REVIEW: 'The Amazing Spider-Man'
Comic-book movies are like jigsaw puzzles. There’s a specific number of pieces – superpower origins, iconic villains, love interests - in each one, and it’s the director’s job to assemble a movie that matches the “picture on the box”. The picture is the fans’ image of the character, and it can be difficult for a director to put together a movie that both satisfies fans and explores new sides to the well-known characters.
In The Amazing Spider-Man, director Marc Webb got the most important part right. The relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy is one of the best romances in a superhero movie, ever. But the story that surrounds their relationship feels disjointed. Scenes don't quite connect. It’s like Webb shuffled the classic parts of the Spider-Man story we know, and forgot to make them into a complete picture.
The core story of Spider-Man is still here: Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a nerdy, quiet high-school student who lives with his aunt and uncle after his parents mysteriously disappeared one night. After digging into scraps of his father’s old research into cross-species genetics, Parker visits his father’s colleague Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) to find out what happened to his parents.
Parker stumbles into a high-tech lab at Oscorp and is bitten by the radioactive spider that gives him the super-strength, wall-climbing and Spidey-senses we know and love. Soon after, Parker’s collaboration with Dr. Connors on a regenerative serum causes Connors to mutate into the Lizard, a creature bent on turning all humans into monsters like him. Parker has to use his newfound powers to stop the Lizard while trying to protect those he loves.
The core problem with The Amazing Spider-Man is that the familiar origin tale is told in a way that picks up threads of story and then drops them. Elements like Spider-Man’s search for Uncle Ben’s killer and the shadowy influence of Norman Osborn are abandoned part-way through. The movie feels more like a series of Spider-Man shorts than a cohesive narrative.
It’s especially noticeable in the action scenes, which are well-choreographed, but feel like they’ve been shoehorned into the story. The fights between Spider-Man and the Lizard should be the result of the narrative building up to physical conflict. Instead, a fight starts and ends with little of the oomph we need to sympathize with the characters or wonder about the outcome.
Even so, the film’s problems are offset by a pair of strong performances by Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Garfield has found an interesting new take on Peter Parker: he feels like a real teenager, something I never really picked up from Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker in Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film. And Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is perhaps the most realistic character in the whole movie. She has just the right mix of smarts, strength and charm to make her into one of the best female characters in a superhero movie.
Together, Garfield and Stone have a wonderful chemistry. The scene where Peter and Gwen try to decide whether to go on a date is delightfully awkward, and the indie rock track playing in the background just works. If nothing else, see this movie for the scenes between Garfield and Stone, because it’s rare that a superhero romance works this well (Need I remind you of the horrible love triangle in the last Spider-Man movie, between Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and James Franco?)
It’s too bad that rest of The Amazing Spider-Man couldn’t reflect the central relationship. If it had, the film would’ve given the Sam Raimi films a run for their money. Unfortunately, its scattered story and uneven pace makes for an entertaining, but unsatisfying experience. I’m left hoping that a sequel can give Marc Webb a chance to find a consistent tone and a more organized story. The Amazing Spider-Man gets two-and-a-half stars out of four.
What did you think of The Amazing Spider-Man? Were you pleasantly surprised? Disappointed? Were you as impressed with the Peter Parker/Gwen Stacy relationship as I was? Sound off in the comments below! If you liked this review, check out my other recent movie reviews, or browse through my Reviews of Classic Movies series here:
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