Thank the maker! They’ve finally rebooted Spider-Man!
Okay, sarcasm over. But really, it’s only been ten years since Sam Raimi brought Marvel’s famed web-slinger to life in the form of Tobey Maguire. While Spider-Man 2 is considered a high-water mark of comic-book movies, the various excesses of Spider-Man 3 and its multiple villains pretty much left Spidey floating in the proverbial bathtub. Enter Marc Webb, the oh-too-appropriately named director of The Amazing Spider-Man. Working with a script by Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves and octogenarian scribe Alvin Sargent among others, Webb retreads a lot of the same ground as Raimi’s 2002 movie: unpopular teenager Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) lives with his Aunt and Uncle (Sally Field and Martin Sheen) until one day, he’s bitten by a genetically-modified spider that turns him into a superhero. Like in the earlier version, Peter learns through personal tragedy that with great power comes great responsibility.
Naturally, there’s a romantic plot between Peter and his crush, Gwen Stacy (Superbad’s Emma Stone). Garfield and Stone play this relationship more realistically than in the Raimi version, giving this film a reality that was mostly absent from the earlier films. They have tremendous chemistry and their scenes together are a real highlight. The strange thing is, however, that those bits really don’t belong in the same movie as the action scenes, which are still quite broad. The villain of the piece is Rhys Ifans, a one-armed reptile scientist. Under a lot of pressure to develop a serum that allows people to grow their limbs back, he expedites the scientific progress, accidentally turns himself into an eight-foot lizard, and proceeds to tear up New York City. The action is fundamentally good, with Spider-man’s swinging scenes possessing a heft that makes the 3D presentation almost worthwhile (almost, mind). But there was never any way that the giant Lizard plot line was going to mesh with the gentle relationship story Webb sets up in the film’s first act.
There are tell-tale signs of panic in the cutting room. A few characters seem to disappear mid-film while certain sub-plots are also abandoned, never to be mentioned again: the prologue deals with the mysterious death of Spider-Man’s parents and the fact that it’s barely mentioned again suggests that the producers are counting on a sequel to wrap-up those questions.
It’s a thoroughly entertaining movie throughout, sure, but there’s something about the flabby structure and wildly conflicting tones that makes it hard to rave about. Origin stories very rarely make for satisfying movies and this is no exception. With the kind of money it’s been making at the box-office, there will almost certainly be a sequel and with this phenomenal cast in place, there’s every chance that the franchise could improve.
Amazing Spider-Man? No.
Reasonably Good Spider-Man? That’s more like it.