"Amazing Spider-Man" Amazingly Unoriginal
Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man
by Jeff Ritter
Published: July 4, 2012
Once upon a time, Marvel was just a comic book company. They were pretty good at that, too, and for a long time it was enough. They were not so good at turning those characters into successful live-action movies. Sure, they had several long-running animated series, but their movies -- if they were released at all -- were awful. Remember "Howard the Duck?" A painful memory, I'm sure, and I apologize for putting that George Lucas-produced abomination in your head. How about "Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D?" No? It was probably made for television, to be fair, and it starred David Hasselhoff as Marvel's favorite one-eyed spy. If you haven't seen it, don't worry. You haven't missed a thing.
Sadly, the same could be said about "The Amazing Spider-Man."
You see, it all started with "Blade." The Wesley Snipes vehicle wasn't expected to be a big hit, but it did gangbusters and was arguably the biggest surprise of 1998. Marvel honchos had to be thinking, "Whoa! Hey, after years of being second banana to DC and their Batman movies in the late 80s and 90s, maybe we can make a go of this." Unfortunately they trusted other studios to make it happen instead of forming their own. The Fantastic Four franchise was average at best and seems to have run out of steam after two films. Spider-Man's film franchise, on the other hand, positively raked in the cash. The first installment, featuring Tobey Maguire as ol' Webhead and Willem Dafoe as his classic foe, the Green Goblin, did over $800 million worldwide and its two sequels did similarly. I won't get into the legal mumbo-jumbo that goes into product licensing, but you can imagine that Disney, who now owns Marvel, would dearly love to have the flagship character back on their cinematic roster. Alas, as long as Sony puts something out there every 3 years or so, they get to keep the film rights for all things Spidey.
I suppose some of you are thinking, "OK, dude. I don't need a lesson on the comics-to-film process. I just want to know if it is any good." Well, it's not horrible. It's better than DC's "Green Lantern" debacle. It's also well short of the amazing adjective contained in the title. Stop me if you've heard this one: Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is the school nerd who gets picked on by Flash Thompson while trying to not be totally awkward and socially inept with the school hottie Mary Ja..whoops, I mean, Gwen Stacy (the pre-Mary Jane infatuation played by Emma Stone). Peter gets bit by a genetically engineered spider and soon after has a spat with his kindly old Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) who in turn promptly gets killed by a street punk, leaving dear old Aunt May (Sally Field) a widow who now focuses 100% of her ample supply of worry toward her goofy nephew. Peter starts fighting crime to atone for his guilt over Ben's death, and comes up with the Spider-Man identity. Meanwhile, some mad scientist goes crazy and turns himself into the monstrous Lizard (Rhys Ifhans) and Spider-Man gets involved.
I assume you said, "Stop," when I said that Parker gets chomped on by the radioactive spider. Yes, true-believers, they did the damn origin story...again. Swap out the actors, change Mary Jane to the blond Gwen, and switch the Green Goblin with the Lizard, and you have 2002's "Spider-Man." You have already paid your hard-earned cash to see this story. Perhaps you even paid to see it twice the first time. You've almost certainly bought the DVD. I don't think it's very fair of Sony to ask you to do it again. Consider some of the choices Sony made here. Marc Webb is the director, whom you all know from such films as...oh yeah, he hasn't done anything noteworthy. In fact, his last credit on IMDB.com was for the pilot of Lone Star, a 2010 television series that was cancelled after one episode. I have no problem with Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker nor Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy, per se, but even though Andrew is five years older than Emma she manages to come across strangely mature for a 17-year old. Considering that her father is the Captain (Denis Leary) of the NYPD, it wouldn't have surprised me if she was an undercover "Jump Street" cop. There's no J. Jonah Jameson, no Mary Jane, no fun pro-wrestling moment (I obviously wasn't expecting to get Macho Man Randy Savage this time, but maybe Dave Batista? Triple H? Randy Orton? I'd have even settled for The Miz.) , and honestly, how much more generic can your villain get than a scientist who turns himself into a lizard? There is also virtually no action for at least the first 30-45 minutes whatsoever. Sam Raimi, who directed the first installment of the last series, managed to keep the origin lively with humor and the true-to-the-comic wrestling scene, but the script here only drew a few half-hearted grunts. Even Michael Bay would have blown up something by the end of the first half-hour. Don't even get me started on the heavy-handed use of music to add tension, or how when the naked Lizard devolves back into the one-armed Dr. Curt Conners he suddenly happens to have a robe or smock handy. Yeah, I get that it's all-ages. I wasn't expecting full frontal nudity ala "The Watchmen." I do expect reasonable continuity within a scene. Of course, I should know better -- Marvel's brain trust tossed continuity in the comics out the window years ago.
Sony, Disney, Warner Brothers, and any other studio with comic properties in the production pipeline, please think about the origin story long and hard before you make a film. If DC/WB wanted to restart the Superman franchise from whole cloth, that's fine. Just don't take an hour to get baby Clark to adulthood in Metropolis. We all know that story by heart. If Christopher Reeve wasn't enough, we had a decade of Clark's wonder years with the Smallville TV series. Marvel got it right with "Blade" -- they did his entire origin in the credits. Spider-Man's origin did not need to be retold. We saw it back on the Saturday morning cartoon Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and again just 10 years ago in Sam Raimi's standard-setting film. I have it in my DVD collection, just like everyone else interested in Spider-Man. Please don't do it again. This movie would have been so much better if it had focused on the subplot of Peter's mysterious parents who ran out on him and left him with the in-laws. There's a small nod at this conspiracy element in the closing credits, but there wasn't nearly enough here to entice me back for the next sequel. A little internet research turned up reports that the inevitable sequels will include Mary Jane, Jolly Jonah and Norman and Harry Osborn. Gee, thanks for letting me see Electro, Rhino, Vulture or Kraven on the big screen. I'll save my money for the next Marvel Studios/Disney Pictures production, be it another Avengers film or a film for one of their constituent members.
If Sony trots out an "All New, No Different" reboot again in 2022 don't be surprised if I just cut-and-paste most of this review and call it a day. It's obvious that's all Sony is doing.