Having only been five years since we last saw Spidey on the big screen, the timing of The Amazing Spider-Man hurts more than it helps. Add in the facts only two months ago we were hyperventilating over The Avengers and in a few weeks we’ll be in the midst of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight finale, and it only gets worse for the web-slinger. That being said, The Amazing Spider-Man is by no means a bad movie, or a bad super hero movie. It’s just that now, in 2012, the stakes for the super hero movie have been raised and Spider-Man falls a little short.
But like I said, Amazing Spider-Man is a good movie. Marc Webb scores big by crafting a believable origin for the teen hero that is more emotionally nuanced than Raimi’s and having a cast who deliver great performances across the board. The web-slinging and parkour acrobatics look fantastic, so good you’ll be craving more. And there’s one of the film’s hiccups, for a summer action flick there should be more heart-pounding action to keep you on the edge of your seat. The film’s highlights come not from spectacle or the climatic battle, but rather from the quiet moments between characters.
Minor spoilers follow.
Peter Parker’s transition from hapless teen to super-powered hero is familiar and follows the course you’ve come to expect. Peter’s bitten by a spider. Weird, bodily changes occur. After a few outings in a lame, homemade costume Spider-Man makes his debut in the awesome, professionally-tailored looking suit and proceeds to beat up bad guys with witty repartee. Every iteration stays true to those basics, but Webb’s version throws in enough changes the origin doesn’t feel tired.
Where The Amazing Spider-Man really stands out is the casting of Andrew Garfield. He fits this role perfectly, and I don’t mean to say he’s exactly Peter Parker from the comics, but rather he portrays a teenager who’s gifted incredible powers as if he were a teenager gifted incredible powers. The array of emotions Garfield expresses and the quickness with which he can flip from one to another is spot-on teenager, and particularly spot-on teenager who’s under a lot of stress. Everything about his performance feels very organic and that kind of performance helps a movie dealing in supernatural circumstances.
It’s a huge boon that the cast overall is fantastic. Garfield and Emma Stone‘s chemistry is palpable, and their budding romance becomes a keystone of the film because of it. Webb’s directorial debut prior to Spider-Man was the indie romance, (500) Days of Summer and it shows as the quiet, sweet moments between Parker and Gwen Stacy are where he’s most comfortable. And, apparently, Garfield and Stone are now a real-life couple which I’m sure adds to the believability. As leading ladies go, particularly those in super hero movies, Stone’s a knockout. She plays Stacy as funny and smart, probably smarter than Peter since she’s the one with OSCORP internship, and never is she relegated to damsel in distress, hanging from a building, waiting for Spider-Man to save her. She’s one of the most pro-active superhero girlfriends on screen and it makes me really, really, really sad when I think about what will undoubtedly be her future.
Martin Sheen and Sally Fields as Uncle Ben and Aunt May are wonderful and their family moments with Peter are heartwarming, and later on heartbreaking. And basically, any bit of advice Uncle Ben gives sounds all the more prophetic coming from President Bartlet. Dennis Leary is by no means stretching himself by playing a NYPD officer, but his at odds relationship with Spider-Man and Peter takes a surprising turn and I was honestly shocked there was this kind of character development throughout the ranks. Again, I applaud the time and effort that went in to making the characters in The Amazing Spider-Man all feel real and fleshed out.
Of course, that only holds true for the characters that are really there in the flesh. For instance, Rhys Ifans as Dr. Connors is fascinating. He’s not a boasting villain but rather cool and collected and at times the performance feels a little restrained, but in a good way. Unfortunately, once he begins transforming into The Lizard we lose any of that and he becomes a typical comic book villain with an underground lair and a very silly, evil plan. I still don’t think the final design for The Lizard was any good, lab coat or not, and again, in a year that brought us that truly incredible Hulk, this CGI character didn’t deliver the same impact.
You expect spectacle from a comic book movie. You expect explosions, chase scenes, a thrilling, climatic battle, and Spider-Man is really lacking in that department. The pace of the film feels slow, and either the editor should have taken another crack at cutting down the 136 minute run time or there should have been more exciting moments breaking up those quiet, character ones. And I really hate saying this because there are so many movies that completely skip out on creating characters and putting them in situations where we really care in favor of amping up the action and spectacle, but I wanted to leave Spider-Man feeling I had experienced something epic, and I didn’t.
This movie doesn’t escape without some plotting issues, either. There’s a conspiracy surrounding Peter’s parents, their research, and why they died but besides being occasionally mentioned it’s not really explored. Maybe that’s what the sequel’s for, but it felt like this plot point was dropped about halfway through. Also, I think come the end of the movie about a good two thirds of New York’s population knows Peter Parker’s Spider-Man. All right, so I’m exaggerating, but he takes his mask off a bunch in this movie, so much so you wonder if anyone ever filled him in on what a secret identity means.
All in all, what The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t lack, is heart. The performances are all earnest and very true to their characters. As origin tales go, it’s one of the better but you can’t help but feel you’ve seen this all before, and that’s because you have only a few years prior. I like to think that in a few more years, as more distance is put between us and the Raimi trilogy the need for comparison will fade. I believe The Amazing Spider-Man will be a super hero movie that holds up over time because it went for substance over spectacle. I only wish there would have been a bit more spectacle, that way it could have stood out in this very crowded summer blockbuster season.