Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-man (2012)

Columbia Pictures
Runtime: 138 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence)
Director: Marc Webb
Writers: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans
Action | Adventure | Fantasy 

It’s been ten years since the 2002 Spider-man and beginning of three fairly successful Marvel Comic films (some more so than others) about the beloved super hero. While it is a rare thing to get a credibly entertaining comic book movie that also has intellectual substance, we should think before setting the bar too high. But 2012’s The Amazing Spider-man is not setting the bar high at all, and it is anything other than amazing.

We meet Spidey as a child (Max Charles) for some stage-setting and then we jump to the teenage years where “Peter Parker” (Andrew Garfield) is perusing the high school halls. We don’t watch long until we realize when he runs into a bully (Chris Zylka) that things aren’t going to be much different in this (sadly unnecessary) reboot.

And things really aren’t different (except when they are worse). The revisited plot-points are the same as in the 2002 film, which makes us acknowledge the fact that they are not only needless, but not as good as the first time around.

We come to learn how “Aunt May” (Sally Field) and “Uncle Ben” (Martin Sheen) become Peter’s guardians, but for the plot to move anywhere in this film is like running in four feet of snow up a hill for a January. We are nearly an hour in when things get set up as they need to be, but it’s all downhill from there.

“Dr. Curtis Connors” (Rhys Ifans) – one of the few decent performances in this waste – was a colleague of “Richard Parker” (Campbell Scott), Peter’s dad, before his parents’ unexplained disappearance at the film’s opening. When Peter finds an old briefcase of his dad’s research, he begins a quest to find out what happened to his parents. This leads him to Oscorp, a powerful group of researchers on crossbreeding-based genetics work—in a great big, menacing tower of a building like what we’d expect to see in any comic book movie.

So, we can pull our hair out asking ourselves why the Tobey Maguire films were deemed not good enough and why this needed to be remade while wondering what kind of money the head honchos behind this saw it bringing in, or we can accept what Webb told us he wanted to accomplish from the start, and that was to add emotional depth to what was lacking in the earlier films.

While the earlier movies weren’t perfect, they didn’t lack emotion when it was needed, but the brains behind this didn’t agree, and so we ended up with a teen drama – like something that should have appeared as a Spider-man made-for-cable-TV mini-series – but even that is a compliment not quite deserved. The acting is hammy; Sheen’s pressing drama is way too much; Field could have been replaced by a no-name actress and we’d have had no difference.

Okay, so maybe they don’t repeat “with great power comes great responsibility” over and over like the 2002 work annoyingly did, and the special effects are impressively stepped up this time around – and they slowed down the fight scenes so we could keep up with who is getting hit and by whom, and with a lead who really looked and felt like a Spider-man – but those are the only good things about this. And Garfield is not a real improvement over Maguire.

Parker’s romantic interest is an always-perky “Gwen Stacy” (Emma Stone) and her dad is a terribly out-of-place Dennis Leary as a one-dimensional “tough guy” cop who doesn’t hit it off well with Peter. Be careful to factor in Sheen’s melodrama, many poor supporting performances, generally under-delivered acting by nearly everyone, and weak, chemistry-lacking romance that is “blaaaaaaaaaaaaaah” between Garfield and Stone, and REALLY BAD humor and this ship ain’t gonna sail!

And at what it wanted to accomplish, it still failed; this Parker isn’t as emotionally bruised as we expected and he isn’t working for a paper. The thing that has endured about Spider-man is that unlike Batman, with virtually unlimited resources, Parker is supposed to be a kid who struggles inside himself like anyone else. But this Spider-man is an equation-writing genius like Stephen Hawking, removing him from being passable as someone the average kid can relate to. He may be curious and driven to put together the pieces of his broken life, but not more so than any other person in his situation.

Throw in a few clichés to keep things moving and shallow characters in cheesy news coverage of citywide catastrophes featuring one of the worst villains in movie history (a big, rampaging, super-strong lizard) and you have a very bad movie. A few epically cool flips and fight scenes don’t do even close to enough to offset the badness. Whoever tells you this is a good movie is full of it.

The film struggles mightily as it questions what story elements to include and leave out, and the final pick we get is a long, lame, and flaccid comic book movie that gets even the most fundamental things wrong; the direction of the antagonist is unfounded (he logically should not even be the antagonist)—and who would be the antagonist is never even used, but gets killed off when this “lizard” creature rampages a bridge.

It’s like a bad teen romance, but much worse. And the plot doesn’t make enough sense, but leaves us with a big unanswered question. We almost never feel for anyone or anything. It isn’t until the end when we get a glimpse of genuine emotion in a relationship.

At one point, we see Gwen headed to Oscorp to grab the blue vile being made with the words “REPTILIAN ANTIDOTE” flashing on the machine computer screen. It’s nice that Parker somehow had time to mix up the antidote and put those words in big letters on the computer so that we could identify it.

This is one of the worst comic book movies in a while, actually worse than 2007's Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.