Review: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN Swings Through the Motions

Editor-at-Large; Los Angeles (@
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Review: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN Swings Through the Motions
On one hand, The Amazing Spider-Man certainly delivers the minimum required of its expensive genre, and those who just want another fix of super hero action with a bit of heart will probably have a good time with it. But, it's never at all jaw-dropping, stunning or even particularly exciting. It's the type of film that's not painful to watch and equally easy to shrug off -- probably not worth any serious vehemence or scorn. And yet, after I walked out of the Paris premiere, there was this part of me that just wanted to scream: As if the idea of re-booting a franchise that wrapped five years ago wasn't cynical and unnecessary enough, you then drop $215 million plus on this mediocre waste of time that offers nothing new and fails to measure up to its predecessor in almost every way?? HOW DESPERATE DO YOU THINK WE ALL ARE!?

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.  
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More about The Amazing Spider-Man

Ard VijnJune 21, 2012 2:50 PM

Aw shucks. The one thing Raimi's spiderman lacked for me was the wise-ass fast-quipping attitude that Spiderman had, in spades, in the comic books. It's the one thing I hoped would be done right this time. To hear that the suited Spiderman isn't all that charismatic is a big downer.

Brian ClarkJune 21, 2012 3:04 PM

They sorta try for that, but with one exception, the writing/delivery isn't good enough. To really translate that aspect of spidey from the inked panels to the screen, the writing needs to be REALLY clever. Rock solid. Maybe that's why Raimi chickened out.

Also, there is some talking in the middle of loud battle scenes. I'm not sure if the sound mix was bad or if I was just sitting in the wrong part of the theater, but I only understood about half of it. What I did get was pretty inane though.

tminusrexJune 21, 2012 5:18 PM

Finally a reviewer who is willing to compare this reboot to the original and explain why he prefers the latter. Hell let's put this review under Spider-Man 1!

2BitJuly 3, 2012 2:52 AM

This review is nearly spot on Brian. The only part I disagree with you on is that IT IS PAINFUL TO WATCH! Sure Garfield and Stone, along with the rest of the cast, play their parts well, but some of the dialogue is cringe worthy, the emotional beats fall flat and it's all just really REALLY dumb. I haven't hated a movie this bad since maybe Crystal Skull.

Brian ClarkJuly 4, 2012 2:00 PM

I suspect the amount of pain I personally endured while watching may have changed if I had been expecting more. I didn't really see how this movie could justify itself (though, naturally, I still hoped it somehow would because I'm much happier when I enjoy a movie), and so when it was just slightly worse than I expected, I felt more mildly annoyed/sleepy than I really did angry.

But yeah, if I were expecting something even remotely impressive, I probably would have been pissed.