The Amazing Spider-Man just is. It’s entertaining sometimes, it’s not bad but it’s not that good either. Leaving the theater and trying to formulate an opinion of what I’d just watched, I tried to decide if there was more good than bad. I eventually came to the conclusion that I was probably putting more effort into forming my opinion of the film than the writers actually spent writing it, and therein lies the film’s main issue: it’s simply another by-the-numbers superhero film that could have been so much more.
I’ll start off by saying that I had absolutely no problem with the whole rebooting-of-the-franchise-after-only-half-a-decade thing. Sam Raimi ended his time with the character on a low note and wasn’t planning on returning for a fourth installment. A world without a Spider-Man movie is like a world without oxygen apparently, so Sony, being the philanthropic movie studio that it is, decided to provide the desperate masses with a fresh take on the character.
Director Marc Webb came aboard, which made me immediately excited. His debut film, (500) Days of Summer, is one of the most realistic and watchable romantic comedies around, and I was interested to see what fresh new approach he might bring to the Spider-Man origin story. Unfortunately, even his unfailing directorial style couldn’t save this film from being utterly, painfully average. When the CGI mayhem takes a backseat to the great chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone it’s hard to not to be engrossed, but before you know it something totally absurd and inane (even by superhero movie standards) starts happening and it all becomes less fun.
If you’ve been alive for more than 10 years, chances are pretty huge that you know Spider-Man’s origin story. The fact that the writers at least tried to add a new angle to the story of Peter Parker is commendable, but the parts they changed are so inconsequential that I have to wonder why they even bothered. Peter’s parents are thrown into the mix, he doesn’t do freelance photography for the Daily Bugle, and he’s bitten by a scientifically engineered spider instead of a radioactive one. Those are the big changes, and none of them have much bearing on the overall story. One of the taglines for the film’s ad campaign was “The Untold Story”. Really? Surely they meant to say “The Untold Story (well, in the last few years anyway)”.
If there’s one reason to see The Amazing Spider-Man it’s Garfield’s portrayal of Peter Parker. He’s one of the best actors of his generation and he plays the role of the overwhelmed high schooler, all jittery awkwardness and stammering speech, perfectly. Stone also impresses and is hugely charming, getting to show her effortless comedic talent in a very funny scene with the other stand-out role, Denis Leary. He plays Captain Stacy, Gwen’s father and big time Spider-Man hater, and he does the best that could possibly be done with the overall shoddy script.
My biggest problem with the film is that it takes literally no risks. The action sequences, while occasionally thrilling and well-choreographed, are entirely CGI. Can’t there be a balance between the Power Ranger-esque fisticuffs in Raimi’s films and the full-on digital assault of this one? And even the more personal moments, the ones that attempt to keep the film grounded, are lazy. There are no consequences to any of the character’s actions; in one scene, the villain attacks the high school and Peter charges headlong into his scaly foe, entirely out of costume, while the rest of the student body runs away in fear. Would no one have turned around and noticed that?
Yes, it’s a superhero film and suspension of disbelief is necessary. But when it gets to the point of going out of your way to excuse sloppy writing and find something, anything that can set a film apart from the myriad of other films just like it, any potential enjoyment just turns into boredom. A few funny scenes and a great lead cast don’t manage to elevate The Amazing Spider-Man above the sea of samey superhero movies, but it’s a small step in the right direction.