It’s déjà vu all over again with The Amazing Spider-Man, a movie that exists entirely as leverage in protracted contract negotiations, and feels about as inspired as that must sound.
The short version is that Sony needed another Spider-Man movie to keep the big-screen rights from reverting back to Marvel and Disney: If they didn’t rush something into theaters in a hurry, we’d be seeing Spidey join The Avengers in the sequel. Original series director Sam Raimi was shown the door—along with stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst—when push came to shove over creative decisions on Spider-Man 4. Now we’re faced with what’s commonly referred to as “a franchise reboot,” marketing department terminology that makes me queasy.
A hollow, joyless exercise directed with little verve by Marc Webb (yes, that’s his real name), this is sometimes a scene-for-scene remake of Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man, except for occasionally when it isn’t. It’s a movie of echoes and over-familiar moments that has no real identity of its own. Why remake a much beloved, massively popular movie that’s barely 10 years old?
The Social Network’s put-upon sad-sack Andrew Garfield attempts to fill Maguire’s spandex suit as the wise-cracking web-slinger, here slightly re-configured as a morose high school student with permanent, expertly styled bed head who rides a skateboard everywhere because apparently he wants to be Marty McFly? Peter Parker pines away for Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, the most beautiful girl in his class—who somehow carries long stretches of this movie on her indomitable charisma despite not being given a character to play.
So here we go again. Parker needs to get bit by a radioactive spider and all. The main change-up in this screenplay (penned by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves) is a bunch of hushed to-do about Parker’s missing parents. Played in the prologue by Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz, they’re some sort of scientists who scurry around a lot and react to a broken window by dropping young Peter off with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) before disappearing in a mysterious car accident.
After this laborious set-up, we never hear again about Parker’s parents. As par for the course in the worst of Hollywood filmmaking right now, The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t even bother to tell a complete story. All this stuff is just here to lay groundwork for the inevitable sequel, which is already slated to hit theaters in 2014. Could everyone please try telling one decent story for a change instead of worrying so much about setting up a franchise?
So, yeah, Peter Parker, spider-bite, high-school crush, he has fun with his new powers, etc. Near the one-hour mark, when Martin Sheen was still hanging around as Uncle Ben giving Peter wheezy lectures about responsibility, I could not believe he was still alive. Doesn’t everybody know by now that Uncle Ben has to die before Peter Parker can turn into Spider-Man? Why is he still here?
That’s the biggest problem with this picture, which is hilariously touting itself as “The Untold Story Begins” when really it’s just “The Retold Story.” The Amazing Spider-Man hits all the same beats as Raimi’s previous picture (Rhys Ifans is yet another scientist who performs experiments on himself and becomes a monster … again) and there’s no fresh eye or invention to any of it.
Webb helmed the annoyingly quirky indie hit (500) Days of Summer, and he’s dreadfully out of his league handling a $215 million summer blockbuster. The Amazing Spider-Man is shot like a sitcom, with a rather annoying preponderance of over-the-shoulder shots and never more than two or three people on-screen at any given time. This might be the most curiously under-populated New York City we have ever seen at the movies—$200 million can’t buy you any extras?
The most glaring example of the movie’s backlot-bound barrenness arrives when Parker first tests out his web-swinging skills, only to land crashing on the table of an outdoor cafe. Luckily for Peter’s secret identity, there’s nobody eating at the cafe. There’s also nobody working there. There’s also nobody on the entire city block to notice a teenage kid swinging around on webs. Is this movie supposed to take place after birdflu wiped out the population?
Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man had a goofball, cartoony exuberance that made up for the dodgy special effects with an almost kitschy 1960’s comic book grandeur. (The sequel was even better. And let’s just pretend that third film never happened.) Whereas The Amazing Spider-Man is mopey and morose, plodding out to almost two-and-a-half hours and almost frighteningly devoid of humor.
There’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, and better.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Director: Marc Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Rhys Ifans