Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

by Tom Ingram

Unlike most people complaining about the latest Spider-Man movie, I’m no fan of the previous three. Spider-Man 3 was obviously beyond the pale, but 1 and 2 never really drew me in, either. It’s unfortunate, because I believe a good movie could be made about Spider-Man. It just hasn’t happened yet. And now that The Amazing Spider-Man is in theatres, it still hasn’t happened.

You probably know the background: the creators and cast of the previous series were booted off the Spider-Man 4 project, and a reboot was hastily put together to fulfil contractual requirements. They acquired a younger, less likeable actor to play Spidey and a new director whose name is more amenable to puns. They shot a load of footage, put the whole thing together, hacked it up in response to test audiences, and then shovelled it out to theatres on a Tuesday night just to get the whole thing over with. These are not ideal circumstances for artistic integrity or even skilled hackwork, but someone who cared enough could make it work.

Unfortunately, no one did. The Amazing Spider-Man, in addition to whatever other flaws it may have, is shot through with cynicism in every frame. Not even the music escaped this: James Horner’s score steals sweeping string lines (a practice we abandoned for a reason) from old school Hollywood and “epic” choir parts from movie trailers. Every plot detail and character trait is prefabricated, and each scene is so obviously tailored for a specific demographic that there must be a bingo card or drinking game to be made.

The movie follows the Spider-Man origin story with which we’re all familiar, ticking off most of the same boxes as Spider-Man 1 with only a few notable changes. Peter Parker’s parents are suddenly important in a vague way. The movie attempts to insert a conspiracy story that is wholly out of place in the Spider-Man mythos. At some point the filmmakers must have recognized this, because the issue is dropped halfway through the movie, but the surgical scars remain. Uncle Ben’s death, a simple, poignant moment that sets up the Spider-Man character for the rest of the series, has been watered down. Spidey’s web shooters are mechanical instead of superpower-based, a change that is more faithful to the comic but less believable.

Andrew Garfield is probably a nice enough guy, and in another world he might have been very good in this role. But he was given bad lines and an inconsistent character, and directed to act like the kind of person that even I want to beat up. This Peter Parker is an amalgamation of several different teen movie stereotypes, none of them pleasant. He variously a skater, a hipster-photographer, an awkward everyman, or a science geek according to the needs of the moment.

The villain is the Lizard, one of the lesser members of the Spider-Man rogues gallery. His plot arc is a little senseless—he slides directly from trying to find a cure for Parkinson’s to attempting to enslave the populace of New York by turning them all into lizards. The Lizard is an uncomplicated villain, whose superpower is that he’s really big and hard to kill. This makes for a not especially interesting plot, and his lizardliness gave the filmmakers a chance to go overboard on the CGI.

There are, despite everything, a few good things to be said about the movie. The seasoned supporting actors, including Martin Sheen, Sally Field, and Denis Leary, have fun in their roles. Martin Sheen makes a good Uncle Ben, however squandered he is by the script. He has a chemistry and moments of humour with Sally Field’s Aunt May. There was a bit at the end where a construction foreman (played by none other than Ponyboy Curtis), whose son Spider-Man had saved, lines up a series of cranes to provide a quick web-swinging path to the Oscorp tower, which was sort of effective (or at least had its heart in the right place), however melodramatically it was handled. The action scenes are well-staged, in general. This movie could have been salvaged, perhaps with only a few small changes. Corporate cynicism did not have to lead to its downfall. But it did, because no one working on it gave a damn. That makes The Amazing Spider-Man the worst kind of bad movie.

Trailers were for Here Comes the Boom, The Dark Knight Rises, Dredd, and Total Recall.

I’m by no means in the target audience for Here Comes the Boom, but I have to admit the idea is intuitively appealing: a slacker high school biology teacher is forced to compete in Mixed Martial Arts in order to raise money to save the school’s extracurricular programs. I understand that this is not far from the actual situation in the States, and there is a great social satire to be made in here. However, I doubt Kevin James is the man to make it. It will probably descend into overly broad comedy, but we’ll see.

Total Recall is another instance of the strange treatment Philip K. Dick’s work gets in adaptation. He writes mind-bending psychedelic sci-fi masterpieces, and they get transformed into Tom Cruise movies (and no, I don’t make an exception for the style-over-substance mess that is Blade Runner). I’m told that the 1990 movie, of which this is a remake, had little to do with Dick’s story besides the setup, so we should expect pretty much the same thing here. It actually doesn’t look too bad, as far as sci-fi action thrillers go.

Dredd is an attempt to redeem the Sylvester Stallone/Rob Schneider Judge Dredd of 1995. It looks like it will be more serious (which does not necessarily mean better). I don’t know much about Judge Dredd as a character, but I do know the line “I AM the law!” and so far neither Stallone nor Karl Urban have managed to say it properly. It’s not difficult.

As for Batman, the third installment looks like it’s on the verge of taking itself too seriously. It could just be that the trailer is lying to have a broader appeal, but I’m expecting some measure of disappointment come next week.