Disclaimer: This review was written in July, 2012 and was updated in February, 2013. Its original title is “The Web of Mediocrity”.
It pains me, and distresses me to no end, as a longtime fan of Spider-Man, that The Amazing Spider-Man is one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my life. Yup; that’s right. It is utterly execrable.
First off, because this is technically a “Spider-Man” movie, even though it has absolutely no place anywhere in the vicinity of the excellent Sam Raimi Spider-Man Trilogy (yes, this movie is worse than Spider-Man 3), there is effectively nothing in the movie to spoil. Everything in the film is completely predictable right up until the very end, so forgive me while I spare no restraint on the harebrained excuse for a plot.
The best thing that can be said for The Amazing Spider-Man is the cameo appearance of Stan Lee.
Okay, fine; I’ll give you a little more. Andrew Garfield at least delivers on the jovial and youthful rambunctiousness of Spider-Man He’s a solid actor and still somewhat fresh off of his excellent performance as Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network and as Tommy in Never Let Me Go two years prior. I mentioned in my Pick Six Han Solo article that were Garfield born just a few years before he actually was (ceterus peribus), he’d have been the perfect age to play Anakin Skywalker in the place of Hayden Christiansen. And Emma Stone is about as good as she can be for a one-note Gwen Stacy that was less interesting and less remarkable than the Gwen Stacy of Spider-Man 3. She is pretty much nothing more than the girl the good guy puts his mouth on.
But even these actors can’t save their characters from being written as cosplaying scarecrows.
The Amazing Spider-Man’s Peter Parker starts out the movie as a kid who has essentially already is Spider-Man. He’s studious, responsible, slick on the skateboard, willfully standing up for the bullied kids at the cost of his face yet somehow looking completely unhinged by the whole thing, and particularly tense or shy around his girl crush. Sure, he has no friends and no noticeability, but his character is written to fit only the surface stereotypes about Peter Parker’s character without any of the actual heart. After getting bitten…hell, after losing his uncle, there’s still virtually no difference in his behavior and his attitude. He just pretty much decides to stop being a revenge-seeking jerk because there’s a giant lizard tearing up the place. His character arc pretty much doesn’t exist.
I hate to make the comparison, but remember Spider-Man? Remember how hilariously dweeby Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker was? And remember how much it made you want to give him a hug because he’s such a good kid that you feel empathy towards because of his suffering? Remember how Sam Raimi basically took the Silver Age Spider-Man and placed him into the 21st Century? And remember how well that worked?
Of course you do; Spider-Man came out only 11 years ago and you’ve probably watched it a million times because it’s so memorable! Watch it again now and it still feels fresh! Hell, watch the second one! Spider-Man 2 is one of the greatest superhero films ever made even though it’s essentially a Spider-Man remake of Superman 2. These films were the products of a genius – an amorous self-aware geek, unafraid and actually interested in creating an intriguing narrative exploring ideas and themes that made the films interesting and fun.
The Amazing Spider-Man is the opposite. It’s so safe, it’s willing to pretty much not even be a movie as long as it can get away with looking flashy enough to be recognizable as Spider-Man memorabilia. And for god’s sake, can this movie rip off Batman Begins even more than it does already? It’s just downright insulting! MovieBob made the analogy that this film’s biggest gambit is its trying to turn Spider-Man into Batman and Peter Parker into Edward Cullen. How right he was.
Spider-Man is a lot of things. Complicated is not one of them. The film throws itself into contortions, trying to complicate his story in an effort to convince us that there actually is a story. The words “With great power comes great responsibility” pretty much came down to, “if you can do something good, you should probably do it…” and Uncle Ben’s death was treated as a “damn, my life really sucks now and I’m angry!” moment rather than a character altering event that catapults Peter Parker into an awesome crime-stopper. What’s so difficult about this? He’s supposed to be a good kid with a good heart – morally obliged to take down evil to cherish the memory of his uncle and honor him by taking the last lesson he taught him before he was taken from this world to heart. Did creating an innocent nerd turned superhero, beautiful in his honesty and good natured simplicity really become too much to ask? The Amazing Spider-Man forgets these facets entirely. One sneak peek into the career and life of Richard Parker…a guy who might as well be dead to Peter by now, and suddenly Peter becomes teary and recklessly inquisitive about daddy. And then that plot kind of goes away once it comes time to dawn the mask.
If you want to know how badly The Amazing Spider-Man messed up the character of Peter Parker, here’s an anecdote for you. There’s a scene in the film where Peter Parker actually gets hit with a bullet by one of the cops while he’s fleeing. His reaction is basically, “ouchies!” and then, “oh, whatever; I’ll get over this because I have plot armor.”
Now contrast that with the ending of X-Men: First Class. I think I’ve made my point.
But if stanking and staining the integrity one of the most beloved superheroes of all time wasn’t bad enough, what makes The Amazing Spider-Man worse is the story that drove the film. It is a string of convenient coincidences forcibly laced together in an incoherent and inconsequential tale that was advertised as presenting an “untold” and inward look into the creation of Spider-Man…a concep almost anathema to the very idea of Spider-Man. What’s that? Peter’s parents worked at Oscorp and were colleagues and friends of Dr. Curt Connors, all working on cross-species-genetics? And what? That project created a race of hybrid spiders, one of which bit Peter? And what? This whole thing started because Peter Parker found his father’s briefcase (which is present in his uncle’s basement for absolutely no reason), uncovering details about the project?
Is this the story of Spider-Man or the story of Slumdog Millionaire?
Peter Parker isn’t Spider-Man because “it is written”. This is not a hero defined by fate. Spider-Man is Spider-Man because of a happy little accident, and more importantly, a life-altering maturity lesson and a devastating death in his family. And he’s not supposed to be Spider-Man because “he’s the hero the city needs but may not deserve”. He’s supposed to be Spider-Man because he CHOOSES to be Spider-Man!!!
On top of that, the film looks terrible. His costume is absurd. The web sling muzzle flash is completely unwarranted. The tone is all over the map. And what the hell was Denis Leary doing in this movie?
The Amazing Spider-Man is a film that not only has no respect for the source material it is supposed to be based on, but it has no respect for Spider-Man himself. It is a stupid, boring, degrading, lazy, torrentially crappy knockoff of art. It fails as a movie, and more importantly, it fails as a Spider-Man movie. My spirit is broken and my otherwise perfectly good day has been ravaged into the blues by this wretched abomination.
There is a sequel planned for this film. Jamie Foxx has been cast to play Electro (weird…) but at least they fixed the costume.
Also, check out Nick’s VERY different review of the film over here.