Film Review – The Amazing Spider-Man
As long as Sony rwants to hold on to the rights of Spider-Man, we’re probably going to continue getting a new film every few years. As successful as the previous iterations were, it was unsustainable in the long term due to the cost, though despite the failure of the third movie, I was still a fan of the series. Upon the initial news announcing the production of The Amazing Spider-Man, as well as through most of the advertising leading up to the release, I have been fairly skeptical about it. Thankfully the advertising didn’t live up to the reality.
Much like the first film from Sam Raimi, this movie is also a Spider-Man origin story. The details have been changed a bit, but essentially it boils down to: boy bit by spider, uncle accidentally killed when boy refuses to use his powers for good, realization that “with great power comes great responsibility,” and ultimately becoming a superhero. If you aren’t conscious of this yet I envy you, but for the rest of us the film takes its time going through this arc.
I was reluctant to see another origin story, and thankfully it has been changed a bit from the previous movie to keep it somewhat new. But while I overall enjoyed the story, I found the origin portion of it be a bit slow. It takes about an hour before we see Spider-Man in any sort of costume, and feels like about an hour and a half before he is even called Spider-Man. It could’ve been cut down by 15-20 minutes and still retained most of the core elements. The build-up is more detailed in this movie, but in a story as familiar as Spider-Man, unless you are dramatically altering things (à la Batman Begins), then it feels like you are just delaying the portion that people really want to see.
It isn’t without precedent for large studios to venture into the indie film realm for directors. Before his smash success as the director of Batman, Christopher Nolan was just beginning to get his feet wet in the studio system. The selection of Marc Webb for this film was a bit more of a reach, and while he showed a wide range of talent as he directed many different genres just within (500) Days of Summer, he really hadn’t done much in the action realm. Given his background, he joins the fraternity of action filmmakers who have come from music videos, including the likes of Michael Bay, David Fincher and Michel Gondry, so he does have good company there. Visually, this film is beautiful, and you can see this experience coming through.
Obviously the biggest question with the reboot is how Andrew Garfield does as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I found him to be quite enjoyable, and, after speaking with my comic friends, perhaps more authentic to the comics. Ignoring a few scenes where he came off as Teen Wolf-esque, I thought he played the role quite well. But just because it is more authentic doesn’t mean it necessarily translates to film (for instance, if you are familiar with Wolverine’s outfit in the comics), and even though I found him solid, I still preferred Tobey Maguire at the end of the day. I thought Maguire played Spider-Man with a bit more complexity and vulnerability. This isn’t to say that Garfield can’t grow into the role, but he wasn’t the standout part of the film, and he really needed to be.
One of the strongest changes in the reboot was switching out Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst in the Raimi films) for Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). Not only do I prefer Emma Stone as an actress, but her part felt more endearing. Mary Jane always felt like she only got interested in Peter Parker when he started to become “cool,” in contrast with Gwen Stacey, who legitimately seemed interested in Peter even when he was a nobody. If the movies follow the arc of the comics, it also looks like Gwen Stacey will have a much more significant role going forward than Mary Jane did in the previous movies. Beyond Stone, the supporting cast in the movie is wonderful. Martin Sheen and Sally Field are standout as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, both stealing a lot of the scenes they were in. The last major piece of the puzzle is the villain, and despite having no familiarity with the Lizard coming into the film, I thought Rhys Ifans did an excellent job and made the villain one of the most memorable of any of the filmes. One of the big kudos for this film has to go to the casting director.
Despite the concern about the scale of the project compared to (500) Days of Summer, the film feels quite polished. That being said, there were some technical aspects I could have done without. The 3D was good in a few scenes, but for the most part wasn’t really noticeable. Similarly, the first-person perspective work they did with Spider-Man was cute, but I didn’t really feel like it needed to be done. Overall, though, the CGI work (especially that of the Lizard) was executed quite well, and though it took a while to get to the Spider-Man action, it was great when it finally arrived.
At its core, there is an enjoyable movie in The Amazing Spider-Man. The actors and the action are both strong, but unfortunately it gets a bit muddled with the story at times, which is a common reality of most origin movies. Now that that is out of the way, I look forward to seeing where Marc Webb takes the series next. The potential seems high.