The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Spider-Man was never one of my favorite heroes. Yeah, I watched the Saturday morning cartoon when I grew up but I never read any of the comics and didn’t particularly love the character. But I walked out of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) desperately wanting to be bitten by a radioactive spider. I think The Amazing Spider-Man succeeds in some areas where Raimi’s film did not, and fails in other respects. For now, I’ll keep things spoiler free and short but I’ll keep spoilers under the jump and I’ll markedly notate when the more in-depth discussion starts. Essentially we get a retelling of the Spider-Man origin that is fairly ubiquitous after Raimi’s 2002 film. However we get a new villain this time (one alluded to with Dylan Baker’s Dr. Curt Connors in Spider-Man 2 and 3), a refreshing cast, and a bit of a shift in the mood of the film. Oh, and it was filmed in 3D.
I’ll sum my thoughts up quickly here for those who haven’t seen the film yet. I loved the cast. I originally thought Sally Field and Martin Sheen (Aunt May and Uncle Ben) were strange fits for a comic book movie, but they certainly pulled it off. Dennis Leary (Captain George Stacy) also did a great job in a role not as outwardly comedic as I’m sure he’s used to in recent years. Of course, Emma Stone is a great Gwen Stacy and Andrew Garfield seemingly embodies Peter/Spider-Man more than Tobey Maguire ever did in my eyes, not to mention their on-screen chemistry is greater than anything we received in the previous films in the franchise. Director Marc Webb continues to gain my complete faith after 2010’s (500) Days of Summer with a lot of brilliantly shot/staged/envisioned scenes. There’s a scene in the first hour post Peter/Gwen flirting that I think very well may be my favorite scene from the movie and it’s safely rooted in Webb’s music video past. Lastly because of the lack of J. Jonah Jameson we get that initial wonder from the public about Spider-Man. They know and feel he’s doing good at a certain point in the film and it’s great to spend time with Spider-Man as a hero before JJJ tries to paint him as a menace. There’s a really beautiful sequence which illustrates this, and while it doesn’t top the train/Jesus allegory scene in Spider-Man 2, it definitely put a smile on my face.
On the flip side of the coin, there were a few things I didn’t like. I generally have no love for the Lizard. I wasn’t a big fan of him on the cartoon so it’s not a big surprise that I’m not a fan of him here, but I think there are good reasons to why I don’t care for him. It’s not the serviceable performance from Rhys Ifans or the adequate computer generated imagery of the villain, but writers Vanderbilt, Sargent, and Kloves did little to nothing to make me care about Dr. Curt Connors. There are maybe two or three scenes that inform the tortured figure that is Dr. Connors but it’s few and far between for any sort of effective connection that the character could actually carry with the potential he has. There was also a little bit of carbon copy for a few details in the film from Raimi’s film, which is to be expected because it’s a re-telling of a story, however Webb’s film handles these moments in a seemingly less-compelling fashion and, despite the movie’s darker/moodier tones, it manages to gloss over a few moments that could’ve been quite powerful. While Danny Elfman’s score for Raimi’s Spider-Man was really nothing to write home about, Horner’s score for this film is even less so in my opinion. Nothing in Elfman’s score sticks out in my mind but there’s a few moments in Horner’s that just stood out like sore thumbs to me and felt quite cartoony to the film’s detriment. For a few last thoughts, there were some special effects that needed more time in the oven (including and not including the Lizard), the lack of J. Jonah Jameson was heartbreaking, especially without J.K. Simmons reprising the role, and the 3D wasn’t terrible but it didn’t serve the high-pace action of the film very well. Spidey fights fluidly some of the time but he’s very quick and his spider-sense creates some jarring experiences with the 3D.
All in all, it’s a good film — solid direction, great cast, but missing some essential elements to be a great film or in my top 10 at the end of the year. It’s not my favorite film in the franchise (Spider-Man 2 is just that good), but I could see its sequel becoming my favorite given the right writing team (which it doesn’t have at the moment with Vanderbilt returning and Kurtzman/Orci tweaking but that could change). NOTE: There is no AFTER-credits scene but there is a MID-credits scene. Don’t leave till you see the names scrolling up the screen instead of appearing centered on the screen. Go check it out and then read on below the jump if you’re seeking more discussion.
HERE BE SPOILERS
Turn back now if you don’t want to know any specifics about the plot.
What I Liked About The Amazing Spider-Man
Most of this was stated above. Andrew Garfield embodies Peter Parker and Spider-Man as Tobey Maguire never did. From the pure emotional connection that the audience gets to make with Peter to the quick-witted baddie-webbing, the film succeeds in establishing a new Peter Parker that feels more true to my perception of the comics. His chemistry with Gwen feels greater and more real than anything that Dunst and Maguire’s Mary Jane and Peter had between them in all three of the movies for that matter. Seeing their relationship evolve as two awkward teenagers was pretty charming and I hope to see more of that through the next film. Peter also makes a lot of brash choices in not only revealing his identity to Gwen and ultimately George Stacy, but also in dealing with Uncle Ben’s attacker one hoodlum at a time and even in going right to Connors to learn about the mysterious giant lizard that has shown up in town. I thought this added a lot to the character where Maguire’s Parker really becomes quite cautious with not only his identity but also does a great (maybe too great) amount of growing up after Uncle Ben’s death.
Dennis Leary does a great job as “the man”, a figure I’m sure he’s not really used to playing. Rather than quipping his way through conversations he really feels like an authority figure and that’s not to say his part is devoid of comedy but it’s a different kind of comedy. He gets to be a comedic sounding board rather than the comedic performance, which is a part that I find is difficult to fill but there’s brilliant people who can pull it off quite well (Jason Bateman in Arrested Development, Adam Scott in most things he’s done recently) and Leary does a great job with it himself.
Finally Aunt May and Uncle Ben are great with seasoned veterans Sally Field and Martin Sheen. While I feel neither of which really gets to shine in this film, I think the younger Aunt May could be a great part of the story in later sequels, much like Rosemary Harris in Raimi’s films. Both actors surprised me, not because of their skill because I knew they had that, but the earnest performances they brought to a movie that maybe 15 years ago they could’ve thought was beneath them.
I fell in love with Marc Webb’s direction on (500) Days of Summer. He brought a lot of beautiful style and composition to that film and he does the same for The Amazing Spider-Man. I think I specifically want to speak about the scene with Peter skateboarding and swinging on chains in a warehouse/shipyard area set to Coldplay’s “Til Kingdom Come”. Just after failing, yet somehow succeeding, in asking Gwen Stacy out, Peter feels on top of the world and uses his newly found spider powers to enhance his skateboarding. It’s a really elegant and beautiful way to show him learning about his powers and giving him a sense of empowerment while really characterizing his relationship with Gwen and how much it means to him. Not only that, but he starts to fool around, climbing in the warehouse, with images of him grabbing chains juxtaposed with a spider spinning a web showing the inception of his web-shooters. It’s a really beautiful sequence, and as I said probably my favorite in the film and I think it shows just a fraction of the talent of Marc Webb when it comes to filmmaking.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man
In Raimi’s Spider-Man, you get a direct quote of the above heading, but it’s almost immediately dashed by J. Jonah Jameson who brands him as a menace just to sell out the Daily Bugle. However in the final act of the film after one of Stacy’s men shoots Spidey in the leg, one of the men that Spidey helped earlier in the film, a common man, ends up calling up his construction buddies and asking them to swivel their cranes around to help get Spidey to swing his way to the Oscorp tower. It’s a beautiful moment, and as I said earlier, not quite as effective as Spidey’s interaction with the public in Spider-Man 2, but it’s a new way of the public interacting with the hero and supporting him which I feel as though is something that was not necessarily as prevalent in Raimi’s films.
What I Didn’t Like About The Amazing Spider-Man
There’s a few scenes peppered throughout the film that attempt to characterize Dr. Connors. We know he’s an amputee of some sort who has researched herpetology (the science of reptiles and amphibians) and cellular biology in the search of a way to regain his lost limb, but the film spends little to no time paying off on the Jekyll and Hyde nature that Ifans had hoped to portray in the part. There’s one scene where we hear him disagreeing with the voices in his head that come out of nowhere, and a few throwaway moments that really develop why he would want to turn the entire neighborhood into giant lizards (ultimately because of his fetishistic relationship with reptiles).
In any event, the real lack of an internal battle with “the Lizard” (who was originally envisioned as a separate personality for Connors), not to mention the lack of development along the lines of Connors not wanting to give up the lizard because he wants to keep his newly-sprouted arm really felt quite flat for me in the film. It has little to do with the computer-generated imagery or with the performance and more to do with the writing. But the film is quite long as it is and I’m sure a lot of this plot got fast-tracked, it was just done poorly.
Uncle Ben’s Death
The robbery/Uncle Ben’s death is almost aped directly from Raimi’s film. It’s expected because that’s how it happens in the comics, but the reason I said almost aped is because it happens in a much less effective manner. Not only is it completely ridiculous that the robber had to shoot Uncle Ben in the first place (I’m assuming Sheen isn’t quite as spry anymore) but the film seamlessly moves from Ben’s death with one scene of Aunt May crying into Peter hunting down the robber in a fashion that’s less focused on his emotional need to do so and more focused on his development of Spider-Man. It feels really glossed over, which is most likely a tactic to get it out of the mind of the viewer seeing as how I mentally groaned as soon as I realized the robbery was about to take place. But the tactic failed and left me with a bad taste in my mouth especially in comparison to Raimi’s film.
A Few Minor Points
- In some places, the special effects aren’t very well done, but these are pretty minor places. There’s a moment when Connors goes to fill a serum injection pen for testing on himself and the shot showing the pen fill up is not only unnecessary but looks like I could’ve made it with adobe after effects. There’s also a crane shot that zooms into the completely CGI Oscorp Tower as Gwen goes to synthesize the lizard-cure-serum that looks terribly green-screened. But like I said, not big deals but both did pull me out of the movie for a second.
- The score was sloppily done. There were moments with punching trumpeting that just seemed sorely on the nose or completely misplaced to me, and none of it was memorable for that matter. It wasn’t particularly bad but it wasn’t particularly good either.
- I love J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. He was one of my favorite parts of Raimi’s films and stole every scene he was in for me. In fact I’d be quite happy if they just cast him again. But that will never happen. The lack of JJJ was sad but clearly he’s not very necessary for a very high-school focused Spider-Man film and would’ve crowded the movie too much so it’s understandable. There’s talk of John Slattery, Sam Elliott, and R. Lee Ermey but Simmons was just too good.
- Finally, the 3D wasn’t suited for the fast-paced Spider-Man action in my opinion. Comfortable 3D is always about keeping the viewer’s eyes on the things that are in focus and I don’t think the film was well-suited for the 3D effect. While it’s fun in the first-person shots and looks cool in a few shots, nothing stuck out nearly as well as David in the map room of Prometheus.
I’m greatly looking forward to a sequel. They’d be smart to tie Webb down for it, but to tell you the truth I’d be more excited if he moved on to bigger and better things. They took quite a risk by giving him such a big tentpole film but I think it really paid off. I’m hoping the Vanderbilt and Kurtzman/Orci writing team end up giving the sequel a bit more depth than we’re presented with, but only time will tell. A good villain would be great. Rumors are swirling as they’ve certainly set up Norman Osborne by the end of the movie but I’d like to see a little more distance before revisiting any villains.
It’s a good film, I think it will do well. Andrew Garfield and Marc Webb both deserve the recognition they will get for this film and I hope it serves them well. It’s most likely not on my top 10 for the year given what has come and what is to come but we’ll see in December.