker), Chris Zylka (Flash Thompson)

Reviewed in IMAX 3D

 

Early in his hunt for the massive, humanoid reptile roaming the Manhattan sewer system, Spider-Man casts an elaborate net, taut lengths of webbing reaching out through dark passageways in every direction. He reclines at its nexus, waiting for any intrusive movement to pluck at one of his hammock’s sensitive spokes. This elegant mechanism isn’t simply an intuitive use of Peter’s mechanical web-shooters, but a perfect visualization of director Marc Webb’s approach to the newly revised Spider-Man mythology. Nothing escapes the web. All things lead back to young Peter Parker. Is it a strict adherence to the symbolism of a spider and its rigging? Is it an artifact of co-screenwriter Steve Kloves’ years tinkering in Harry Potter’s deeply concentric Boy-Who-Lived universe? Or is it a reaction to the runaway success of the Marvel Studios films, interwoven to extents previously unheard of in blockbuster filmmaking? Either way, there’s no such thing as coincidence in The Amazing Spider-Man, in which Peter Parker rests at the central node (playing a game on his phone).

The question then is this: Has Webb woven the kind of web, grand and glinting and mathematical, that makes you step back in admiration? Or are these just strewn cobwebs that get tangled up in an unfortunate yawn? Sadly, some of these threads are the type viewers will likely want to bat away, especially early on. It takes some time before Peter and the filmmakers produce the kind of wonders worth photographing. And as with so many tenuous feats of natural beauty, it’s gone all too soon.

The most conspicuous problems in The Amazing Spider-Man lie within one old newspaper clipping. As teased in various trailers for the film, Peter’s parents play a much larger role in this origin story than in other incarnations, notably Sam Raimi’s. Here, Peter is drawn into the affairs of Dr. Curt Connors (or perhaps Pete reels Connors into his own) upon discovering a connection between the famed scientist and his late dad. As with the previously mentioned boy wizard, Pete is preoccupied with his deceased birth parents. It’s understandable for any kid in such circumstances, but given the many other paths that could potentially lead our hero to the lair of the Lizard–his own knack for engineering, his friendship with Connors’ protege Gwen Stacy–there’s little reason to employ Richard Parker for this connection. While a mid-credits coda scene suggests that further complexities in Richard’s work with Oscorp may be revealed in future films, it all feels like an anchor to the past rather than a springboard to exciting new adventures. Instead than lending tantalizing complexity, this angle tends to bog down a far livelier story, replete with an energetic new Spider-Man.

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

As Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield isn’t nearly so nerdy as Tobey Maguire’s take on the character. There’s no getting away from it. Kid’s handsome. He plays it meek though, and convincingly. As he swings into the role of Spider-Man, it’s clear that the same awkward teenager inhabits that suit. But as he demonstrates in the rescue of a perilously trapped child, he views his mask as a talisman for confidence and strength. Behind the mask, Pete quips more, with a vigor and bravado we never truly saw from Maguire’s Spider-Man. By the final battle, it doesn’t matter if he’s got the mask on or not. Garfield straddles that line perfectly, between cocky acrobat and exuberant geek. This translates physically as well, with a lean and lithe figure who manages to make those impossible vaults, crouches and summersaults inexplicably believable. It’s the most convincing depiction of Spider-Man’s aerial prowess yet, free of the wince-inducing too-CG renderings of earlier films (remember Pete’s first night-time chase in the prototype sweatsuit from the first film?). With these spectacular web slinging sequences comes thoughtful use of the power set, combining organic-looking parkour chases, webshot combat and expertly choreographed evasive maneuvers. Simply put, Garfield’s Spider-Man is one of the best realizations of a superhero to date (there’s a dual meaning inherent there that is entirely valid).

It’s unfortunate then that such an amazing Spider-Man is forced to tangle with such a rote villain as the Lizard. Initially I thought the character might serve as a fairly innocuous starter rogue, the ideal conflict for a film juggling a new origin story with its other chief conflicts. But as with Raimi’s first Spider-Man outing, a satisfying origin story is marred by a cartoonishly melodramatic baddie. Rhys Ifans doesn’t quite devour the scenery like Dafoe’s bombastic Norman Osborn (I should probably mention there’s a new Norman in town, though he mostly looms off camera), but the Lizard’s bizarre plot doesn’t share the same restraint. Silly as the scheme is, the Lizard’s endgame isn’t much more generic than Loki’s in Marvel’s The Avengers, but given its prominence in the story it’s far easier to see it for its overt lunacy. Due to Ifans’ (relatively) low key portrayal of the tragic Connors, the all-too swift Jekyll to Hyde transition feels like a disingenuous arc. Antidotes and countdown clocks add to the tired cliches, robbing this section of the web of anything truly compelling outside of Spider-Man himself.

What elevates The Amazing Spider-Man from the bottom of the barrel is an atypical level of natural chemistry, especially for a superhero film. Garfield and Stone make for a delightful onscreen couple, made all the more charming by their characters’ mutual shyness. They’re probably a bit too old to really convince as high school students, but they do read as young people, smitten and slightly awkward. Emma Stone’s Gwen also garners the biggest laughs in a scene interacting with her father, Denis Leary’s Captain Stacy. That’s not saying a whole lot, given that the film is more about thrills and heart than belly laughs, but Emma Stone’s smart, stunning presence is a refreshing addition to the often thankless tradition of superhero girlfriends. It’s been said that this is a superhero story as viewed through the love interest’s eyes. I don’t know that that’s entirely true, but when it is, it’s likely the strongest angle.

The other saving grace comes with the bond between Peter and his acting parents, Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Fans of The West Wing already know that Martin Sheen has the right stuff to play the guiding light in young Peter’s life. Prepare for the master to break your heart more than once in this film. The late Cliff Robertson did a tremendous job in the role of Ben Parker ten years ago, and the filmmakers of this new film smartly avoided repetition here. You won’t hear those same immortal words spoken by Sheen’s Uncle Ben. It’s a different dance altogether. I do think they updated the Ben and Peter story remarkably well, making Peter’s call to action all the more powerful. Here’s where the web is strongest. That tension between feeling culpable for something and feeling driven by that same impetus. As my friend Dave recently suggested, that death is as pivotal to this story as that radioactive spider. Maybe more so.

Sally Field is equally strong as Aunt May. Once you’ve gotten yourself together after the Uncle Ben scenes, she’ll be sending new fissures straight through that freshly-mended heart. Her scenes in the final act are particularly resonant.

In the end it all comes down to this: Can great chemistry trump poor marks in most other sciences? That’s up to you. For my part, The Amazing Spider-Man is a discouragingly uneven film, but rich enough to recommend. Maybe a proof of concept as resources for a smarter sequel? After four live action films, we’ve yet to see this character square off against a truly worthy opponent. It’s not that Spidey lacks a compelling rogues gallery. He’s got one of the very best. Hopefully the next big screen installment will see the introduction of a villain with as much nuance as Peter, a character we gravitate towards addressing by his real name and not his superhero moniker. That means something. Coda aside, this reboot ends on a very good note, all the pieces in an ideal place for the continuing story. Here’s hoping the next installment moves things foreword, ignoring that drag on the line behind it.

3 Stars

(out of 5)

 

Comments

  1. You don’t think Doc Ock was a worthy opponent? Their fight on the train was one of the best of the genre. Quintessential Spider-Man, if you ask me.

    • Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      It’s a good fight sequence. All of the villains have generated cool action sequences, the Lizard included. But personality-wise it’s always about a deranged lunatic. There’s nothing to latch onto.

    • @fuzzytypewriter So is The Joker? I thought Doc Ock was great, but maybe I have to re-watch.

    • Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      The Joker is crazy, but he’s also devious and deceptively competent. There’s genuine guile buried underneath all that lunacy. I’d argue that the live action Spider-Man villains we’ve seen so far show few moments of true cunning. I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to convey, but there’s a discernible pattern here.

    • @fuzzytypewriter There was a character arc to Doc Ock in that film (beautifully played by Molina, I thought) – hardly a one-note “deranged lunatic”. Am I mis-understanding you?

    • Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      You’re not mis-reading me. I will grant that Doc Ock is the best of the live action Spider-Man villains so far. But I’d still rank him a few tiers down from the likes of Magneto (young or old) and Loki in a list of compelling screen super villains.

    • I agree with Paul regarding the Spider-Man villains. I’m also not sure I’d say Doc Oc had an arc. Coming out of the control of the arms seconds before his death and realizing what he had done and feeling bad about it isn’t an arc. If the arms had maintained control for ten seconds longer he never would have come around to his old self. Also, blaming his entire murderous rampage on malfunctioning technology removes all emotional or moral impact his character might have had. That last scene of his essentially excuses everything he did because he wasn’t in control. I actually found his character to be poorly conceived and executed. I mean it was practically comic book villain 101. Scientist creates new technology, has a lab accident, turns into psycho super villain because of accident, rampages through city and kidnaps hero’s girlfriend. I just dont see anything particularly interesting about that character. Other than the train fight scene that is, that was awesome.

    • Besides, Ock had some really cheesy writing in the movie. Didn’t help.

      I’m really torn on Spidey’s rogues’ gallery. (Really, I’m torn on the entire Marvel rogues’ gallery.) I enjoy a lot of Spidey’s quintessential villains on the comic page. I don’t care for Norman Osborn as he’s been used in recent years but love the whole arc of Silver and Bronze Age Green Goblin stories. And when the Lizard is written well, he’s probably my favorite Spidey villain – though sometimes that’s precisely because of his absurdity at times, like when his goal is to turn everybody in the world into lizards or whatnot.

      But the Lizard, as with most of Marvel’s villains, really walk the line between being interesting and being caricature, and have been caricature plenty of times in plenty of media. It’s too bad that he doesn’t end up working out terribly well in this movie, relatively speaking. (Though I’ll see it and judge for myself as well.) I was (and am) excited for this reboot for several reasons, and the Lizard is one of them, but Garfield and Stone (especially being that she’s Gwen, not MJ) is another, and the point that I have more faith in.

    • I agree that Doc Ock didn’t really have a character arc. It was silly and cliched. The fight on the train was awesome, but that doesn’t excuse poor plot or characterization.

      Here’s the DUMBEST thing about Doc Ock in the second film: why the hell did he rob banks? If he’s already decided to cross the line and steal, why not steal the equipment he needs, instead of stealing the money to pay for said equipment? Would it not arouse suspicions if he paid for all this expensive scientific equipment with cash? And what did he say, “Have UPS deliver the crates to the dilapidated warehouse down on the docks”? Would it not have made better sense to have a series of robberies of equipment?

  2. Going to check this out tonight. I like some of Paul’s reviews, podcast and looks at movies / tv shows on fuzzytypewriter. The last one talking about Game of Thrones with Josh was really good. I’m really hoping ASM is better then Prometheus. Because Paul liked that one and I thought is was 2.5 stars at best. Here’s hoping… I’m a big time Spider-Man fan as well.

    • it was*

    • Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      Everyone has a different philosophy regarding star ratings. Many won’t see this as an acceptable response, but my individual ratings aren’t relative to past ratings. The star ratings are more nebulous than my written review, which is what I’d encourage readers to focus on.

      I think you’ll find a lot to like as a Spider-Man fan.

    • Paul I really enjoyed the movie and gave it a 3.5 maybe 4. Spider-Man 2 is still my favorite SM movie. Doc Ock best on screen Spider-Man battle so far.

    • i agre prometheus did nothing for me

  3. a lot of the cg looked really silly (saw it in 2d)

    liked the cast, liked the director (though found nothing he did in the movie impressive)

    thought the script was just kinda bad

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this film.

  5. 3 out of 5?
    In other words, light years ahead Spider-man 3…

  6. Last I looked, “Amazing Spider-Man” was getting 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, so most critics are liking it. A couple have gotten hung up about the parents plotline. I don’t have a problem with it. First of all, it’s realistic. Sadly, lots of kids get abandoned by their parents and never hear from them again. Secondly, the issue of the parents will apparently be explored further in the second film. Thirdly, I believe Peter’s parents have returned in the comic, or at least people claiming to be his parents, so the plotline does not come from out of the blue in the Spidey mythology.

    • Pete’s parents returned during the early nineties, but they were actually robots built by the Chameleon. As absurd as that is in itself, I wonder if they may include the Chameleon as a villain in one of the sequels.

  7. The Emaginaut (@the_emaginaut) says:

    I have not yet seen this movie that you humans are blabbering about, buts I have seen what marvel has done recently with it’s films. Marvel has been borrowing very heavily from the Ultimate universe in order to bring their characters to life. I think that bodes well for future installments of this films. If you humans look back to the Nolan’s first Batman movie, the villains weren’t too nuanced eithers. It actually kind of works out if you thinks about it. A hero on their first outing couldn’t defeat a really great villain like the Joker or Norman Osborne. I’m looking forwards to seeing this movie, but I’m also aware that the movies are much more like the comic books these days in that you can’t judge one of them until you’ve experienced the entire arcs.

    • Dunno if I agree with that. I thought Ra’s Al Ghul was the ideal villain for the first Nolan Batman. He served as a nice parallel to Bruce in the way he dealt with the unjust ya know? Al Ghul carries out his attack on injustice behind the scenes whereas Bruce is all about being a symbol and taking the fight to the root.

      I think Paul is really spot on with the Spider-man villains, Doc Ock was definitely the best of the villains in terms of visuals and the fight scene on the train was cool but in all seriousness, he was just a nutter like Goblin. I think they had a really good opportunity with the third Spider-man movie to have a villain of substance with either Harry but that movie is a mess to the point of seeming like a comedy

  8. i fucking loved it. andrew Garfield was perfect as peter. he,was a scientist he was funny he brought the stan lee peter parker home . emma stone was great as gwen stacy i felt i was watching a john romita drawing on screen. and the Spider-Man action was awesome. i enjoyed it more than avengers five stars in my book.

  9. Mr.Enigma (@EJsingley) says:

    UGH!!! I haven’t seen the movie yet , but I do have a bit of a problem with the critisizm of the film and its direction.

    1.Peter’s parents have been a big part of his life in the “Ultimate Universe” and the “616 Universe”. Take the time to read the stories that the movie is pulling its info from.

    2. I am sick of everyones comparissons. The RAIMI trilogy is over. PERIOD. Get over it. The Amazing SM is NEW. A NEW cast of actors. A NEW director. A NEW SPIDER-MAN. NEW!!!!!!!!

    3. Comic book fans know that creative teams on our favorite books are shuffled all the time. Whether we like it or not. It is up to us “The Fans” to either stick with the book and see what direction the NEW TEAM takes our Character/s or just drop the book. This happens all the time! Did everyonr think that RAIMI and his cast would be making a SM 9 “The Clone Saga”

    4. Complaints —- ” Isn’t it too soon for another SM?’. ” The first SM movie came out ten years ago, why the REBOOT so soon?”. “The costume looks like a basketball!” !!!!!!!!!!!!!! Take up all of this shit with SONY. Why is this movie and its direction such a shock ? SONY has to keep making these movies so it doesn’t give the rights up. I didn’t sign SM over to SONY!!!!

    Sorry for the outburst but this article rubbed me the wrong way. I just thinnk that we are living in a fantastic time were we are lucky to see these movies being made. It wasn’t to long ago that comicbook movies were laughed at and NOT produced. We bitched when there was no comicbook movies and we are still bitching when they are being made!!!

    • Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      I never said the use of Peter’s parents was unique to this story, just that their inclusion were a largely unnecessary complication, at least in regard to the Connors connection. I’ve read several stories featuring Richard and Mary Parker, but I don’t consider it that compelling an avenue.

      With only a decade divide between Raimi’s first Spider-Man film and this new one, comparisons are inevitable. It’s absolutely worth discussing the similarities and differences.

      Your third and fourth points don’t seem to have anything to do with this review.

      As for the last bit, I’m happy that we have comic book adaptations on the big screen too. That certainly doesn’t mean that we should abandon critical assessment when watching them. There are great comic book movies. There are weak comic book movies. There are dozens that fall somewhere in between.

    • Hey, this may shock you. But comics and movies are different mediums. This is surprising news I know. But it’s true. A movie has to be reviewed as a movie, not how it would stand up as a comic. Using “creative teams” in terms of directors/actors/producers doesn’t work. Because we don’t get 12 Spider-Man movies a year. Actually scratch that, we don’t get 24 Spider-Man movies a year, plus 12 venom movies (actually that double ships) or 27 Avengers movies also featuring Spider-Man. So comparing a film to another film works. Comparing a film to a comic… ohhh, bit of a stretch.

    • Wow. Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

    • We will get to a dangerous place if we just thank Movie Daddy for giving us a comic book movie everytime one is released. By that logic, Punisher War Zone is a 5 star epic.

    • Yeah we are living in a great time for comic book movies,,doesn’t mean can’t call one out for being bad. This was boring and disjointed. Looked like it was edited together at the last minute. And no way to I believe either Gwen or Peter are in high school..no way did they pull that off.

  10. I mostly agree with your assessment here. But, to your question at the end, for me, the chemistry between Peter and Gwen, his relationship with Aunt May, and even the nagging angst he feels because of the loss of his parents, all kept me firmly in the “This is awesome!” camp. I know people who are against origin stories in film on principle, but I like what Marc Webb did here and I took this as more of the kind of stuff he was working with in 500 Days. Also, there were enough twists in the origin highlights that it felt I hadn’t seen this before. Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield are the perfect Gwen and Peter and the threads set up for the next films have me more than intrigued.

    I was also OK with Kurt Connors. I agree that the Jekyll and Hyde formula was a little overwrought and never quite fit, and the quickly tossed off mentions of his possible involvement in the Parkers’ death seemed unnecessary, but I like that they tried to give him more character as The Lizard, at least in the early scenes of him in full hulk mode. The fact that, in Lizard mode, he’s still trying to argue ethics with Peter, was an interesting take that didn’t quite complete, but I liked what little there was.

    And you’re so right about Aunt May and Uncle Ben. If they decide to go Smallville and do a whole TV show of teen Peter in high school with Sheen as Uncle Ben I’m so there. I could listen to that guy for ages.

  11. Thumbs down. A soulless marketing scheme. The lead and Emma Stone are the only bright points as they try to liven up a dreary, pedestrian script with pedestrian cinematography.

  12. Agree with the 3 star Review. I actually fell asleep in this movie because the pace was so slow, great acting and some great effects, but over all they wasted a big chunk rehashing the origin story..to me it should of been short and sweet…then develop other parts of the story. It’s not like it’s been twenty years since the last Spider Man came out. I think Spider Man three came out in like 06 or 07…So to try and totally revamp it was in my opinion insulting the audiences intelligence.

    Will definitely like to see where they go from here because there is potential to knock it out of the Park next time 🙂

  13. 5 out of 5 for me, I thought it was an Iron Man level of perfect casting for Peter Parker. It also fixed every problem I had with Raimi’s version of Spider man. Unappealing love interest, boring Aunt May, Obnoxious cameos, Not enough time spent in High School (Flash can be a better best friend than Harry) and The biggest one being why he needed to be Spider man in the first place (New York sure did have a lot of street parties). They even explain the spider suit (wind drag while swinging!)
    Admittedly the film loses steam when the origin is over and the fighting with Lizard begins.

    Basically ignore the other Spider Man films (like you did with Batman) This is the best film version of the Spider Man character you can get without Samuel L Jackson showing up after the credits

  14. While I was absolutely disinterested in the awkwardly paced “bad-guy does evil stuff” portion of the film, I loved the chemistry in the out of costume moments and quippy Spidey. Now give me J.K. Simmons as JJJ again for the next film and a villain who doesn’t do thinks simply for the sake of giving Peter someone to punch and I’ll be golden.

    I’d also appreciate less emphasis on Jimbob the Heroic Crane Operator or his equivalent in the next (two?) film(s).

  15. LOVED the webshooters!!A good job casting all the major characters.Excellent fight scenes,CGI moments were expertly done also.I could’ve stayed all day watching Spidey swing around NYC,the acrobatics were that good(live?).Also EXCELLENT Stan Lee cameo,tons of fun!
    Now for the negatives; dragged on at points(when Pete’s adjusting to his newfound power).The movie was just a tad too SERIOUS(I get it, people died) needed more witty dialogue from Spidey.
    Finally, Love Martin Sheen but damn his dentures had me uncomfortable everytime he spoke!!
    Sally Field was also not much fun to look at likewise. (prob. sat TOO CLOSE to the screen)

  16. I didn’t like this. I just never believed either Peter or Gwen were actually high school students. The chemistry between them was great, I just never believed they were in high school. The scenes on the basketball and football field threw me right out of the story. And that stupid crane sequence..talk about making me eye rolling & cringe worthy. Martin Sheen and Denis Leary were great, but it was boring and disjointed. ( and I loved his camera said ‘Property of Peter Parker’..REALLY ??)

  17. I was lucky enough to have Paul on my show to discuss the film if anyone is interested in a longer discussion. Give it a poke

    http://www.movienoise.com/cwm/2012/07/12/cwm-the-amazing-spider-man/

  18. The Good:

    – The acting and dialogue was the what sold the movie. Garfield makes a ridiculously likable Peter Parker, and everyone else fills out their roles well too. One of the best decision was to have Gwen be an independent character in her own right, and a very capable one at that. I especially like how they make her smart enough to see through Peter’s bulls**t and actually take initiative when the time calls. Also, the interplay between Peter and Doc Connors is very good, with them both really filling in this role in each others’ lives as they give each other hope, and especially interesting once that takes a turn for the worst. For me, the biggest plus was Peter in the suit. Sorry to compare to Raimi’s films for a minute, but I had always felt a bit unsatisfied that Peter was so quiet whenever he suited up. Spider-Man should be verbose and big-mouthed, and most of all, funny. Having Garfield stay in the suit as much as possible was a great decision, because this was a Spider-Man with all the right personality, and the charm in having Peter’s recognizable voice coming from the anonymous figure helped the movie capture the appeal of the Spider-Man character: it’s more about the man than the mask.

    The Bad

    – I think the movie really could have been great if they had done a complete overhaul of the Spider-Man story. If they delivered on their promise of the “untold story” of Spider-Man, they could have carved out a better identity for itself, and not invited so many comparisons to Raimi’s films. Certain elements like Uncle Ben’s death, which were set up really nice and very well-acted, felt a bit empty for some reason, almost like it was there because it had to be. There were a lot of moments like that where things felt like a checklist, including the trip to the science lab, and especially the decision to start wearing the costume. The movie probably could have benefited from a better editor in that regard. While I think most realize that the Lizard part of Connors brain causes him to act more impulsively, it still was odd seeing him make a non-existent jump from victimized scientist to Magneto-esque futurist. Also, the scene where Peter takes Gwen on a swing around was supposed to be a real bonding moment and would have been great to view for like a minute or two. Instead, they gave us one shot of them swinging and it was over. All in all, the film needed to be bolder, not worry too much about setting everything up for sequels, which left the third act feeling a little empty, as that itself had not been built up in the slightest.

    Overall

    – The film is certainly messier than it needs to be. Were not for the acting and characterization, in probably would have felt like Superman Returns. The plot itself felt a little hollow, with the big finale flowing a bit too nicely and without a lot of tension, due to to films greater interest in character interaction. If they had spent more time on the script, they could have learned to tie those two together in the way a film like Dark Knight or even Avengers did, but it ended on an unsatisfying note. Despite all of its flaws, every character is very likable and you always do want to know what happens to them, especially given what happened at the end. The first hurdle this film had to face was justifying its own existence, which it passed by the skin o’ its teeth. It shows potential, and I look forward to the sequel, not because I need to see every Spider-Man movie, but because I legitimately want to know what happens and see more of these characters. I suppose that gives it a pass.

    Grade: 7/10