So! I’m leaving for a trip tomorrow in the very early a.m., and won’t be back until Monday in the very late p.m. Functionally, this means I will likely not be posting anything new until Tuesday afternoon at the earliest. If everything goes according to plan, I should have another post up this evening that dovetails with this one, and that will be it for a few days. I really hope everyone is enjoying reading this series almost as much as I’m enjoying writing it!
Also, as I was typing out the tags for this entry, I had an awkward moment where I had typed, “Sam Raimi, Marc Webb,” and I was very tempted to add, “unfair comparisons.”
#6: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
I know you’re probably wondering, “Weren’t we just here?” Yeah, I know I’ve already ripped this film to shreds in its original review, but you know what? I have no problem doing so again. It deserves it.
Little or no effort was put into any of this film’s most basic elements. The script is unbelievably weak and doesn’t seem to have been proofread by anyone who has the slightest concern about things like basic logic or character motivation. I’m no insider, but I’ve read plenty or articles by people who know insiders or are insiders themselves, and all of them suggest that the studio was looking for a pushover director who would do whatever the studio wanted and (again, not an insider), my best guess based on what we saw on the screen is that they got their man in Marc Webb. Everything just combines to make this film pretty lackluster.
The decision to make this film has been postulated to be primarily financially motivated. Sony had to make another Spider-Man film to keep the rights to the series, or they would revert back to Marvel (Disney.) This, coupled with Sam Raimi’s unwillingness to rush a film onto screens when he wasn’t satisfied with the script led to them jettisoning Spider-Man 4 and rebooting the series. Really, once they made that decision, they had hardly put themselves in a position to succeed. With Sam Raimi’s highly successful films still fresh in everyone’s collective memories, The Amazing Spider-Man basically had two choices: it could do the exact same thing as Raimi’s Spider-Man (and be both repetitive and not quite as good), or it could try to do something unexpected.
Let’s stop here and remember something pretty crucial: there is a massive difference between unexpected and stupid. Completely changing Uncle Ben’s death’s emotional significance in Peter’s life, and making its relationship to his identity as Spider-Man confusing at best? That would be an example of “stupid.” Completely changing Peter Parker’s characterization? Massively stupid.
Andrew Garfield seems like he could’ve been a much better Spider-Man given a superior script. The few times when he acts at least a little like Spider-Man (the bridge rescue toward the middle of the film, and the race across Manhattan to stop the Lizard toward the end of it) are genuinely pretty good, but there really isn’t any time during the film when he seems remotely like Peter Parker. Emma Stone (as Gwen Stacy) wasn’t terrible, but she was playing a poorly-written character, and she was certainly no Kirsten Dunst (as Mary Jane Watson).
Rhys Ifans (as Curt Conners) actually suffers dramatically in comparison to Dylan Baker even though the latter had a much more limited role in the first three films. Perhaps the most personally frustrating bit of failed casting was Martin Sheen as Ben Parker. In Raimi’s films, Cliff Robertson played a version of Uncle Ben that was ripped pretty directly from the comics. Sheen is an actor I admire a great deal, but he comes off as far too intellectual for the role he’s playing, a role which even this film’s script defines as more “street smart” than “book smart.” I would comment on the characterization of Aunt May (Sally Field), but then I’d be saying more about her than the film did, so that would feel a little unfair.
The real problem is, nothing anyone says or does in this film makes any sense. I spent most of my time watching this film asking, “Why is he doing that? Why is she saying that? What is happening?” The most egregious example of this is the Lizard’s motivations… what are they, exactly? A fairly common defense I’ve been seeing is that the Lizard “wasn’t a very deep character in the first place.” You can choose to believe that if you want (I don’t), but it’s a pretty awful excuse to turn him into a bizarre lizard supremacist fascist. If you’re going to play it that way, at least have it make sense. By way of contrast, let’s consider the approach Raimi was taking to the character. Connors is mentioned in Spider-Man, and is a prominent secondary character in Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 as Peter’s professor and mentor. The two have a somewhat complicated relationship that Raimi likely would’ve capitalized on in Spider-Man 4 by having Peter experience emotional turmoil over being forced to fight his mentor, while playing the Lizard portion of Connors’ character pretty straight from the comics like he did the rest of his villains.
The romance subplot, which was the emotional core of Raimi’s films, is for the most part shoved to the side here. I actually think the minimalist approach to the romance was one of the few things that worked pretty well, but that’s somewhat of a backhanded compliment because the reason it worked for me is there is absolutely no way I want to see very much of this Peter Parker in a romance subplot. Thank you, no.
Denis Leary as Gwen’s father, NYPD Captain George Stacy, was a very unexpected bright spot in this film. He’s a little one-dimensional, but I think he would’ve fit quite well in a better film with a better script. And Stacy is a much more interesting part of this film than he was of Spider-Man 3, where he was played by the very talented James Cromwell but not really given much of a role.
Webb’s version does make the wise choice of not killing off the villain at the end of the film, but rather imprisoning him. You know, like every other version of Spider-Man except Raimi’s does (though Raimi’s had pretty good reasons for doing what it did.) Establishing a precedent of not killing villains allows the series to use whichever villains they want without eliminating the chance of bringing them back later, maybe even for something as huge as the Sinister Six. After all, every Spider-Man fan knows: “We’ll meet again, Spider-Man!”
Unfortunately, due to this film’s undeservedly robust box office performance, it’s likely that we’ll meet him again in this continuity. Hopefully someone on the sequel’s creative team will decide it’s a pretty good idea to have Peter Parker be Peter Parker instead of this weird emo hipster kid who dresses like a nerd but doesn’t act like one at all.
I’ve actually included this film ahead of a lot of films that are indisputably much worse films because it is utterly soulless. Yeah, it was more technically proficient than, say, Steel or Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, but it offends me with its very existence and the cynical motives that led to that existence.