Recently, I went to see Marc Webb’s spin (I see what you did there, Mr Director) on the radioactive origin story that we surely all know by now. I can’t say I hated it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was good.
I will be kind to Spidey and start with the good points in The Amazing Spider-Man. First off, I prefer Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker any day than Tobey Maguire. In fact, it’s not even a competition. Garfield wins hands down. After a great deal of speculation from anxious Spider-Fans regarding Webb’s decision to bring in some fresh British meat, I believe the lamentations of avid Raimi supporters were unjustified — Garfield just plays a much better Peter Parker. He’s not so angsty that we dismiss his ramblings as juvenile, but not so pathetic that any sympathy we have for him feels obliged. I’m looking at you, Maguire.
Garfield isn’t the only brilliant casting decision. Emma Stone of Easy A fame enters the Hollywood ring to take up the role of Gwen Stacie, and surprisingly, delivers a character whose quirkiness and tenacity won me over within the first few scenes that she graced the screen. In fact, she often leaves Kirsten Dunst, our ex-beloved Mary Jane, moping in the dust, and even aesthetically she feels more belonging to the refreshed comic-book feel of the new Spider-Man universe.
However, Gwen Stacie also presents to us what I deem to be one of the main issues that left the film limping uneasily, rather than strolling with its head held high.
There was an opportunity for Marc Webb to focus on the romantic tension between Stacie and Parker, enough to build it into an emotionally vital side-story. But unfortunately, what little suspense the film does create is dissipated about an hour in. We start to see the holes that, at one point, Webb had been disguising so well with a multitude of layers, each being slowly eliminated somewhat anti-climactically. Peter’s parents aren’t discussed any further than “they died for some mysterious reason”, Peter never finds the criminal that kills his Uncle, and the main villain, Dr Connors, gradually proves to be more and more one-dimensional as the film progresses.
The Green Goblin wasn’t a ground-breakingly memorable villain, but his character fit in with Raimi’s narrative quite well. He seemed to be pure evil in the suit, but questioned his psyche when he returned to normality as Norman Osborne, and there was a real sense of inner conflict that led to his death being a genuine tragedy. Dr Connors, however, has a very unusual — and poorly developed — character arc. He goes from being an aspiring innovator, friendly and wise, to being wholly malicious in the space of quite literally 15 minutes. I felt robbed of the opportunity to get to know his character, but then I had the saddening revelation that Rhys Evans’s portrayal of Connors lacks substance. There is nothing to like about him, which isn’t helped by his tiny amount of screen time. In the end, he just doesn’t feel like a villain to be taken seriously. His delusion to transform the city into a lizard metropolis is, well, purely delusional, as well as having no explainable origin.
The first half of the film is — I will freely admit — a superb adaptation. There is a diffusion of the bottled-up anxiety of the Spider-Man that we have gotten used to since 2002, and we get a Spider-Man who is much more verbal, who knows what he wants, and feels empowered by his powers rather than cursed. However, with this comes a distinct lack of conflict. I’m not talking about the action (though I felt the action was nowhere near as well pulled off as in previous years), but the fact that everything seems to be just a little too easy for Peter Parker. He gets the girl with very little effort, he seems to know how to use his super powers almost immediately, and in one scene, literally a minute or two after he develops the formula for his webs, he tests it out with an incredibly dangerous dive from a skyscraper. It seemed a little too sudden a jump for me.
This opens up the glaring problem of the pacing — so much time is invested into developing a loveable and emotionally available version of Peter Parker (and that is where you can feel the influence of Webb’s (500) Days of Summer the most) that the second half of the film seems like a desperate attempt to revive Spider-Man as the action movie that it promised to be. Everything seems to happen at once, and at one point — when Connors in his lizard form runs rampage through the school — I was certain that Webb had integrated some sort of dream sequence into the story, which never transpired. The narrative accelerated so fast that I was left genuine confused.
Overall, the first half of the ‘reboot’ is actually very good indeed, rivalling the likes of The Avengers, and for a good 60 minutes or so, I felt very excited for the future of the revamped franchise. But the elephant in the room was that the story and the writing felt like an afterthought, and through the final fight — the moment that I was supposed to have been waiting for — I was actually just waiting for the film to be over. And that’s a clear sign that, for me at least, this just was not up to par.