If when watching The Amazing Spider-Man a feeling of sincere déjà vu looms over your collective memory, then don’t worry. You’re not alone.
The newest incarnation of everyone’s friendly neighborhood hero might seem a bit too familiar to some since this origin story has already been told to greater success. I’m talking, of course, about 2002’s Spider-Man.
The original take on Peter Parker’s rise to hero status featured Tobey Maguire’s nerdy Parker, Willem Dafoe’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-esque Norman Osborne/Green Goblin, Kirsten Dunst’s dreamy love interest Mary Jane Watson, James Franco’s cool-but-jaded best friend Harry Osborne, the infamous upside-down rain kiss, pumpkin bombs, a jerky Flash Thompson and, of course, Uncle Ben’s legendary call for great responsibility to follow great power. Two sequels soon followed.
Five years removed from Spider-Man 3 (the final film in the original trilogy), the new Spider-Man flick feels a little too close for comfort.
This time, Andrew Garfield plays a hipper version of Peter (skateboard and angst included), Rhys Ifans plays the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-esque Dr. Curt Connors/Lizard, Emma Stone plays the dreamy love interest Gwen Stacy. There’s no best friend for Parker this time (he’s a loner, naturally), but we’ve got another jerky Flash Thompson, more kissing, another scientific weapon and, of course, a call for responsibility from Uncle Ben.
See what I’m coming from?
I don’t want to make this review seem more negative than it is (I actually liked elements of the film quite a bit), but as origin stories go, you’re going to have to shake off the inert feeling déjà vu if you have any desire to truly enjoy this reboot.
Story wise, we are given a new twist on Parker’s background with a larger focus given to Peter’s ill-fated parents. After years of living with the lovable Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Sally Field and Martin Sheen), Parker accidentally uncovers a secret briefcase that belonged to his father. Inside lays a clue that leads Parker to meet an old friend/co-worker of his father, Dr. Curt Connors (of whom Gwen Stacy is an intern). Naturally, a visit to a laboratory involving a pre-spider-bite-Parker won’t end without a fateful nibble on the neck.
Secrecy really is the heart of the film, so I won’t go any further than this.
The Amazing Spider-Man really hinges itself on the origin story checklist. In order to cover every beat necessary to fully tell Parker’s story, some key elements of the narrative are merely breezed over without much mention. Their impacts are felt, but if only to drive the events of the plot. In honesty, this is the film’s biggest problem. Repetition aside, The Amazing Spider-Man feels unnecessarily rushed.
Something that Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film clearly excelled in was storytelling, an element that the new Spidey film seems to have brushed over completely. In exchange for the performances, set pieces and added humor, the film simply strings together a workable story that, well, covers everything you would expect a Spider-Man origin story to cover. It’s a shame, really, because as an audience, we aren’t given much time to let anything sink in. I felt like a guest being shuffled out of a theme park at its close, still wanting to take in the atmosphere.
Despite story issues, The Amazing Spider-Man excels in a few areas that really help drive the film home. Andrew Garfield is the perfect Peter Parker. Offering a diversely different portrayal from Maguire’s take on the character, Garfield makes the role his own, giving Parker a sense of snark that hearkens back to the character’s sense of humor in the comics. Garfield also handles the emotional scenes with skill and range, adding a depth that the film desperately needed. If anything, Garfield makes you care about Peter and the situations he gets himself into.
Emma Stone works well as Gwen Stacy, although her character can seem a wee bit undercooked at times (a fault of the scripters). Ifans makes the best out of Dr. Connors, but unfortunately, the Lizard dominates most of the character’s developments. If anyone in this film was shortchanged, it’s Ifans. I enjoyed Denis Leary’s sarcastic Captain Stacy (Gwen’s father in uniform), but the character did feel shoehorned into the film’s proceeding at times. Besides Garfield, the supporting cast suffers from a lack of sharp characterization – another hallmark of the Raimi series.
I appreciated the film’s attention to scenery detail (the design of Oscorp labs stuck out), and director Mark Webb (500 Days of Summer) staged a few great sequences, including a nail-biting bridge rescue, that looked spectacular in 3D (a rare compliment from me to the technology). The film’s effects can be dazzling, especially when Spider-Man swings through the city (a double-wow in 3D). Webb succeeded in creating some truly tense moments of action – a surprising feat for his first swing at the genre. These moments are where the film fires on all cylinders, allowing for Garfield’s fun take on Parker to infuse with Webb’s sharp eye for mayhem. These details save the film from mediocrity. Webb lets action take over the third act, which creates instantaneous gratification for the viewer. Garfield’s skillful acting also comes in handy.
A mid-credits scene hints at the sequel (due out in May 2014), and honestly, The Amazing Spider-Man whet my appetite enough that I’m very intrigued on where the story is headed.
At the end of the day, The Amazing Spider-Man is a decent film fragmented together with great pieces. Unfortunately, the film’s hurried, familiar story causes the final product to feel more diminished than it should have been. By all means, give the new Spidey film a go, but don’t expect the same heights that its predecessor reached.
Note: I screened the film in IMAX 3D, which I found to be the best way to view the film, although seeing the film on a 2D regular screen will be just as acceptable.