Some films cannot escape comparisons, especially when they are reboots made so soon after the originals. So when Sony Pictures decided to film its do-over less than a decade after Spider-Man and its classic sequel Spider-Man 2, many comic book fans such as myself were perplexed. We could understand a need for sequels, but why mess with the success of a franchise that launched the golden age of superhero films? The Amazing Spider-Man won’t answer that question any time soon.
Its failings come right off the bat, setting up a supposed intrigue with Peter Parker’s past which is never fully exploited. We briefly meet Peter’s parents, Robert and Mary Parker, played by Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz. You’d think that with such terrific actors you’d get meatier context, but the first moment we see them is also the last. There is no heft that plays out of their short appearances. They feel more like gimmicks than true characters.
Besides, Spidey’s fans know that the crux of Peter’s family life lies with his beloved Aunt May and Uncle Ben. And yet despite being played by greats Sally Field and Martin Sheen, their scenes and relationships are sorely lacking compared to their predecessors. They being Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson, who embodied their roles completely in our minds to an almost mythical degree.
Then there is Peter’s love interest, this time in Gwen Stacy whose tragic importance to him is well known in comic book circles. But even this promising avenue is botched with meet cutes and contrived romantic situations, which is mind-boggling for such a canonical character. Emma Stone is a cinematic gift, and her misuse here is depressing. There is no comparison worth making to Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson.
There’s also the villain, played by Rhys Ifans, who is given no theatrical room for machiavellian menace the way his predecessors Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina were. And even if he was granted such leeway, those two are a tough act to follow anyway. Nonetheless, his CGI alger-ego the Lizard is effective as can be. But I would have much rather preferred seeing Irrfan Kahn, clearly with more gravitas, as the main baddie.
And lastly, there’s Peter Parker himself, portrayed by Andrew Garfield, taking on a role in that Tobey Maguire made his own, much in the same way Christopher Reeve made Superman his. Maguire’s Spider-Man may have lacked the smart-aleck-ness of the comic books, but he possessed an effortless transformation of naiveté into quiet strength and dignity that once seemed impossible to achieve in our jaded times. Garfield’s Spider-Man attempts to take on a vulnerable wisecracking edge, and succeeds all too well, turning our beloved web-head into Woody Allen. I believed him as an insecure teenager, but not as a centered youth capable of heroism. For me, this was a great miscalculation.
I could go on about how each perfunctory scene set up another one. Or how utterly dreadful the film’s soundtrack was, seemingly telegraphing each emotion, masking the film’s feeble storytelling. But it isn’t worth it. And that’s precisely what’s wrong with this movie. It’s unnecessary in almost every way.
If the film has any saving grace, it is in its action sequences, which among Spider-Man films are probably the richest in detail and the most convincing in terms of physical movement (at least from what I could tell). But everything else has been told better and felt truer elsewhere. I couldn’t help but shake my head through its entirety. The Amazing Spider-Man is a well-made agony.