The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

After releasing what are consider the one of the best and one of the worst superhero films ever made Sam Raimi was ready to take the series in a new direction.  First, he wanted to make up for the problems in Spider-Man 3, but also introduce new villains and lay out a completely new track for Peter Parker.  After all, by the end of Spider-Man 3 Harry Osborne has been redeemed through self-sacrifice, Mary Jane and Peter are together again and, by letting the Sandman go, Peter has learned to see beyond absolutes of good and evil.  For all its faults it still largely wrapped up the beginning of Peter's journey.

Raimi wanted Curt Conners, played by Dylan Baker in a small role as Peter's physics professor, to finally morph into his role as the Lizard, one of the major villains from the comics.  Sony, however, wanted to feature the Vulture, and had plenty of notes for Raimi.  While Raimi's script, and some of the tangents it took, did have a lot to do with why Spider-Man 3 didn't live up to the first two, Sony's insistence on piling on villain after villain made matters worse.  By the time scripts for Spider-Man 4 were being read by Raimi he started realizing they were going to do the same thing with the next movie.  So, in 2010, Raimi left Spidey behind.  

Unlike when the first Spider-Man was released superhero films were now dominating the movie theaters. Between the The Avengers, with Marvel now having the full force of Disney behind it, and 20th Century Fox's ongoing X-Men series, Spidey now had competition.  On top of that, Batman was back, with Christopher Nolan directing and The Dark Knight being considered not only one of the best superhero films, but also a landmark in action cinema.  While Marvel was spectacle and X-Men political, Batman embodied a gritty and realistic feel for its hero.  Seeing how audiences had reacted to both Sony put together an army of writers to work on a general idea from James Vanderbilt and, instead of continuing Raimi's story, completely rebuilt it from the ground up. 

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a New York high school student whose awkwardness often makes him an outsider and a target for bullies.  Having been left with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Fields) shortly before the mysterious death of his parents.  It is searching into his father's work that makes him aware of Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans), a scientist who used to work along with Peter's father at Oscorp.  The two were responsible for experiments in seeing if combining human and animal DNA may make humans more resistant to disease.

After sneaking into Oscorp to find out more - and getting recognized by his crush Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) - Peter is bitten by a genetically enhanced spider bred to create high-tensile webbing for industrial use.  After Ben is killed due to Peter's irresponsibility he begins to use his new powers in an effort to track down Ben's killer and bring him to justice - inadvertently becoming a vigilante hero, as the people he does bring during his search need to be off the streets.  This gets the attention of Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), Gwen's father, who thinks Spider-Man is dangerous.  Unfortunately, Parker and Gwen fall for each other, and she soon finds out who he is.  Meanwhile Conners, under pressure by Oscorp, tries an experimental serum on himself, which has unfortunate results.  With New York in danger and the police on his trail Parker must figure out a way to stop Conners before he transforms the city into violent mutants. 

Two of the biggest problems of The Amazing Spider-Man are its leads.  There isn't anything wrong with their performances.  Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, who dated briefly while the movie was being made, have a chemistry that was lacking between Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst; then again, there was always supposed to be conflict in that relationship.  The problem is that we are asked to believe they are teenagers.  Garfield, though 28 while filming, is halfway believable due to his naturally gaunt and awkward-looking figure.  Stone, however, looks not like a student at the school, but one of the teachers.  Garfield successfully brings his own take to the character and avoids playing Peter like Maguire did, but Sony should have gone for someone younger or just skimmed over the origin story and gave us a hard-boiled hero who had been at it for nearly a decade.  

Another problem is that The Amazing Spider-Man seems like it was supposed to be a whole different movie at first.  In the beginning Parker doesn't use his powers for good because of a speech from Uncle Ben, but simply because he realizes he has become a hero despite his actual intentions.  As his efforts start to get recognized revenge takes a backseat to simply helping protect the city.  While the movie is still quite good for what it is, continuing on that track of discovering himself (especially since Gwen Stacy is actually a supportive ally in this movie rather than just someone who needs to be rescued) it would have been more interesting to finally find him, in a realistic stand-off, confronting the man who killed Ben rather than having a big finale battling a monster and saving the city.  He would have proven to himself who he really is even if to Captain Stacy he remained an anti-hero. 

Unfortunately Hollywood always has to go big, so we get Curt Conners turning into the Lizard, where he is a giant creature that still maintains his intellect but whose formula turns him violent.  It wasn't a new idea in 2012 and it's definitely old-hat now.  While Rhys Ifans is good in the role and tries to make the sympathetic side of Conners feel real, his ultimate performance feels strange from the beginning, making it obvious that Parker's parents' deaths weren't an accident, even though that really isn't even touched on in this movie.  

Despite that we still get a decent superhero origin story, even watching Parker become a hero is a lot more interesting than seeing him fight an overpowered bad guy.  At the time, however, it was jarring, as Spider-Man 3 had only been released five years previous.  Although there are definitely huge differences between Raimi's version and The Amazing Spider-Man there are still so many similarities that it often feels like rehashing parts that had already been covered.  Still, I give credit to director Marc Webb for insisting on real stunt work and practical effects when needed, and although I don't think the Lizard really feels like that great of a villain at least the CGI looks decent.  

And, honestly, Andrew Garfield makes a good Spider-Man, even if the quips he makes when taunting criminals don't land as well as they should.  That may be more of a problem with ADR and with the suit, since the one they use in this film doesn't seem to allow for expressiveness like it did in Raimi's films.  Still, by focusing on Parker, Stacy and only one villain, The Amazing Spider-Man manages to avoid many of the worst mistakes of Spider-Man 3 while also providing a good deal of entertainment, even if it's not all that fresh. 

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Time: 136 minutes
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary
Director: Marc Webb



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