It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since Tobey Maguire first suited up as the wisecracking webslinger known as Spider-Man. I mean, that’s a long time. But it’s not that long. After all, the Sam Raimi-directed trilogy ended back in 2007, only five years ago. And, had things not gone all pear-shaped for Raimi and crew, we would have seen Spider-Man 4 in theaters last year. Which is to say that seeing a franchise reboot so soon is kind of unnerving.
In a way, I feel bad for The Amazing Spider-Man. The project was rushed with so many expectations piled on it. It lives not only in the very long shadow of its predecessors successes, but also the bad taste that Spider-Man 3 left in most comic and movie fans’ mouths. And it has to tell basically the same story that was first told on movie screens 10 years ago…but be different. Somehow.
But considering that The Amazing Spider-Man is a terrible movie andstill had a huge opening weekend, I won’t be shedding many tears for it.
ASM starts off by re-introducing us to a character that – to most people – needs no introduction. And they tweak very little, aside from a subplot about his parents that will eventually provide the catalyst to our new Peter Parker – this time played by Andrew Garfield – becoming Spider-Man, and then inadvertently and indirectly creating The Lizard.
Garfield’s Parker/Spider-Man is one of the main faults in a movie with plenty of them. His behavior is so strange before the legendary spider bite that even Aunt May and Uncle Ben shrug off his neurotic behavior immediately afterward. Garfield never connects with anything approaching humanity as he is composed almost entirely of awkward stuttering, angsty posturing, and creepy smirking. And his Parker shows none of the characteristic wit that Spider-Man uses to trash-talk his enemies, which makes the one-liners and jokes during supposedly-desperate combat feel even more disconnected. Worse, Garfield’s Parker and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey – both science whiz-kids – have absolutely zero chemistry together. Just before their first kiss, Peter tells a reluctant Gwen to “Shut up.” Would he later talk her into bed with the line, “You look fat in that dress”? We don’t get to find out, thankfully.
Peter and Gwen’s inexplicable romance gets sidetracked when Peter’s Dad’s old scientist partner, Curt Connors, transforms himself into The Lizard. This is actually a storyline that was constantly hinted at in the original trilogy, and I’d say it’s nice that we’re finally getting to see it pay off, but it never really does. Connors intentions and motivations are constantly clouded and seemingly revised even as the movie progresses. Obviously, becoming a 10-foot-tall lizard dude has some effect on the mind, but we’re never quite sure of just how Jekyll/Hyde it all is.
So while I can heap plenty of blame at the feet of Garfield’s painfully neurotic performance, the script must bear the brunt. It ricochets between slapstick and maudlin, cynical and sentimental with no rhyme or reason and never gives us any time or reason to connect with any of the characters. The pivotal deaths of major characters arrive not as gut-punches, but as hand-slaps. And one sequence near the end where a wounded Spidey struggles to get across town blatantly and ineffectively reuses the “People are really good, really they are!” schtick that both the original Spider-Man and even The Dark Knight used with much greater success.
Speaking of the original, I am not here to say that Sam Raimi’s take on the franchise is some holy, untouchable thing and that any possibility of exceeding its greatness is outside the realm of mortal capability. On the contrary, 2002’s Spider-Man had more than its fair share of flaws. But Tobey Maguire’s Parker/Spidey dynamic was much more fluid, his demeanor more human, and as a result, more heroic. (That, and he never told Mary Jane to “shut up”.) It was certainly goofier, and featured a villain played by Willem Dafoe that, as Weird Al Yankovic once sang, wore “that dumb Power Rangers mask / But you’re scarier without it on”. By contrast, Amazing shoots for a darker tone and ends up missing both targets.
In the end, I can certainly argue that the franchise might have been better creatively served laying low for a couple more years and waiting for a really good script to come along. But I can’t deny that the Superhero Gold Rush is on, and that Marvel can’t afford to leave Spider-Man cooling his heels on the sidelines.
Just a shame that comics’ most-human of superheroes gets robbed of his humanity in the bargain.