I have to say that I was impressed with how quick a 2 hour and 16 minute movie could feel. The Amazing Spider-Man is slightly shorter than The Avengers, but it is just about as well-paced. Despite being stuck with another telling of Spider-Man's origin, the movie manages to keep things moving along without getting boring. It does this by offering a very different version of the characters and events leading up to Peter's transformation into Spider-Man. But it lacks the same emotional impact that the first movie had and ends up feeling a bit more sloppy.
A new origin story
First and foremost, Andrew Garfield is not your father's Peter Parker. He's much more confident and outgoing, as well as being tall and handsome. I would even go so far as to say that he comes off as being cocky. As such, he doesn't quite live up to the socially-outcast-nerd identity that most fans assume. Garfield's Peter Parker does, however, express his techie, intellectual side much better than Tobey's previous interpretation of the character. Even before Peter is spider-bitten, we see him inventing unique tools and gadgets, manipulating photos for the school paper, and offering Uncle Ben suggestions for fixing a leaking washing machine.
A major point of the movie's early plot is the mysterious disappearance of Peter's parents. Richard Parker's work in genetics is something that apparently got him in trouble with some unreputable individuals, and he and his wife Mary had to leave Peter with Ben and May and run away. When Peter learns that his father used to work with Curtis Connors at Oscorp, he sneaks into Oscorp in order to find out what they were working on. It is here that he wanders into a room containing the experimental spiders that give him his powers. Despite his intelligence, and fondness for science and technology, he just starts playing around with stuff in the lab. You'd think a smart guy like him would know better, but whatever.
Emma Stone fits perfectly into the shoes of Gwen Stacy, but poor writing holds her back in the role
The second big change with the new origin story is Peter's new love interest: Gwen Stacy. Emma Stone is fantastic in the role. She looks the part, sounds the part, and gives off the confident intellectualism that fans would expect from her. Best of all, she doesn't come off as a bumbling ditszy-like the character seemed in Spider-Man 3. It's just too bad that her character and romantic interactions with Peter aren't particularly well-written. These two have a few excellent, believable scenes together in which they show great chemistry. The scene in which Peter first asks her out is a great example. But other times, the scenes between the two just sort of fall apart.
Emma Stone is incredibly pretty and makes for a picture-perfect Gwen Stacy!
In this version, Peter anachronistically tells Gwen that he is Spider-Man almost right from the start. Since Spider-Man is a fugitive according to Gwen's father, police chief George Stacy (played by Denis Leary), there's an annoying forbidden-love/bad boy element to Gwen's attraction to Peter that seems out of place for a long-time fan like me, but which will probably appeal to the modern tween fans of Twilight and other such garbage. There are several scenes in which Peter comes to Gwen's home to rest and heal his wounds, and she helps clean him up. These scenes just look and feel too much like they were pulled out of a Twilight movie and they just didn't work for me.
The changes in the dynamics of Peter and Gwen's relationship ends up being my biggest hang-up with the movie. I really hate when Hollywood writers deviate from the source material for no real reason. And making Gwen aware of Spider-Man's identity is something that just doesn't seem like it needed to be done. In fact, the only reasons that I could see for why this change was made were:
- Give Peter someone to talk to about the emotional and physical burdens of being a hero.
- Have an excuse to put Gwen in more scenes without making her a "coincidental" hostage of the villain.
Neither of these reasons really stands up to scrutiny though. Making Peter have to talk to someone about his newfound powers and responsibilities almost comes off as an insult to the audience's intelligence. Like the only way the writers could figure to make the audience aware of Spider-Man's emotional state and inner conflict was to make him talk about it, because apparently modern movie-goers aren't smart enough to pick up on things like this through context.
In comics, these sorts of things would be handled through either third-person narration on the page, or thought bubbles depicting the character's inner monologue. Spider-Man is one hero in particular who is very expressive in his inner monologue. It's too bad the writers couldn't come up with a way to work this into the movie, instead of having to fundamentally change the nature of Peter and Gwen's relationship. The cartoon Spectacular Spider-Man (one of my favorite depictions of the character), would handle this by just having Spidey's voice actor narrate Spider-Man's inner monologue whenever applicable. It works fine. If children watching Saturday morning cartoons are smart enough to understand this, then Hollywood writers must have a really low opinion of the average movie-goer's intelligence if they don't think you can understand it!
The writers make Peter reveal his identity to Gwen for the sole purpose of giving him someone to talk to about his powers in scenes like this.
Trying to squeeze Gwen into as many scenes as possible is a reasoning that also falls flat. Quite frankly, the movie doesn't do enough to really establish any affection between Peter and Gwen beyond just a simple physical attraction. In the comics, they were friends for a while before starting to date. Their relationship grew to more than just friendship due primarily to a healthy respect for each other's intellects. This movie, however, just sort of shoves them together with a few awkward social encounters, and then an awkward first date invitation, and then drops it entirely! Do they ever actually go on that first date? Does Peter stand her up because he's too busy learning how to be Spider-Man? Do they even see each other outside of school in between the first date invitation and the dinner with Gwen's parents? I don't know, because the movie doesn't bother to show us any of that. One scene, Peter is awkwardly asking her out after being embarassed by Uncle Ben; in their next major scene together, Peter is having dinner with Gwen's parents, and they are already "in love". What the heck happened to everything in between?
If the writers had actually taken the time to establish a relationship between Gwen and Peter, then maybe they wouldn't have needed to force her into interacting with Spider-Man, and they could have kept the secret identity a, you know, secret! Don't worry though, the romance doesn't get anywhere near as bad as the unbelievably-bad romance subplot of Attack of the Clones.
Other characters are hit-and-miss; a major disappointment considering how awesome the supporting cast in Raimi's first movie was
I've already expressed some misgivings regarding the supporting cast in the movie. Raimi's movie had an exceptionally entertaining supporting cast. J.K. Simmons' Jonah Jameson was one of that film's highlights. Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris were perfect as Uncle Ben and Aunt May. And even really minor characters like Betty Brant and Robbie Robertson were spot-on.
This new movie's supporting cast doesn't hit the high standard set by Raimi's movie. Martin Sheen really stood out as Uncle Ben, and made for a fantastic substitute for the late Cliff Robertson. He portrayed a perfect combination of kind-hearted wisdom and nobility, along with offering some amusing parental embarrassment for poor Peter.
The rest of the supporting cast was a whole lot of "meh". And Sally Field just didn't cut it as Aunt May at all. She came off as being too weak-willed, and just didn't have that "sweet old lady who's going to make me homemade cookies" vibe. Rosemarry Harris just worked much better in the role, in my opinion.
A darker story
This version of Spider-Man is also much darker than the Raimi movies; both in color and tone. I don't mind making the story a bit darker and edgier, but I wish there hadn't been so many night-time scenes. Spider-Man comics have always had very bright and colorful pages, and Raimi's movies fit this look perfectly. Amazing takes place almost entirely at night, and ends up looking more like a Batman movie than a Spider-Man one. It's trying to hard to be gloomy and depressing, and that just doesn't work for Spider-Man. Yeah, Peter Parker is perpetually down on his luck. Yeah, he has a tragic origin and nothing ever goes his way. But Spider-Man is supposed to be fun. It should be bright and colorful and energetic. The only time that the movie ever really captures this spirit is in the fight scene between Spider-Man and Lizard in the school. It's probably the only daytime action scene in the whole film, and it has a bright, fun, and exciting style to it. Not to mention Stan Lee's best cameo to date.
Other attempts at humor just sort of fall flat. The basketball and subway scenes were particularly painful to watch.
A fairly common classic Spider-Man comic panel. Note the bright colors and inner monologue bubbles in which Spider-Man talks to himself about his own troubles.
Besides, isn't the Lizard cold blooded? So shouldn't he have loved basking out in the brightness and heat of the sun? Whatever.
Spider-Man gets his wit back
Possibly my favorite thing about this new movie is how excellently Andrew Garfield fits into the role of Spider-Man. In Raimi's movies, Tobey MacGuire worked fairly well as a nerdy loser Peter Parker, but he just didn't fit well into the shoes of Spider-Man. This wasn't so much Tobey's fault as it was the fault of the writers. Spider-Man just wasn't very expressive and didn't have the same loud-mouth wit that is so obnoxious to all his opponents. This time, around, Spidey has a much bigger mouth on him, and the time he spends as Spider-Man is much more fun to watch and listen to. The fact that Garfield delivers his lines with much more of a New York/New Jersey accent only manages to make the teasing he dishes out even funnier and more fitting. He kind of shuts up and takes himself more seriously once the Lizard shows up. But once that happens, they substitute his witty mouth for a witty mind.
Fight scenes between Spider-Man and the Lizard are very fluid, as both characters move seamlessly from floor to wall to ceiling and back.
We get a much greater sense of Spider-Man using his mind to pursue and track the lizard. He comes up with clever solutions to problems, and his fights with the Lizard are just as much a contest of brains as they are of brawn. Although, Peter's attempts to address the Lizard situation by confronting Connors and Captain Stacy were laughably bad and horribly out-of-character. Garfield's taller, lankier, and apparently very flexible body does allows for some much smoother and more graceful fight scenes with the Lizard. Spidey and the Lizard seamlessly move from floor, to wall, to ceiling, and vice versa. There is a much greater sense of fluidity in all the action scenes.
Wear the web shooters on the INSIDE, you moron!
I do have one major criticism with this depiction of Spider-Man, and that is his costume. Specifically, the web shooters. I love that the writers decided to go back to artificial web shooters! I think the move to the webs being an organic power derived from the spider bite in Raimi's movies took something away from the character by not showcasing the inventiveness and ingenuity of Peter Parker. However, I really hate that Peter mounts the web shooters on the outside of the costume!
Exterior, visible web shooters are a liability. I mentioned this way back in February of last year when the first pictures of the suit were released, and the end movie only vindicated this complaint. Peter Parker is a smart guy. He's smart enough to conceal his true identity from his enemies, and he should be smart enough to conceal any other potential weaknesses or vulnerabilities. By hiding his web shooters underneath his gloves, Spider-Man in the original comics is effectively hiding the fact that his webs are not a natural power. This helps to prevent most enemies from attempting to exploit the artificial nature of his webs to put Spider-Man at a disadvantage. Eventually, the villains start to figure this out, but at least Peter tries to conceal the web shooters (and limitations in ammunition).
Gee, I sure hope the bad guy doesn't notice the flashing lights whenever you shoot a web!
Not only does the movie completely ignore this reasoning for putting the shooters inside the gloves, but Peter goes even further into stupid-land by putting a flashing red light on the shooters that flash whenever he shoots a web. So fucking stupid. Peter Parker is smarter than this. So not only is he not concealing the artificial nature of his webs (as they are a potential vulnerability), but he is actively emphasizing it! Towards the end of the movie, the Lizard grabs Spider-Man by the wrists and effortlessly smashes the web shooters as a deliberate attempt to debilitate Spider-Man.
Well d'uh! How did you not see that coming? Hopefully the writers turn this into a learning moment for Peter, and a redesign of the costume with concealed web shooters will be revealed for the inevitable sequel.
Dropped plot points may or may not be plot holes
I already discussed how the dating stage of Peter and Gwen's relationship is completely glossed over. This may or may not be considered a "plot hole", but I just see it as an unfortunate omission. I have seen some criticisms of the movie that argue that two significant plot points are completely dropped by the half-way point of the film. I would argue that these criticisms are only partly valid. The movie openly acknowledges that both points were left unresolved, and neither one ends up breaking the movie so long as both are properly resolved in the inevitable sequel.
Unresolved plot points: Spoilers ahead!
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Unresolved plot point 1: Peter's revenge
Peter's desire to seek revenge against the murderer of Uncle Ben is the primary pivot-point of the movie's plot, but this thread is left completely unresolved by the end of the film. Peter never finds the murderer, and his quest seems to be completely derailed by the appearance of the Lizard. This diversion is not completely unjustified, since I would say that averting city-wide disaster should definitely take precedence over one's personal vendetta.
At the end of the movie, the camera focuses on this Wanted poster hanging in Peter's room, emphasizing to the audience that Peter's quest for Ben's killer remains unresolved and will likely be addressed in future movies.
Furthermore, the movie openly acknowledges that this particular thread is left unresolved by focusing the camera on a full-screen pass-by of the murderer's "Wanted" poster hanging on Peter's wall during the final sequence before the credits. So long as the writers of the inevitable sequel don't forget to satisfactorily pick up on this plot thread in the next movie (a third movie might be too late), then it doesn't technically qualify as a "plot hole". I would surmise that the writers will probably set up this murderer to turn into a villain in the sequel.
Since the name of the murderer was not given in the movie, I can't say with any degree of certainty which villain he would become, but Sandman, Scorpion, Rhino, Shocker, and Electro would seem to be the primary candidates in Spidey's rogues gallery. Sandman might be avoided, since he's already shown up in a movie. Rhino would fit in with the genetic cross-breed theme of the movie, but isn't likely to be a compelling enough villain to carry an entire movie. Scorpion could work, assuming that the visual effects artists can differentiate his appearance from that of the Lizard. Scorpion would also give the writers an opportunity to work J. Jonah Jameson into the script; although, this may divert the story too far away from the over-arch of Peter's parents.
Unresolved plot point 2: Peter's parents
The post-credits mystery character may be Norman Osborne or Miles Warren
Considering that one of the key advertising slogans of this new movie was supposed to be the "untold story" of Spider-Man's origins (focusing on Peter's parents), I can definitely see how some people would be upset that the movie didn't fully resolve the subplot revolving around the disappearance of Peter's parents. Personally, I didn't expect this to be resolved, since I figured it would be turned into a multi-movie arch, so I won't complain. Also, the movie acknowledges this unresolved plot point as well in a post-partial-credits dialogue exchange between Curt Connors and an unnamed, unshown mystery villain. According to this villain, now is not the time for Peter to learn the truth about what happened to his parents.
I'm going to guess that this mystery villain is one of two people. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the character will turn out to be Norman Osborne (a.k.a. Green Goblin), who is referenced numerous times in the movie as being chronically ill, and that curing his illness is the primary focus of Connors' and Parker Sr.'s work in genetics. The Green Goblin may end up being too predictable and derivative, and probably wouldn't show up until a third movie, anyway. If Emma Stone is signed on for the full trilogy, the writers wouldn't want the Goblin to have to kill Gwen in the second movie.
The other possibility is that the mystery puppeteer may be Miles Warren, a geneticist (and expert in cloning) who eventually becomes the supervillain known as The Jackal. Both of these villains play pivotal roles in the Gwen Stacy story arch in the comics. The Green Goblin is Gwen Stacy's murderer (indirectly), and the Jackal ends up cloning Peter, Peter's parents, and Gwen Stacy. So although the Goblin seems to be the most likely candidate, the fact that the Jackal is involved in both Gwen Stacy and Peter's parents' storylines makes him an immediate contender for the villain role in a future movie, since both of these storylines are the distinctive characteristic between the new film and Raimi's old ones.
End of Spoilers
The title "The Amazing Spider-Man" really got my hopes up when it was first announced. I was hoping that we'd get a much more direct adaptation of the original comic stories, but just updated to more modern times. Instead, this movie feels much more like it should have been called "Ultimate Spider-Man", because it seems to feel much more in-line with the style and mood of that version of the character.
All the different pieces of this movie just don't really come together. The cast and characters are inconsistent, the script varies wildly in tone, the Lizard subplot seemed rushed (go figure that would happen in a hero origin story), and the movie just isn't very faithful to the source material.
It was probably way too soon to reboot the Spider-Man franchise though. The previous movies are still very fresh in everybody's minds, and so it's way too hard to avoid drawing comparisons between them. For every area that the new movie improves the story (having Gwen instead of Mary Jane, using artificial web shooters), it takes steps back in others (Gwen knowing Spider-Man's identity, a lack of interesting supporting characters). Both versions have done some things very right, and other things very wrong. Sony is probably just trying to milk the franchise for whatever it's worth before the rights revert fully back to Marvel and Disney. And it really does feel like a cash grab. I just can't help but wish that Sony had lost the rights to Spider-Man, so that Marvel could have made its own movie and give the original source material the respect that it deserves. Maybe when we get another Spider-Man reboot in ten years, Marvel Studios will fix the problems that this one introduced.