“Good evening. Tonight on 'It's the Mind', we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu. That strange feeling we sometimes get that we've lived through something before, that what is happening now has already happened tonight on 'It's the Mind' we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu, that strange feeling we sometimes get that we've lived... Anyway, tonight on 'It's the Mind' we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu, that strange...” - Michael Palin, Monty Python's Flying Circus.
I am a firm believer in assessing a film based solely on what's up there on the screen. Leave whatever you know about a production or your thoughts about a performer out of it. Even when it's Mel Gibson. But when you know the movie you are watching is the product of crass corporate bean counting – even when you understand the sound business logic behind it – it's hard not to go in with a little bit of a chip on your shoulder. Nevertheless, I tried, I really really tried, to give The Jonas Brothers 3D, um, excuse me, I mean The Amazing Spider-Man a fair shot.
Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire's marvelous Spider-Man is ten years old and, yeah, to a sixteen year old kid that's a really long time. But it's not like the movie came out then disappeared. It spawned a terrific sequel and a so-so threequel that's only five years old. More importantly, that first movie has been on heavy rotation on basic cable. And it's not exactly a flick you skip past when you stumble upon it. It's one of the best origin story superhero movies ever, so those of us in the market for a superhero movie, even sixteen year old kids, probably have this movie down pat. If you wanna retell that origin, you better give it a new spin.
The Amazing Spider-Man has no new spin. That is unless “not as much fun” is their new spin. This version of Peter Parker is a brooding, angry kid who likes to sit on the floor and stare soulfully at the carpet. I mean, that's cool and all, I guess, because Andrew Garfield is really handsome and has great hair and, purely by coincidence, I'm sure, has the same eyebrows as Robert Pattinson. But is this what you expect from Peter Parker?
Peter Parker is a zingy, wisecracking nebbish. A heartthrob who wins the gorgeous blonde before he even gains super powers? No. And let's face it, to a hormone-driven teen, climbing walls would be a distant second gift from God after getting to make out with Emma Stone.
There's no need to recap how Parker gets his powers and learns about them. While there are some differences in the specifics, they are the same story beats as the first time, only here they are stretched out between insufferably long scenes of family drama. The performers are all fine – Emma Stone is cute, Andrew Garfield is extremely likable, Sally Field and Martin Sheen put some effort in. But one can't help but wonder why the hell you are sitting there watching a UPN drama when there should be some fun Spider-Man stuff happening.
When Uncle Ben is gunned down in Forest Hills, Queens (which is absurd – the only crime likely to happen in Forest Hills is someone stealing your black and white cookie), Peter becomes an angry vigilante looking for an Allman Brothers-esque dirtbag. This leads to the only great scene in the movie, which you've probably seen clips of, involving Parker vs. a car jacker. It's a great scene because it is very reminiscent of the 2002 Spider-Man.
Meanwhile, the pandora's box of bad science over at Oscorp isn't just changing Peter, it's affecting Dr. Curt Conners, too. In time, he becomes the Lizard and then something striking happens. The Amazing Spider-Man goes full-tilt into B-movie territory. The Lizard looks bad and, more importantly, sounds bad. It sounds like a little kid making crazy monster noises. But here's the surprise: now that the decision to go goofy has been made, the movie is actually fun. It plants its big scaly green foot down in the camp of the ridiculous and, well, if you like comic books, you might actually like the last third.
Spidey has to save the city from a giant green cloud that will turn everyone into lizards, or something, and, much like the scene on the bridge in Raimi's film, there's a great moment when working class New Yorkers help our hero when he's down. Despite the fact that I'd been scowling for a good hour by then, I let out a nice “yeah!” when the unionized workers risked their safety to help ol' webhead.
Maybe it's just my innate love of the character, but once Garfield stops moping and starts doing things, I found myself getting on board. By the time he and Captain Stacey (a funny Dennis Leary) team up I was digging it. The action scenes are quite exciting once you accept how idiotic the Lizard looks.
The film ends big, enough so that as I exited I had forgiven a lot of what came earlier. However, unlike after The Avengers, when I would have ripped all my backhair out with a rusty pair of pliers if it meant I could seen the movie again immediately, all I wanted to do here was make fun of the half-assed script.
Examples: Uncle Ben's killer? The one that inspires Peter Parker to become a vigilante? Never mentioned again once that part of the plot fizzles out. The mysterious equations Parker's father was working on that seemed really relevant? Dropped. And the giant clunky machine that Oscorp decided should never be used because its ability to disperse chemical agents make it too risky? Why do they keep it plugged in? For TWENTY YEARS?!?!
The movie isn't terrible, though I'm not 100% sure who to thank for that. It might be Garfield. It might be Garfield playing off Stone. It might be director Marc Webb's well choreographed third act and its solid use of 3D. Or it might be fifty years of good will toward Spider-Man. At the end of the day The Amazing Spider-Man is a disappointment because it reminds us we live in a world where giant corporations can cultivate, masticate and excrete intellectual properties at a rate never quite seen before. No collection of “pretty good scenes” can wipe the stink off of that one.