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Note: * or ** means spoiler
In my mind, there are three comic book series that are elevated above all the rest: X-Men, Batman, and, of course, Spider-Man. The characters in those three series provide by far the most for directors and writers to work with. So, while I thought The Amazing Spider-Man was good, I didn’t think it was ‘great,’ and it had the potential to be much better than it was.
To understand The Amazing Spider-Man, we must first understand the preceding Spiderman series. Although the Toby Maguire-led films did amazingly well at the box office, the content of the movies was mediocre at best—the first one was quite good, then the series tailed off getting progressively worse until the awful third installment. In the same time frame, the Batman series managed to do just as well if not better at the box office while simultaneously garnering amazing reviews from critics and fans alike. This new Spider-Man series obviously wanted to mimic that success, and I think they ‘borrowed’ a lot of the best elements of the Nolan-directed Batman movies and tried to make them work in The Amazing Spider-Man.
Some of the things they took from the Batman series worked splendidly. Paying for great supporting actors (as Batman did with Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Heath Ledger, Morgan Freeman, Thomas Hardy, and many other renowned actors) definitely enhanced the movie. Martin Sheen and Sally Fields were phenomenal as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and both made huge additions to the movie helping to dramatize mediocre dialogue.
Most people probably don’t know Rhys Ifans by name, but he played one of my favorite roles of all time as Spike in Notting Hill, and I thought he did a fantastic job with a subpar character to make Dr. Curt Connors partially relatable rather than fully detestable. Finally, casting Dennis Leary as Captain Stacy was a great idea, and despite the necessary cop-douchiness, he brought some of the best moments of levity and understanding to the film.
Also like the Batman series, Sony decided to spend the first Spider-Man movie mostly focusing on the superhero’s origin story, which I thought was the right thing to do.
To me, the most interesting and enjoyable parts of the movie were spent in two ways. The first was the collection of scenes where Andrew Garfield was essentially by himself trying to figure out what he was after being bit by the spider and who he wanted to be once he realized he had his newfound powers. This led to watching Spider-Man transition from a motivation of rage-fueled revenge to legitimately wanting to do good for the world, which was done very well. I chalk a lot of those great scenes up to good writing and directing, but I must say I think Andrew Garfield’s humble, nonchalant acting style definitely helped the role along.
The second wholly enjoyable part of this movie was the romance between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. Going with Stacy as the love interest in this film rather than Mary Jane Watson was a very good choice. It definitely helped to further separate this series from the last one, but unfortunately, as much as I love Emma Stone, I don’t know if she was the exact right choice for this part. I had a really hard time believing she was in high school, leading to some of her scenes in the film feeling ridiculous rather than genuine*.
However, Stone’s charm and charisma combined with what I’ll describe as Garfield’s sheepishness did make my heart jump during their romantic scenes, and for that I do think Stone was perfect. To me, Emma Stone is the ideal level of attractive: not hot in an exotic, intimidating, Giselle Bundchen, Angelina Jolie type of way, but more in a girl-next-door, cute, hypothetically you could pick her up at a bar type of way.
*For example, the scene with Peter Parker in her room when Stone is yelling to her dad about not wanting hot chocolate would have been realistic and slightly sweet for a 17-year old actress, but with Emma Stone’s two-pack-a-day smoker voice, it just made me laugh.
Regrettably, it wasn’t all good news with The Amazing Spider-Man, and the film does have some huge flaws. My biggest problem with Spidey happens to be exactly where whoever was making this movie decided to vary from Batman the most: the film’s director. Rather than going with an experienced, dark, drama-focused filmmaker, someone somehow decided to hand the reigns over to director Mark Webb. Webb is 37 years old, and has previously directed one full-length feature film: the comedy (500) Days of Summer. While I did love the offbeat clever comedy, I don’t really understand how Webb got caught up in Spiderman (besides his name, of course), and why the project didn’t go to a more experienced director.
While Webb certainly added great touches to the romantic scenes in this film, I think he did an absolutely awful job in the action-based parts of the movie. First of all, there wasn’t nearly enough fighting, and even when there was I don’t think they did a very good job showcasing the hand-to-hand combat**. When one of the key parts of the climactic fighting scene that the entire movie has been building too is about gathering cranes in a row, you’re probably doing something wrong.
Additionally, I thought the ‘bad guy’ in this movie was a horribly written character, and I didn’t care one bit for the continual Hitler-esque ‘super race’ tirades that Dr. Curt Connors would continually go on. For a movie that cost this much money, there is simply no excuse for not coming up with a better super villain than ‘Giant Lizard,’ no matter how many times you allude to King Kong.
Overall, I think The Amazing Spider-Man was worth watching, and Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield’s palpable chemistry combined with an amazing supporting cast made the movie more than watchable, but if you are looking for somewhere to let off some action-fueled steam, I would save some money and stay home to rent The Raid: Redemption rather than getting 5 minutes of fighting with Spider-Man.
**The one exception to that rule was during Stan Lee’s cameo. When Spiderman is fighting the Giant Lizard at the school and he has his headphones on, the direction for those 20 seconds is phenomenal. It was one of the only scenes in the film that managed a dichotomy of comedy and action at the same time, and that whole scene was one of the best in the movie.