The new movie The Amazing Spider-Man is built on a really good script, an origin story reboot of everyone’s favorite spider/teen hybrid, Peter Parker. We’ve seen this story on the big screen plenty of times now, and this big-budget film stars a moody, sensitive Andrew Garfield in the title role, with cute – but smart! – Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, Peter’s love interest.
Reboots are always a challenge and doubly-so when they’re explaining how a hero is forged out of the circumstances of his life. In that sense, I really enjoyed the twists and narrative ingenuity of the film. In this instance, Peter doesn’t just show up on-screen as an orphan boy living with his beloved Uncle Ben and Aunty May (played effectively in this version by Martin Sheen and Sally Field), but actually has parents who are integral to the story, even as they abandon him and vanish from his life.
The problems with the film are many, however, from very uneven pacing (the 10-year-old boys sitting in front of me were fidgeting throughout the film) to the innumerable lapses in continuity that made me wonder if we were screening a work print, not the final film.
There’s a suspension of disbelief required for any film and probably even more so when it’s a film based on a comic book story, but I just kept thinking “Oh, come on!” throughout the film. Peter goes to a science magnet school but still has the cliché jocks tormenting him? He visits OSCORP twice in the first part of the movie, the company where his Dad worked when he mysteriously vanished. The first time we learn that it has crack security throughout, the second time he just waltzes into a secure lab and no-one stops him? A storm door shatters when Peter slams it, just to be miraculously repaired in the next scene? And even for Spider-Man, he sure healed from his injuries quickly.
Epic films are made from epic storylines like the hero’s journey and the path of redemption. Peter’s journey is certainly interesting, but he starts and ends as a troubled boy with the world weighing him down and I was disappointed in his lack of maturation during the film. Even as it ends, he’s still out for vengeance, still angry at the world.
And redemption? That was the path of Dr. Curt Connor (Rhys Ifans), Peter’s Dad’s collaborator and now head scientist at OSCORP who transforms into The Lizard. But Director Marc Webb couldn’t quite commit to the stark black and white palette of a good comic book film and left things ambiguous: Is Peter good, or a villain? Does Dr Connor transform into a villain when he’s on a rampage, smashing people left and right, or is he really just trying to replace that missing arm and help mankind because he’s just, well, misunderstood?
In the hands of a visionary director like Chris Nolan, The Amazing Spider-Man could have been a powerful, dark, intense reboot of a beloved comic book hero. Webb’s background with the lovely (500) Days of Summer leaves us with a film that has too much narrative exposition and too little action, a sweet romance between Peter and Gwen, bad guys who maybe aren’t really so bad, and a hero who is remains tormented by his own childhood. Interesting ingredients, but it doesn’t add up to be what this film could have been.