Does The Amazing Spider-Man usher in an exciting new chapter in the franchise or signal yet another reboot?
I have joined millions of moviegoers in condemning the horrid Spider-Man 3, a film that put the once-proud franchise into a coma with a single dance scene. But there were more issues to that film than just the sidestepping: the product felt tired and bereft of imagination, as if our hero needed a partner or a major shakeup. Throwing too many substandard enemies at one hero never solved anything, but that's exactly what we got. Something needed to change, but was a reboot really necessary? That was Sony's call; and so five years after Tobey Maguire and company were shown the door, the lights dim for The Amazing Spider-Man. Does Sony make it up to fans with a new high-flying adventure, or should we expect yet another reboot in about five years?
Sadly, The Amazing Spider-Man is too drawn out, uninspiring, and downright boring. Its disappointment is so profound that it's a far cry from Spider-Man 1 & 2 and the worst superhero movie since Green Lantern. You all know the story: Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, The Social Network) is bitten by a genetically-enhanced spider and wakes up with enhanced abilities. Yet, this is where the similarities between Sam Raimi's films and the current one end: webbing emanates from a man-made source, Mary Jane has been replaced by Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, The Help), and even Parker's biological parents are Oscorp doctors who pass off young Peter to Aunt May (Sally Field, Norma Rae) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen,The West Wing) before meeting an untimely end. Fast forward several years, and both Parker and Stacy are high school classmates, not twenty-somethings as were portrayed in the Raimi films. Stacy has inexplicably landed a cushy internship with Oscorp and its chief researcher Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans, Five Year Engagement), who is seeking to reconstruct severed human limbs (including his own) in an effort to prolong human life. Connors worked with Parker's father (Campbell Scott, Roger Dodger) on the same recipe, only to see his work stifled with a missing formula that Peter discovers in dad's old briefcase. And just like the comics, Connors tests the newly-completed serum on himself, turning into the superhuman monster The Lizard. Rattled by the death of Uncle Ben and the news of Connor's transformation, Peter must balance his new powers with the realization that everyone close to him is at risk of the same violent ends if he remains Spider-Man.
On the surface, it seems many of these resets would signal a new-found respect by Sony to remain faithful to the Marvel universe. But, consider this blasphemous alteration: almost everyone in the city knows Spider-Man's true identity, from a young boy stuck in a burning van to the police captain running the manhunt for the webslinger (Dennis Leary, The Thomas Crown Affair). There's even a suggestion that Aunt May herself has put two and two together after seeing Peter return home bruised and battered near the movie's ending. Why screenwriter James Vanderbilt (The Losers) would at first show such respect for canon then throw grenades like this into the middle of his script is beyond me. Either he assumes we're not fully vested with the character to begin with, or we're just ignorant moviegoers who consume and forget when the lights kick on. Either way, this insult doesn't help indie Director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer), who tries his best to paint pretty action scenes (such as several first-person views of Spider-Man slinging his way through the city) but fails to achieve anything new or exciting. And while our promising cast does its best with Vanderbilt's sub-par script, bad screenplays always trump good acting, a fact which is demonstrated in some of the cheesiest dialogue I've heard from the franchise ("I've been bitten - so have I," says our leads as Parker shares all). While capable actors, Garfield and Stone have little chemistry together and seem like an odd pairing from the start. Moreover, the story takes too long to develop, forcing audiences to wait 45 minutes before seeing any real action, none of which is satisfying or even inventive even in 3D. In fact, many of them feel like retreads of Raimi's efforts, demonstrating the incredible command he had of the character.
This Peter Parker/Spider-Man appears less impervious to vicious hits, but our hero is no better for the experiences. The Lizard is no more lethal than the Chitauri, The Destroyer, or even Red Skull: Maguire's Spider-Man would have taken our villain out with relative ease. If creating a lesser version of Spider-Man was the intent, one who must empty an entire clip of webbing before using complex scientific terms to solve his problems, then mission accomplished. In the end, all we learn is that Peter is good with memorizing stuff and manufacturing things but seems better suited to defeat common criminals than first-class enemies.
Anyone who tells you this film is exciting or even a well-drawn character-driven story has obviously not seen The Avengers. Had The Amazing Spider-Man debuted sometime in the spring, perhaps my reaction would have been different. Once again that was Sony's call to make, and their product is so much the worse for it. Why they decided it was time to reboot, rather than reload, will confound moviegoers until one considers the contract, which requires the studio to produce a film every so many years, or lose the rights to Marvel. Therefore, The Amazing Spider-man is essentially a contract extension, doomed by a boring and plodding script and a post-credits scene that felt incomplete and largely ineffective. Let's hope Marvel can someday wrestle Spider-Man away from Sony, because very little about this version is inspiring or even worth the time. The Amazing Spider-Man is rated PG13 and has a runtime of 136 minutes.
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