Proof that a great cast can elevate a script without a lick of wit in it.
For the length of The Amazing Spider-Man, I couldn’t stop asking, “why?”
Why, for example, did Hollywood producers think it was a good idea to reboot this franchise? Why did it have to come so soon? And why, in good conscience, didn’t producers wait for a better script to get this made?
And then it dawned on me: producers know that no matter what they churn out, they will have a box office hit, and Spider-Man is further proof of that.
When we meet Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), he seems to have undergone his transformation already… only this time, he’s gone from science geek/photographer to broody orphan emo kid.
Wandering the school halls in a leather jacket with a skateboard in tow, he’s clearly a more cynical and sarcastic Parker than we’re used to. He gets bullied by bigger kids but he’s already developed a backbone, stepping in for smaller kids when macho classmates humiliate them in front of the whole school.
He lives with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), labourers and unionists who took him in after his parents disappeared under mysterious circumstances. And he crushes after the pretty, intelligent Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a member of the high school debate team.
One day he discovers a satchel of documents in his uncle’s basement that lead him to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a Darwinian geneticist working to make humans stronger.
He hands Connors an algorithm his father developed that allows the scientist to regenerate limbs on lab rats.
It is while visiting Connors that he wanders into a radioactive lab and gets bitten by a spider, an incident that allows him to develop superhuman strength that has him climbing walls, clinging from subway rails and swinging from skyscrapers as he lays waste to bad guys on the street.
Peter, however, might have made a massive mistake along the way. The formula he handed to Connors ends up working, but with some major unintended consequences.
Just to make sure I’m being fair, this isn’t a “bad” film in any sense. It has a great cast, excellent special effects and is reasonably entertaining throughout.
The problem is that it’s just lame. It wisely does away with the more cartoon-like aspects of the original franchise but it replaces them with an aesthetic that is clearly aimed at producing a more naturalistic atmosphere, but it just fails at gripping the viewer.
Take, for example, the characterization of Peter Parker. Sure, it’s kind of funny that he can’t find the words with which to talk to Gwen Stacy, but he never manages a decent punchline. He trips over his words for what seems like minutes but the writers don’t give him a decent line to close with. Andrew Garfield does his best, but the writer gives him nothing to work with.
That’s to say nothing of how the mise-en-scene establishes his character. When he meets Curt Connors, he seems suddenly adept at scientific formulas, but there’s hardly a convincing element in the film’s diegesis to establish that, beyond a poster of Albert Einstein and an electronic doorlock.
His bookshelves are stacked with lots of books, but few of them are scientific, and the decision to mount his wall with a poster of the film Rear Window creates a confusing contrast, and it ultimately makes it difficult to empathize with the protagonist.
And then there’s the villain. From films like Enduring Love, we know that Rhys Ifans is capable of some terrifying villainry, but here he’s made to play it straight. He seems to have no fun playing a colourful comic book villain who gets to terrify the people of Manhattan.
The biggest problem with The Amazing Spider-Man is that it suffers from a lack of creativity. Taking the story out of its comic book origins essentially saps it of its appeal, instead of helping us engage with a new hero. We admire Garfield and Stone for trying, but even their immense talents can’t elevate the material enough to entertain us for two hours.
The result is a misfire, a film that does nothing but make us anxious for Batman to save us.