THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN"
I promised myself that I wouldn't take Sam Raimi's Spider-Man into consideration when screening The Amazing Spider-Man. Yes, this reboot tells the character's origin story all over again, even though it was only ten years ago that Raimi did it, and his film (plus its two sequels) are still fresh in the minds of fans like me. If the reboot does it well, I told myself, it won't matter that the franchise is starting from scratch again so soon. Here's the thing though: The Amazing Spider-Man is nowhere near as good as Raimi's 2002 version, which renders my promise moot. I spent two-and-a-quarter hours thinking, I've seen a perfectly good movie version of Spider-Man's origins...and now there's this version, which pales in comparison.
Andrew Garfield plays Peter Parker. You know the drill: he's bitten by a radioactive spider, his Uncle Ben dies, he puts on a costume and fights crime. Emma Stone plays girlfriend Gwen Stacy, and Rhys Ifans portrays Dr. Curt Conners, a former colleague of Peter's father. The one-armed Connors is working on developing cross-species limb regeneration, and after testing a treatment on himself, he evolves into a gigantic, hostile lizard. Naturally, the only person who can stop him is Peter, as he's the only other human to find his DNA melded to that of another creature.
I've heard a lot of griping on the internet, with people saying that critics are objecting to the idea of a too-soon reboot more than to the movie itself. Let me make it clear that this critic (and longtime Spidey fan) is objecting to the sluggish pacing and sloppy storytelling. Spider-Man doesn't properly appear until 50 minutes into the film, so we're left with a bland retelling of how Peter discovers his powers and makes his suit. There's additionally a lot of dull emo stuff between Peter and Gwen, which isn't helped by the lack of chemistry between Garfield and Stone.
The biggest problem is that there are obvious gaps in the story. Peter's quest to find Uncle Ben's killer is abandoned after being meticulously established. A seemingly important supporting character inexplicably vanishes halfway through the picture, leaving his function in the plot unfulfilled. Connors' transformation into the Lizard feels like it's missing a step. He starts off as a generally benevolent character; after taking the treatment, he sprouts a lizard foot and abruptly becomes this rampaging beast who is, for some reason, intent on terrorizing the citizens of the city. At times, the movie even contradicts itself, providing inconsistent information as to what Peter's father was doing with Connors and whether he's alive or dead. (Devin Faraci wrote an excellent accounting of the movie's continuity issues at Badass Digest, which can be found here) These things, which are indicative of last-minute editing changes, prevent The Amazing Spider-Man from developing the kind of suck-you-in momentum that any good superhero movie absolutely requires.
Surface things are admittedly done quite well. The special effects are terrific, giving Spider-Man more convincing web-swinging than ever before. Director Marc Webb, whose previous film was (500) Days of Summer, dreams up a few very cool POV shots that momentarily make you feel as though you're Spidey. A couple set pieces impress, including an exciting bridge rescue and a climactic Spider-Man/Lizard fight that takes place in vertigo-inducing locations (especially when seen in 3D). Andrew Garfield also turns in an effective performance as Peter Parker, finding his own way with the well-known character. One of his best scenes has him humiliating a school bully, armed with new-found courage to go with his powers.
By no means is The Amazing Spider-Man terrible. It's kind of hard to completely mess something like this up; the effects and action guarantee that one will be at least slightly entertained. I found the film to be watchable, despite occasionally dragging. At the same time, the darn thing just doesn't coalesce. The massive plot holes and inconsistencies sapped some of the fun, because they took me out of the movie by making me notice their very existence. Although I didn't want to bring Sam Raimi's version into the equation, the simple, unavoidable fact is that he did Spider-Man's origin story much better, which only serves to emphasize how inferior The Amazing Spider-Man really is.
( 1/2 out of four)
A Note on the 3D: Aside from the last 30 minutes, which find hero and villain doing battle, there's not much here that necessitates 3D. The coolest stuff, such as the web-swinging scenes, were shown in the film's 3D trailer. If you saw that, you can reasonably save yourself a few bucks by opting for 2D.
The Amazing Spider-Man is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence. The running time is 2 hours and 16 minutes.
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