There's a fair chance you know the story by now, but let's lay it out on the table regardless. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a high school student who suffers from the normal bullying and "not being noticed by girls" phase. He's a quiet kid, but a smart one, generally respectful of his Aunt May and Uncle Ben's wishes, the type of fellow who stands up against bullies, even when he has no hope of triumphing.
Unfortunately for Peter, while he's standing up for the little guy, the teachers at his high school allow him to take a few kicks to the ribs. Thankfully, he at least has a potential friend-admirer in Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) to pick him up and scrape off the dirt. She's a science whiz kid, the only student who is ahead of Peter, the perfect love match for our budding superhero. Now then, if you know the title of the film, you can probably guess where this is headed. Peter will become more than a teenager, and he'll have to fight off a terrible super-baddie to save New York City. Will this all add up to a rockin' Spidey origin story? Let's do the math together!
The "Spider-Man" saga stands alone with its transformative method, as Peter is neither born that way (Superman) nor a rich, billionaire playboy (Batman, Iron Man). He's probably the closest in pedigree to The Hulk, though Peter's tragic origin story mirrors Bruce Wayne's in the "father-figure disaster" technique. In "The Amazing Spider-Man," Peter's initial transformation to Spidey is by far the most stylish and interesting thing the movie does. Well, that and young Emma Stone's general stage presence, she proves to be a formidable romantic interest in a more interesting way than Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) was. While we're on the subject of legacy and kudos, Andrew Garfield proves he's going to have a long and rewarding career, and I say we're just getting started on what director Marc Webb can accomplish as well.
Sadly, there are a few issues with "The Amazing Spider-Man". The first is a matter of cultural relevance: It's a "reboot" of a film that's barely even 10 years in the past, apparently targeting that lucrative "people who saw their first movie in 2005" demographic. You can't reboot something that's been so recently booted up, otherwise we'll start skipping three-quels altogether, instead going straight for the "reboot" button every time, with parallel superhero stories spiraling out of control toward chaos. The second sticking point is the innovation quotient, which "Amazing Spider-Man" doesn't really ever deliver, relying instead on superhero movie tropes throughout. If you've seen half a dozen superhero films, and the box office results suggest you have, then you've also seen what "The Amazing Spider-Man" has to offer. The third issue is the complete lack of a compelling villain. None of these factors, individually, make the film a lost cause, but taken all together they definitely don't help matters.
"The Amazing Spider-Man" is a very safe film, but within the context of an evolving genre. Whether you go for the soaring silliness of "The Avengers" or the brutal grit of Nolan's "Dark Knight" -- choices must be made. And "The Amazing Spider-Man" doesn't make nearly enough of them.
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It would be fair to say that the comic book genre is now simpatico with the rom-com genre. Some are fun, like "Iron Man" and "500 Days of Summer," some are excellent, like "V for Vendetta" and "Amelie," but most fall in that middle range where it's hard to remember anything distinguishing about the piece afterward. Sure, they are perfectly palatable throw-way entertainment morsels, never quite reaching the potential of a full meal deal, but never actively offending either. That's "The Amazing Spider-Man," perfectly fine as you're watching, but never standing out enough to differentiate itself in a crowded field. The relationships are a slight improvement, Aunt May (Sally Field) is bearable throughout, unlike previous iterations, and "The Amazing Spider-Man" is a far better film than "Spider-Man 3." Gone are Sam Raimi's strange "singin' and dancin' Tobey Maguire scenes, replaced by something more organic and thoughtful. Still, this is nothing truly "amazing" as "Spider-Man 3" was a catastrophe. Merely being average isn't a huge accomplishment for a film produced on this grand of a scale.
There are three people credited on this screenplay, and I like to imagine they emailed it around, mad-libs style, and were a little surprised when someone thought up the "giant reptile" angle as a bad guy. "Oh dear," I imagine one of them saying as he read through, "I would not have gone this direction." Still, we'll never know who was who in the equation, where precisely to place blame, and the chances are decent that the studio was changing each and every scene and spoken word to please the focus groups. "Giant Lizards will play internationally," you can hear them thinking, while writing "we need the cops to HATE Spidey for no apparent reason" all over the script in purple crayon.
Tropes, tropes, tropes, enough of them that you could very well surmise that the creators were going for a "comic book" feel, divorced from our modern world. But the film is set in New York! You'll see a giant reptile with a lab coat, a chief shout "I want Spider-Man off the streets!!" and a countdown clock to doom. While it's handy that the bad guys always have to start the clock at two minutes, I worry about the day when they can instantly foist their evil plans upon us. You'll see all these things and more, and when it's all over, the next morning, you'll struggle to remember exactly which scenes impressed you at all.