Directed by: Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer)
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan
First of all, The Amazing Spider-Man falls a good bit short of being amazing, but then so did the movie it reboots, remakes, reworks, rehashes or re-whatevers. It has most of the same things working for it and against it. One thing very much in its favor, for me, lies in the casting of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. I find them much more compelling and appealing than Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. I could go down a list of what’s better (the effects are less cartoony) and what’s not (no J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson), but really the biggest difference is that Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man managed to be an event and this doesn’t.
That’s not really the fault of the new film. We’ve simply been “evented” to death. When every movie that comes down the pike is an event, then nothing really feels like one. We’ve already had The Hunger Games, The Avengers, Men in Black III and Prometheus. The Dark Knight Rises is less than two weeks away. And this isn’t even factoring in such failed event attempts as John Carter, Battleship and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. How on earth is The Amazing Spider-Man supposed to stand out? How is anything supposed to stand out when the damned things come rolling out like oranges? The headlong rush feels less like events than a desperate attempt to manufacture excitement in the age of instant gratification.
None of this is to say that The Amazing Spider-Man is a bad movie. It has a lot going for it. As I noted, I like the leads a lot. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with the cast on any level. What the screenplay gives them to do is perhaps another matter. Denis Leary — appropriately enough — gets the funniest line in the movie. Unfortunately, it’s also about the only funny line in the movie. Rhys Ifans ought to have been terrific casting for the villain. Actually, he was — too bad the screenplay isn’t up to him. And, yes, his CGI lizard is pretty bad (though I’m not sure it’s that much sillier than Willem Daffoe’s Green Goblin mask in the original). However, it’s more a problem with the writing — not the effects — that keeps his villain strictly ordinary. Martin Sheen and Sally Field are fine as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, but where can you go with those characters? (OK, so Field could trot out her Flying Nun habit and go crime-fighting with Spidey, but I doubt that’s in the cards.)
In the end, Marc Webb and his cast and crew have made the best movie they could out of the material they had to work with. It’s good-looking. The action is coherent and doesn’t rely on quick cuts to generate “excitement” that isn’t there. The pacing is excellent. Never once did I think the film was outstaying its welcome. But apart from Garfield and Stone, what is there about the movie that is in any way special? Nothing really — and for a movie that’s meant to be an event, that’s a significant drawback. Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence.