The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Director: Mark Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Dennis Leary
I'd like to start this review by stating that the reason this movie exists in the first place is to ensure that Sony keeps the movie rights to the Spider-Man franchise, keeping Marvel from making their own version that fits in with their (hugely successful) cinematic universe. So rather than hire a new director to keep Tobey MacGuire and Kirsten Dunst on the screen together, Sony decided to go with a cheaper reboot. After all, the superhero movie has changed a lot since the original Spider-Man and updates can be nice sometimes. Now that that's out of the way, its actual review time.
However, there isn't a lot to praise in this movie, and all the things that went wrong lead to a very confused, erratic production. The first is the villain, Curt Connors aka "The Lizard." The movie seems to go the Raimi route at first, painting him as a good-hearted scientist whose accident leads him away from the straight and narrow. But then at the same time there are also hints that Connors wants to improve humanity via cross-species genetics using language like "eliminating weakness." So is he a mad scientist from the start or someone who undergoes a character transformation? Even more troubling: why does becoming a giant lizard make you a magnet for every lizard living in New York City? Its confusing characterization of Curt Connors made me lose interest in the main conflict between him and Peter Parker, made even worse by the fact that any personal struggle between the two that could have existed is never shown.
The next point is Peter Parker. The main character, beloved by millions. So how does his new screen persona live up to his reputation? Sadly, not well. Its a shame, because Andrew Garfield is a very talented actor who could make a fantastic (dare I say Amazing? No, I don't) Spider-Man. But, speaking as a Spider-Man fan, there's nothing about Peter Parker the character that closely resembles the kid who captured everyone's imaginations. Peter Parker is timid, he's an outcast, and even a bit sheltered. Everybody knows the classic origin story: after getting bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker uses his powers for selfish gain, and through his own petty actions, inadvertently causes his Uncle's death, and dedicates his life to crimefighting as a result. Its a compelling character arc. In this movie, however, the character undergoes none of these real character changes. Peter Parker starts as a moody, snarky teenager (who inexplicably reverts to a Michael Cera caricature when talking to girls) who's brave enough to face bullies and stays that way. He's actually pretty insufferable for most of the movie. He's not rebellious or angsty or an outcast, he's plain unlikable, which makes it even more baffling that Gwen Stacy becomes interested in him after he takes time to publicly humiliate a bully and then pick a fight with her father at the dinner table.
But these two revolting character developments could be ignored if it weren't for the film's startling lack of any real ambition to challenge the audience. Whenever any real conflict has the chance to enter the stage, its quickly stifled and forgotten, and usually everyone in the movie sides with Peter. It seems to be to make sure Peter Parker has everything going for him all the time. But characters who get their way every time aren't interesting. They're boring. When they aren't challenged, neither are we.
Other than these story points, there are a lot of aspects that may seem nitpicky, but caused me to groan in the theater. Peter's webshooters make the sound of muzzled gunshots, the first-person sequences are disorienting, the suit is ugly, Uncle Ben's death was botched, the CGI is laughably lackluster, and Spider-Man just couldn't stop taking off his mask for no good reason. Not to say there were absolutely no redeeming qualities. Andrew Garfield, as mentioned, has incredible potential and talent, Martin Sheen is very well-realized as Ben Parker, and the fight scenes between Spidey and the Lizard are very well-executed and clear. However, with all the injustices dealt both to the character and an audience who loved the first two Raimi films, I cannot recommend that you see this film unless you just want to see Spidey on the big screen again. I can understand that. I was just as excited to see him come to life again. Maybe next time will be better.