Review: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN Swings Through the Motions
So yes, this new iteration of the web slinger's origin is, I suppose, serviceable, but it also feels like a clumsy, uninspired cash grab, one which lurches through virtually all of the story beats from Sam Raimi's original, but never manages the freewheeling exuberance that propped that movie up even when it lost its footing. Sure, its got a darker color palate, a new villain, and some arbitrary changes to the back story, but nothing in the film is anywhere near diverting enough to justify the existence of the thing. Worse still, the charm, humor and melodrama that Raimi weaved into the action so deftly all feel forced and cloying this time around.
True to source, the narrative begins with a nerdy teenager named Peter Parker and a spider bite. Only this time, it's some sort of cross-DNA-bred experimental spider instead of a radioactive one. In fact, there are a number of tiny changes like this one, but none of the departures from the comic or Raimi's version feel at all consequential, nor do they successfully distract from the fact that it feels like we've seen this all before. The most glaring narrative addition is a convoluted back story about Peter's lost parents, which isn't developed or paid off except in the service of setting up a sequel. Really, for the first hour or so, you'd swear a lesser director was having a go with an early draft of the script Raimi used.
The saving grace during this section is Andrew Garfield's performance as Parker. Playing a nerdy type is one thing, but Garfield manages to elevate awkwardness to a hilarious art form without chewing any of the scenery in the process. Soon though, he gets bitten by that spider, watches his Uncle Ben get murdered and discovers that his new scientist friend has turned himself into a giant lizard-human-hybrid, and it's about now where the film really seems to go on auto-pilot.
Sadly, Garfield is strangely charmless once he's suited up. Part of it certainly has to do with the weak material he's given (Example one liner: "Ohhh. Somebody's been a bad lizard!"), but I also wonder if his acting style is simply too subtle to come across once he's behind a mask. Then there's The Lizard. Dramatically speaking, the character arc is fine, and Rhys Ifan does solid work, though Willem Dafoe's similarly plotted transformation into Green Goblin was still more fun. However, after Cloverfield, The Lost World, Godzilla, and hell, even Alligator, it's near-impossible to do anything visually innovative with a big lizard attacking a big city. And so we're left with a number of action set pieces, which, while often slick, never feel very fresh or exciting.
It doesn't help that director Marc Webb seems to find visual inspiration mostly in one-minute spurts. As a result, many of the action scenes feel like collages of occasionally clever super-bowl commercials, except with more punching and flipping. At certain moments, a 30-second visual gimmick will inspire a bit of wonder or maybe a chuckle, but the scenes always settle back into the mechanical CGI grind. The 3-D is some of the best I've seen though, and its never murky or headache-inducing like so many scenes of The Avengers, so if you're a connoisseur of that sort of thing, take note.
Jammed in-between it all are Parker's parent-issues and his by-the-numbers romantic relationship with the brainy blond Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). This is probably where director Marc Webb was supposed to excel, but the oh-so-precious teen angst sensibility of his previous film, 500 Days of Summer, feels even more forced here, and while Garfield and Stone have nice chemistry in some scenes, the script never raises the stakes enough to make it feel at all genuine or affecting.
There's plenty about the film that's decent -- the cast is all game and, yep, CGI has come a long way since the last Spider-Man movie. The script certainly does have action, emotion, drama and comedy all rolled up into a summer blockbuster spectacular... at least on paper. But the end result is like listening to a robot playing live jazz (at least, what I imagine that's like) -- the notes are all there, but there's no heart or soul behind it to make you care. And yeah, it's a $215 million robot.
Brian Clark is a Paris-based writer, and is reviewing the film from its Paris premiere.