Wednesday, July 4, 2012

movie review: 'the amazing spider-man'

Short version: well, it's okay. Realize that I've never been the biggest Spider-Man fan, but I will say that certain elements (like the leads and some of the aesthetic) really do work, but they're let down by an uneven supporting cast, some iffy effects, and a really problematic script. It's worth seeing, but it's not going to change your life. Warning: if you're a hardcore fan of Spider-Man, particularly of the Sam Raimi films, this movie will make you spit fire and brimstone, and while I can't say that you're not somewhat justified, you could do so much worse.

Longer version...

You know, I was all set to talk about all of the factors behind why this movie was made, and all the contributing factors. Having kept up to date on much of the press and buzz surrounding this movie, I couldn't help but feel both jaded and a little angry that it was being made at all. Even despite great casting and a hugely promising villain (I'll come back to this), I had a really bad feeling about this movie.

Because let's be honest here, this movie isn't being made because the writers wanted to try something special. This isn't being made because the Spider-Man story needs another fresh coat of paint with promising talent. No, this movie is being made because Marvel and Disney want the Spider-Man license back so they can team him up with the Avengers, and the only way Sony gets to hold onto the Spider-Man license is make a quick movie on the fly with the most affordable cast of stars they can scramble together. They threw Sam Raimi out and under the bus because he was difficult to work with on Spider-Man 3 (can't blame him, exactly, considering he wanted to use the Lizard or Vulture and was instead forced to use a shitty, shitty version of Venom - sorry, Topher Grace, but you couldn't have redeemed that), and they wanted to go for a darker, edgier sensibility. Immediately, this set off warning bells for me, because I know well that from the comics, making Spider-Man stories darker doesn't make them better. The fact that this seemed to be a remake for all the wrong reasons (drawing story cues from the Ultimate Spider-Man series in the comics) just didn't sit well with me.

And continuing on that thread, as much as I knew they had a great cast for this movie with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone and Denis Leary and Martin Sheen, I still had misgivings. As much as I think Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst aren't compelling leads, the supporting cast of Raimi's Spider-Man movies was phenomenal. I mean, James Franco, Willem Dafoe, J.K Simmons (who is awesome in anything and everything), Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, and Thomas Haden Church all gave great performances in the trilogy. Yes, sometimes the movies were a bit campy and silly, but that's Sam Raimi's sensibilities for you - he got the tone and style of the better Spider-Man comics down pat, even if Peter wasn't snapping off one-liners. 

And here's the other thing: for the most part, all three of the Raimi Spider-Man movies are pretty damn good. The second is widely considered one of the best superhero movies of all time, but I like the first one a little more because Willem Dafoe is awesome. But even the third one I'd still hold to being a good movie - just not a great Spider-Man movie (and that has to do with a lengthy diatribe regarding Sandman and Venom and a number of other factors that would eventually descend into a clusterfuck of nerd rage). Yes, it's over-plotted and a little stupid at points, but there are moments of genuine artistic genius in that movie (my personal favourites being the Sandman creation scene in the particle physics research facility and the clocktower scene). To me at least, there doesn't seem to be a need to retell the Spider-Man story - there's already been three good movies exploring it - unless, of course, you're going to do something new with it.

But enough dancing around the issue - all of you know the history behind this production, and you just want me to talk about the movie. And so with that in mind, I went to see The Amazing Spider-Man on a stormy night, trying desperately to shove the misgivings out of my heart, and...

Well, I was pleasantly surprised. Despite the backlash from some people, The Amazing Spider-Man isn't bad at all. In fact, it's pretty good, all things considered. Is it as good as its 2002 predecessor? 

Well, let's start off with the positive here. For starters, Andrew Garfield really does a great job here as Peter Parker. The man plays the role with industrial-strength awkward, and he really makes it work. I'd argue he's better than Tobey Maguire, if only because you can tell Garfield's playing his part with a vestige of emotion and humanity, while Maguire's always struck me as rather wooden. And if we're going to compare, Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy easily trumps Kirsten Dunst as M.J.. That being said, since they've introduced Gwen Stacy as early as they have (and set up Norman Osborn aka The Green Goblin as the enemy of the inevitable sequel), she's probably going to end up dead - which is a bit of a shame, because she's got a lot of screen presence.

The supporting cast is a bit of a mixed bag, in my opinion. Denis Leary is awesome as Captain Stacy, but Martin Sheen didn't do nearly as well as I was hoping as Uncle Ben, and Rosemary Harris is just better than Sally Field as Aunt May. As for the villain, Rhys Ifans as the Lizard was pretty good, and I grew to like him more as the movie went on, but I'm sorry, you're not going to be able to top Willem Dafoe here. But I will say this: the Stan Lee cameo in this movie was the best I've ever seen in a Marvel movie, without question.

Continuing on the positives, I was reasonably satisfied with the special effects. It did bother me that the Lizard didn't have a snout, but that's just me, and I actually liked the Lizard special effect more as the movie went on. Spider-Man's costume did have a bit too much blue on it, but I seriously dug the mechanical web-swingers, and it also helped matters that Garfield used to be a gymnast before he started acting (it shows in some of the costumed scenes). I didn't like the 'first-person' camera shots (it made me feel like I was playing Mirror's Edge), but overall, the effects were tolerable, and the direction was solid enough for the most part. And I would be remiss to say that the instrumental score wasn't completely awesome - in fact, in some scenes, the score does a lot of heavy lifting, and it gave parts of the movie a real heft to them I wasn't expecting.

But with that we come to the real problem of this movie: the script. Don't get me wrong, it nails some of the elements that's required for a Spider-Man story beat-for-beat, but of course it would, it was working from the cheatsheat of the movie ten years earlier. But there are obvious plot issues that pissed me like no other - I mean (minor spoiler) Gwen Stacy just happens to be the head intern in charge of Peter's group when he sneaks into Oscorp, where his father just happened to work with Curt Connors, and also just happened to create the biologically enhanced spider that bites Peter when he sneaks into the lab, and those said spiders just happen to create the webbing as an Oscorp product that Peter uses for his webshooters. It smacks of some lazy screenwriting, and it also somewhat undercuts Peter's everyman origin - now he's not just some random guy who gets the spider bite, now he 'inheriting his father's work'. And look, while I don't mind that the Lizard ripped off the Scarecrow's aerosols from Batman Begins, I do have to wonder why he doesn't kill a certain character at a certain point in the third act.

And look, while the writing and characterization isn't terrible, it sure as hell isn't very good. The exposition is clumsy, the dialogue is pretty lifeless, and while the emotional scenes mostly click, it's more a factor of the actors doing a great job rather than the script supporting them. There's a scene between Peter and Connors at Oscorp halfway through the second act that really strikes me as incredibly poorly written, and I was just wondering what the fuck happened.

And here's my biggest problem with the film - it's redundant. We've already seen the Spider-Man origin story told before, and unlike other reboots (ie. Batman Begins compared to the original Tim Burton Batman), The Amazing Spider-Man just doesn't have enough new ideas to make it all that special. But as much as I'm tempted to damn it as a flaccid, soulless, commercially-driven cash-in (and it kind of is, a little bit, I can't deny that), there are elements that really work with this movie. But the tone lacks the flair and style and grandiose epicness that Sam Raimi brought his movies, the sense of bigness and more meaty themes. To be completely honest, I think the perfect Spider-Man movie for me would have elements of both films put together, with the leads, mechanical webshooters, attitude, and high-intensity combat of The Amazing Spider-Man with the supporting cast, script, and great tone and direction of Raimi's Spider-Man

So to answer my initial question, The Amazing Spider-Man isn't quite as good as Spider-Man by Sam Raimi, but there is promise here. I have to admit, I'm a little angered that Sam Raimi won't have the chance to do the Lizard if they ever call him back, and I can't help but think that Marvel would have done a better job with this film than Sony. And speaking of which, I cannot in good conscience say that this movie is remotely close being as good as The Avengers, a film that had a far better script, better effects, better action, and an appropriately epic tone. I can't even say that this movie is as good as X-Men:  First Class, a film made under the same rushed schedule and tighter budget, yet somehow managed to have more flavour, energy, emotion, and (once again) a better, smarter script. 

But as it is, The Amazing Spider-Man is okay. Not great, not terrible, but solid enough to keep me entertained. It's got some funny bits, some sadder bits, and some genuinely impressive bits. That being said, I think Sam Raimi, if given the same tools, could have done it a bit better. But if they do make a sequel (and they will, since this film is making money), I'm actually interested, namely because they won't have the cheat-sheet of Raimi's first Spider-Man movie, and they'll probably have to come up with some new ideas. And besides, like any comic book fan, I want to see the death of Gwen Stacy done right on film. 

So yeah, if you've got nothing to do on a weekday night, I can at least say you'd be entertained by The Amazing Spider-Man. As a remake/reboot, it's not great, but speaking as a fan of Highlander and Total Recall and following the buzz there, I feel confident in saying it could be a hell of a lot worse.


  1. Agree with dhulli. Change the font. Try decreasing the size to see if it looks well. Otherwise, you can take a look at


  2. Reading this literally a year after the fact, I am with you on most points about this film. I felt like the script was woefully underwritten and/or under-realized, which is a shame because the cast is terrific and the basic idea of a more modern, edgy Spider-Man did hold promise.

    The snoutlessness of the Lizard annoyed the heck out of me, but the biggest problem with the character was that he seemed very blatantly derivative of Sam Raimi's Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus, but not as threatening and iconic as the former or as well-written and interesting as the latter. TASM is nowhere near as good a film as Raimi's first two, and I did not like it as much as Spider-Man 3, either. But there is some potential moving forward.