All the king's horses and all the king's men can't put 'The Amazing Spider-Man"'s story back
The Amazing Spider-Man Columbia Pictures
Director: Marc Webb
Screenplay: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves, based on characters created by
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Denis Leary, Sally Field,
Irrfan Khan and Campbell Scott
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 16 minutes
(out of four)
The Amazing Spider-Man feels like something cobbled together from the spare parts of other
Spider-Man movies. Only not quite enough of those parts. For all the familiar and expected story
beats we get, what's most conspicuous is what seems to be missing.
The problem isn't that this is essentially a straight remake of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man (although
that's basically what it is - more on that in a bit). The problem is that it has all the superficial
ingredients of a superhero film without once finding its own identity or reason for being. All its
ideas remain vague or unfulfilled, one subplot being substituted for the next in almost comically
The film is made up of dead ends and loose ends and contradictions. There's the intrigue of the
sudden departure and mysterious disappearance of Peter Parker's parents when he's a young
boy, only for that intrigue to dissipate with the dull explanation of a plane crash. There's the
introduction of the ominous Mr. Ratha (Irrfan Khan), clearly established as a pivotal character,
only for him to disappear from the movie entirely after 20 minutes, never to be mentioned or
heard from again.
There's the requisite death of Peter's Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) followed by Peter's requisite
quest for vengeance - a quest he abandons completely once he's distracted by a more sinister
villain. Which would be all fine and dandy, except, A) it's the backdrop for Peter's entire
emotional journey; and B) even when the story is resolved, Peter seems to have no memory of
there ever being a killer to catch in the first place?
No wait, I have more. There's the life-altering promise made by one character, only for that
character to welch on the promise five minutes later, rendering the previous scene entirely
Oh, and then there's a certain fascinating third-act development involving a dangerous toxin and
a group of police officers - a development completely ignored and left unexplored for the rest of
the film. A savvy moviegoer can practically see the scissors cutting the hell out of this thing -
that, or it was a really haphazard screenplay to begin with.
In short: This is messy storytelling, loosely held
together only because there are enough story bullet points in place to remind us we're watching
some semblance of a plot. We see where the momentum of the story is taking us, we understand
the mechanics of it and why things are going where they're going. But the whole movie ends up
feeling like it's dangling, unsure of what to focus on - or, worse yet, unwilling to really dive in.
It's far too satisfied to play it safe and give us the basics.
Even the film's overall aesthetic - or lack of one - is a disappointing surprise. The choice of
(500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb for this reboot seemed to signal a new voice and a
new direction for the franchise, but the final product has very little of its own personality or
style. New York City looks just like anybody else's New York City. The high school feels like
any other run-of-the-mill movie high school. Almost every scene plays out exactly the way we
expect it to.
But Webb's talents aren't the only ones that go somewhat to waste. Andrew Garfield makes a
fantastic Peter Parker/Spider-Man, offering a more subtle nerdiness (he's shy rather than aloof, a
loner rather than a dork) than Tobey Maguire, as well as deeper emotional range. (Nothing
against Tobey, by the way.) Emma Stone is similarly strong as the love interest, Gwen Stacy, a
perfect foil for Peter in what turns out to be a pretty strong teen romance, even as it gets thrown
by the wayside too often. (And, it must also be said, Stone's selection of thigh-highs and knee-highs is a triumph of the wardrobe department.)
Then there's Rhys Ifans, one of my favorite working character actors (and one of the most
underappreciated) (Greenberg!) - he gets a well-deserved chance to be the primary villain in a
movie like this, and he basically nails it. Except his character's entire story is an undercooked
misfire that follows virtually the same formula as that of Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in
Raimi's original Spider-Man. A former colleague of Peter's father, Dr. Connors (Ifans) is a one-armed scientist who has dedicated much of his life to researching inter-species DNA splicing and
the possibilities of physical regeneration - like, say, missing limbs.
After a breakthrough in his research, Dr. Connors makes himself the first human guinea pig,
which quickly transforms him into The Lizard (a surprisingly good piece of CGI work, by the
way), in the process making him something of a radical proponent of large-scale eugenics.
Unfortunately, the Connors/Lizard setup never feels like much more than a plot device - hardly
the kind of character-based treatment Ifans' talents deserve. But that's par for the course in The
Amazing Spider-Man, which all too easily loses track of any subplot and any character.
Many already have (and will continue to) questioned the wisdom of rebooting a franchise by
essentially repeating the same formula from the last time around. Indeed, this movie is unlikely
to be remembered or discussed five years from now - especially after the studio so relentlessly
teased the uncovering of an "untold story" and delivered no such thing.
There's that old cliche about those not remembering history being condemned to repeat it, but in
this case the filmmakers and/or studio remember their past all too well - and are all too happy to