In the build-up to its release, the most common complaint I tendered about this reboot of the Spider-Man film franchise pointed to the unnecessariness of a 2012 reenvisioning, given that the previous trilogy concluded a mere five years ago. This struck me as rather odd and ultimately led me to conclude that many filmgoers have, since 2007, developed an enormous, Spider-Man 3-shaped hole in their cinematic memory. After all, the final installment of Sam Raimi’s 2002-2007 trilogy upset countless viewers with its misuse of Venom, the “emo” Peter Parker, and the laughable resolution of Harry’s enmity toward Peter. Now, I didn’t really hate Spider-Man 3 per se, but after that lackluster conclusion, I certainly wouldn’t have frowned upon a Spider-Man reboot released the very next year even. As such, I approached last night’s midnight screening of The Amazing Spider-Man with great enthusiasm, open to whatever experience director Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer) had in store for me.
With three movies worth of mistakes to learn from and audience reaction to the original trilogy still fresh in their minds, Webb and the film’s trio of writers seemed perfectly poised to craft the best Spidey movie to date. And yet, while the first half of the film indeed succeeds in ways that the original trilogy did not, the film stumbles through its second act only to fall apart entirely as it moves into its third. So what went wrong? In short, it differed from the Raimi installments in the origin portions only. Thereafter, the film played out just as the three before it had. Of course, industry reports and interviews with the screenwriters revealed that the screenplay was in fact a revision of the screenplay that had been intended for Raimi’s prospective fourth installment. This amounts to a virtually unforgiveable misstep for The Amazing Spider-Man, especially since it negates the film’s very status as a reboot. Ironically, this positions Amazing, with its rehashed origin story, as more of a sequel in the vein of Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 than a full-on reboot as it is marketed (not that Amazing is anywhere as good as Evil Dead 2).
The film does boast a really strong cast, with Andrew Garfield and Martin Sheen delivering terrific performances. Garfield’s Peter Parker is a vast improvement over the exceedingly whiny Peter of the trilogy proper. Emma Stone does the best with what she’s given as Gwen brings little to the table narratively, and Rhys Ifans, who plays Dr. Connors/The Lizard, too does what he can with his role, but it seems that the writers never settled on whether or not Dr. Connors was villainous when not transformed into The Lizard.
Moreover, The Lizard, like Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus before him, suffers from a split personality which unbelievably finds Spider-Man’s enemy again talking to the voices in his head. And rather than allowing the climax to hinge on the conflict between Spidey and Lizard, the climax relies on a trite ticking clock device, the product of the screenwriters’ failure to capitalize on Lizard’s strengths. Rather than simply a scaly, less moral version of Dr. Connors, this should have been the Lizard from the “Shed” storyline, a vicious animalistic foe totally at odds with the Connors persona. At the same time that the filmmakers reveal their failure of a climax, they insert an overly hokey, sentimental sequence in which the good people of New York come to Spider-Man’s assistance, triumphant music and all. The film fell apart so quickly in the scenes preceding the climax, in fact, that the audience I was with actually started to laugh at the film– not with it, but at it. Another twenty minutes or so and the audience surely would have fallen into The Happening levels of open mockery.
The origin stuff works incredibly well, though, especially the comedic sequence in which Peter awakens one morning with super strength. And the effectiveness of the film’s first half ultimately prevents me from proclaiming it a total failure. Perhaps these issues will be rectified in the sequel, which we all know is coming, as the filmmakers find themselves forced to work up an original screenplay, but I’m not holding my breath. For if the teaser scene during the credits is any indication, they have absolutely no idea where they’re going with the franchise.