The Amazing Spider-Man Review: Not Quite Amazing, More ‘Fairly Good’

11 Jul

I loved Spider-Man. Seriously, as a kid I was obsessed. The mid-nineties cartoon was, for me, up there with Batman as the best kids TV show of that generation. I got massively into the comics at the same time (including the apparently awful Todd MacFarlane Spider-Man series). Somewhere in my house there is a photo of me in a full Spider-Man costume. Unfortunately I couldn’t find it to upload, but if I do come across it, I’ll unleash the cuteness on the world.

So, in spite of the reasons behind the making of The Amazing Spider-Man – the cynical cash-in and requirement to keep hold of the Spider-Man license – I couldn’t help but, on some tiny level, be a tiny bit excited. Andrew Garfield! Emma Stone! Martin Sheen!

As it stands, The Amazing Spider-Man is every bit as good as the original Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire film. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker has depth beyond the generic ‘I am such a big nerd’, Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is a believable love interest and a character in her own right and Martin Sheen steals the show as a wonderful Uncle Ben.

The Amazing Spider-Man Prequel: Uncle Ben on a mission to kill Doctor Octopus.

All in all, the human cast is believable, deep, and interesting; you feel a hell of a lot more for Peter in this than you ever did in the previous trilogy, for instance. The chemistry between Garfield and Stone is wonderfully charming, and even one-mode characters such as Flash Thompson are given little tweaks that make their characters more than just cardboard cut-outs. The world of the characters feels like real life.

Unfortunately, the film is a lot better when Spider-Man isn’t involved. There is plenty of action in this film – from Parker getting bitten by the radioactive spider, to developing his new-found powers and creating his web-slinging devices, to fighting street-crime, to taking on a greater responsibility and fighting The Big Bad Guy. The problem is that even immediately after the film I had great difficulty remembering any specific scene.

This is an unfortunate exception.

The Sam Raimi trilogy is full of iconic moments. The upside down kiss, the fights with Doctor Octopus, Willem Defoe’s descent into madness, and even the horrifically cheesy “go web go” scene. Even though the films were flawed, the action sequences were, in general, handled perfectly. The only action scenes that wowed me in The Amazing Spider-Man were when Uncle Ben dies, which was genuinely tragic, and the brief moments where Spider-Man seems to act like a spider – building a web in the sewers and crawling over The Lizard during a fight in a high-school.

Speaking of which, some of this problem stems from the villain. As a child of the nineties, I have quite a specific view of The Lizard. For my generation, he is the total antithesis of Spider-Man – another genetic hybrid who, unfortunately, develops horrific side-effects in contrast to the purely positive changes to Spider-Man. The incredibly intelligent Dr Curt Connors, in an attempt to re-grow his severed arm, transforms himself is a big, green, reptilian beastie. It was incredibly similar to the werewolf myth, or even Frankenstein, only trashier and with bonus pseudo-science.

In short what I was expecting was this:

RARRRRR!

And the reality?

OH HAI!

The Lizard of the film lacked any of the tragedy of my view of the character. There was little exploration of his descent into the feral. His motivations were muddled, the supposed history between him and Peter Parker’s parents wasn’t properly explained. Rhys Ifans does a decent job of bringing Dr Connors into the film but it doesn’t transfer well into the final, transformed villain. Plus, he looks awful. I have no idea how this design for The Lizard made it past the draft stage. Most damning of all, though, is that the fight scenes were…well, a little boring.

So I guess that’s the biggest problem with the film. None of the action seems particularly interesting. The bad guy isn’t that interesting. What is interesting? The relationships between the human characters.

What could have made it better? There is a brief moment, before The Lizard becomes a big part of the film, where Gwen Stacy’s father (a police captain) mentions that one of the small-time crooks Spider-Man takes down was actually bringing the police to the head of a crime syndicate. Could this have been the main plot of the movie, perhaps? Spider-Man goes after the head of the syndicate to make up for his selfish, revenge-driven mistakes, and ends up coming across, oh, I dunno, The Kingpin? The focus of the film could have been on the superhero Spider-Man taking down regular humans who are still completely terrifying. Tie in strands that Oscorp has dodgy dealings with gangsters, setting up Norman Osbourne as an untouchable villain. Then, for the next film, bring in a more fantastic bad guy.

Let’s face it, Spider-Man has plenty of choices.

This film most reminds me of what could have happened to the Batman reboot, had Christopher Nolan not given us such a brilliant retake on that franchise. In fact, I expect the next Batman film (where I suspect we’ll see a much more traditional, fantastic take on the series) to be a very similar film to this one.

As it stands, The Amazing Spider-Man is a solid, enjoyable film that does well in unexpected areas but falls down a little in the basics.

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