One of the biggest criticisms The Amazing Spider-Man has faced since its release has nothing to do with the actual film itself. It centers on whether the movie needed to be made in the first place. Under other circumstances, I’d be inclined to label it an unfair criticism but in this case, it’s a valid point because much of the film’s plot aligns with the original Spider-Man – which means much of the new film is utterly predictable.
For the uninitiated, sometime in 2010, the suits at Sony Pictures ended their relationship with director Sam Riami and star Tobey Maguire citing creative differences over the direction of the franchise. Rather than lose the rights of the film to Disney and Marvel, they decided to push ahead and start over from scratch. But unlike the reboot of the Batman franchise which was released eight years after a universally loathed entry (Batman & Robin) took the series into campy, cartoonish territory, The Amazing Spider-Man comes only five years after an extremely popular trilogy that’s still fresh in the minds of most moviegoers. If a reboot was the only option, then the tone should have been vastly different.
Even though director Marc Webb and screenwriting team of James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves do a commendable job of injecting the film with a stronger emotional core and a darker, more sinister feel than the original trilogy, and the performances of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone outweigh the work of Tobey Maguire and Kristen Dunst, these differences simply aren’t enough to cloak the fact that the basic plot is a rehash of the Sam Riami trilogy.
The first hour of The Amazing Spider-Man is dedicated to re-iterating the story we’ve already seen in Spider-Man. It introduces us to teenage misfit Peter Parker (now played by a brilliant Andrew Garfield) and his loving uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and aunt May (Sally Field) who he lives with. It illustrates his anti-social behavior, his blossoming relationship with a beautiful female classmate – this time Gwen Stacey (the excellent Emma Stone) instead of Mary Jane Watson, and eventually his fateful meeting with the genetically enhanced spider that gives him superpowers.
After that’s been established, Peter has to once again learn that great power leads to great responsibility, and then has to overcome a tragedy before donning the red and blue spandex. And like in the 2002 blockbuster and to a lesser extent, its sequel Spider-Man 2, he then befriends a brilliant scientist (this time, Dr. Curt Connors) who turns into a super-villain with a penchant for the color green (and talking to himself) after losing his sanity in a scientific accident.
In fact, Connors (played by Welsh-born actor Rhys Ifans), who turns into the monstrous Lizard, comes across as a combo between the Green Goblin & Doc Octopus – a genius who is in a constant war with his animalistic side. There are so many similarities between the two films that there’s even a scene where Peter has to save a bunch of people from plummeting into the bay from a bridge.
Of course there are differences from the Riami films and for the most part, these changes work, starting with Spider-Man himself. Garfield, who had the unenviable task of taking over from Maguire, exceeds his predecessor in every regard. His Peter Parker is a much more complex, angrier and cynical individual. Emma Stone may be even better in a role that could have amounted to nothing more than a damsel in distress. Their dazzling, genuine chemistry is what keeps the film afloat and is frankly, the primary reason to see it. The setting has also changed. Unlike the first film which moved saw Peter graduate high school in the film’s first half hour, this movie takes place completely during his high school days.
Webb, who only had one film on his resume before getting the gig – the wonderful indie romance 500 Days of Summer – directs the film with the confidence and sensitivity of an experienced studio vet – never sacrificing his characters for bombastic action sequences. Like Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, Webb understands that this is Peter Parker’s story – not Spider-Man’s. His emphasis on the love story between Gwen and Peter is also a more rewarding experience than the one in the 2002 film. And even if the darker, edgier tone he implements here doesn’t differentiate the film a lot from its colorful predecessors, there is an Earth-bound essence to it. The only arena where Webb suffers is the action set pieces. There’s no big scene here that approaches the thrilling train sequence in Spider-Man 2 – not even remotely close. For the most part, the big action scenes are serviceable if not unmemorable. Still, the scenes meant to highlight Spider-Man’s speed and agility are top notch.
Think of The Amazing Spider-Man as a Greatest Hits album. It takes the most popular tracks (in this case – plot points) from your favorite artist (Sam Riami’s Spider-Man trilogy), adds a couple new beats, remixes the rest, and combines it into a shiny new package. Sure, it’s fun and enjoyable but eventually you can’t help but get the feeling of déjà vu. Seeing how the film is supposed to be the beginning of a new trilogy, I hope Webb and company drop the Riami template behind for the next two installments and focus on making it their own thing – it certainly has all the ingredients for it.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
Directed by: Marc Webb
Written by: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary
Rated: PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence)