Lets talk about Sony’s too-soon reboot of its Spider-Man franchise. After the release of the atrocious SPIDER-MAN 3 in 2007, Sony wisely decided that it wasn’t worth paying a ton of money to Tobey Maguire, Sam Raimi, and Kirsten Dunst to keep making Spider-Man movies. After all, can you think of a single person who pays to see a super-hero movie because of the actors involved or the director who made it (with the exception of Christopher Nolan)? Getting cheaper talent such as Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, and Marc Webb allowed Sony to continue its successful franchise for the cost of a lot less money. In my opinion, a reboot was completely unnecessary when the original film came out not so long ago in 2002. Its not like audiences’ sense of continuity is going to be thrown off just because the main cast has been replaced with new actors. Audiences may be stupid at times, but they’re not that stupid. Then again, I ran into this very interesting article yesterday about the so-called ‘Millennials’ or Generation Y, which is the term used to describe the current young generation. The article claimed that this generation is not interested in old movies, which they deem to be anything older than a few years. Their interests lie in the here and now and so for them, a film like 2002’s SPIDER-MAN is old news. Here’s a link to the article, which I highly recommend you check out: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jul/14/entertainment/la-ca-film-novelty-20120715

Anyway, Sony decided that a new cast and new director called for a reboot of its franchise. The origin story remains mostly the same, but this time we meet Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz), who mysteriously drop a young Peter Parker off into the care of his aunt and uncle (Sally Field and Martin Sheen) and are never heard from again. Also, Peter’s love interest is no longer Mary Jane Watson, but is instead Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), which is more in keeping with Spider-Man’s original comic book origin. The rest of the origin story is more or less the same. We are not introduced to Peter’s employment with the Daily Bugle, but I suspect this is being saved for the next film. The villain in the reboot is The Lizard (Rhys Ifans), who is really Dr. Curt Connors and he works for Oscorp (the company run by Norman Osborn, who later becomes the Green Goblin).

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is a very uneven movie. However, before I launch into the myriad number of flaws this film contains, lets begin with what works in the reboot. Sony’s decision to hire Marc Webb (director of 500 DAYS OF SUMMER) paid off in one major respect: Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are absolutely perfect in this film. They far exceed what Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst did in the first SPIDER-MAN incarnation. Its not that Maguire and Dunst gave bad performances, which they did not, but Garfield and Stone much better personify their characters than the first pair of actors did. Given that THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is a heavy VFX action movie, its surprising to think that the best aspect of the movie is not the action or the effects, but rather the relationship of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. The characters have genuinely funny lines (something Sam Raimi was never able to pull off), warmth, and instant chemistry. For this alone, I would like to see another SPIDER-MAN movie.

The rest of the cast also does a commendable job, especially Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben and Denis Leary as Captain Stacy, Gwen’s dad. As much as I liked the late Cliff Robertson’s portrayal of Uncle Ben, Martin Sheen brings a more welcome energy and warmth to the character that made him more fatherly and likeable. As for Captain Stacy, this character was never introduced in the first series of SPIDER-MAN films, but Leary does a fine job playing him even though the performance doesn’t stray too far from every other performance Leary has played.

Ok, now lets get into what did not work in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and I have 8 major issues with the film: (WARNING: My below analysis contains major spoilers so turn away now if you don’t want me to ruin the film for you):

1. Why isn’t the thief who killed Uncle Ben ever caught?

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN leaves a number of plot threads unresolved, but this one stood out the most for me. In the first SPIDER-MAN, Spider-Man eventually finds the robber who killed Uncle Ben. Although Peter Parker’s motivation to fight crime wasn’t due to Spider-Man’s capture of the thief but rather due to the fact that Peter Parker allowed the thief to get away, thereby causing the death of Uncle Ben, the capturing of the thief served as a sort of closure and it marked Spider-Man’s new beginning as a crime fighter. It may be that the filmmakers intend to resolve this plot thread in the next film, but I think it should have been resolved here. Otherwise, Uncle Ben’s murder will/should continue to weight heavily on Spider-Man and rack him with guilt. Something like that may fuel a darker superhero’s (i.e. Batman) motivations, but Spider-Man doesn’t belong in that class of dark and brooding heroes.

2. Relatedly, we see no motivation for Peter Parker to want to fight crime.

The Spider-Man comics and the first SPIDER-MAN movie make it very clear why Peter Parker chooses to be a crime fighter. Not only did Peter Parker’s inaction in allowing a thief to get away cause his uncle to be murdered, but Parker also internalized his uncle’s belief that with great powers comes great responsibility. Those two motivations serve as strong motivators for Peter Parker to become Spider-Man. Here, Parker’s uncle is murdered and Parker pursues his murderer, but he eventually stops looking for him. Afterwards, when the Lizard makes his first appearance by causing mayhem on the Brooklyn Bridge, Spider-Man comes to the rescue and saves a bunch of people. Why? We don’t know. Suddenly, Spidey believes in saving people and fighting crime. Unless I missed something, the leap from Uncle Ben’s murder to Spider-Man’s new life mission is never explained.

3. Speaking of the Brooklyn Bridge scene, whatever the hell happened to Norman Osborne’s handler/assistant?

I said before the film has a number of distracting unresolved plot threads. This is another one. In the first act, we are introduced to Norman Osborne’s (who we don’t see in this film) business guy. Actually we have no idea what this guy does other than check up on Dr. Connors’ progress. When Dr. Connors transforms into the Lizard, he goes on a rampage and causes all sorts of chaos on the Brooklyn Bridge. We see Osborne’s guy in the backseat of a car and at one point, we think he’s going to be discovered by the Lizard and killed. Although he ends up surviving the ordeal, the film never returns to him or makes any mention of his whereabouts. Not that he’s an interesting enough character to care about, but even a secondary character such as him should have some sort of resolution to his story.

4. Poor action sequences

I was surprised that Sony decided to hire Marc Webb to reboot the Spider-Man franchise. Webb has no experience handling big-budget, FX-laden films that contain lots of action. I understand and appreciate the fact that he was hired to bring his experience in developing teenage characters and he does a fantastic job in giving us a great Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. Unfortunately, Webb’s talents in character-building don’t extend to staging exciting and original action sequences. Take the Williamsburg Bridge sequence for example. In that sequence, Spider-Man is forced to save trapped motorists whose cars are being flung by The Lizard into the river. The sequence reminded me a bit of the far more exciting subway train sequence in SPIDER-MAN 2 in which Spider-Man saves subway riders from hitting the pavement after being thrown by Dr. Octopus. That sequence had kinetic energy, cool set-ups, and a great setting. Here, Spider-Man simply catches the cars with his and there isn’t anything more than that afterwards. Just as lame is the climactic sequence at the OsCorp Building. Never once do you feel like Spider-Man is in any real kind of danger. Instead of building any kind of tension with having to save Gwen Stacy and her dad from the chaos in the building and saving New York City from The Lizard’s weapon, the sequence is just a bunch of computer imagery that isn’t even that impressive looking.

5. Denis Leary’s character should not have been killed off.

For those of you familiar with the Amazing Spider-Man comics (the original run, not the later runs from the 2000s and present), you will know that Gwen Stacy’s dad, Captain George Stacy, was killed by falling debris during a fight between Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus. It’s a seminal moment in Spider-Man’s life that is given short shrift in this film. For one, Denis Leary gives a fine performance as Captain Stacy, not least because its always a treat to see Leary play any role. I would have preferred seeing Captain Stacy reconcile with Peter Parker/Spider-Man at the end of Spider-Man and continue that relationship into the second or possibly the third film. That way, when Captain Stacy is finally killed off, it would make a much stronger impact on Peter Parker just like it did in the comics. Besides, it’s a good thing to keep a character that is strongly played by a good actor. Just look at the recent Batman films. Characters like Commissioner Gordon and Alfred could have been killed off to create a revenge motive for Batman, but it would be so foolish to do so when they form such a strong supporting cast. Likewise with Denis Leary’s Captain Stacy.

6. How does a high school student who is not a genius come up with a solution for a formula that stumped all the smart scientists at OsCorp, including Dr. Connors?

I understand we’re in a comic book world and a high level of implausibility is expected from the audience (and much more so with superheroes like Spider-Man and Superman than with Batman). However, as smart as Peter Parker is and as much as he is into science, his seemingly effortless success at resolving Dr. Connor’s formula crossed over the threshold of what I was able to accept from this universe. If the intent was to create a relationship/friendship between Dr. Connors and Peter Parker, it would have been sufficient to have Parker either express a deep interest in Dr. Connors’ work or at most have Parker solve a smaller problem that would have enabled Dr. Connors to solve the entire formula.

7. Aunt May’s concerns and questions as to why Peter comes home beaten up all the time remained unresolved.

In one scene, Peter comes home after fighting the Lizard looking like absolute hell. Aunt May sees him in the state he is in and expresses her concerns. Rather than make up a good lie about what happened or, better yet, simply tell her that he is Spider-Man (he seems to have told everyone else anyway), he responds with something lame about eggs and the film leaves it at that. There is no resolution to this and we’re left hanging as to what Aunt May thinks about Parker’s extracurricular activities.

8. No motivation is given as to why The Lizard suddenly becomes evil.

This was one of the most distracting aspects of the story for me. When Dr. Connors transforms into The Lizard, he suddenly and without any explanation becomes evil and starts to cause havoc. You can get away with not providing a motivation to your villain in a comic book, but that doesn’t fly with film characters. I assumed the accident somehow affected Dr. Connors’ brain, but even if that’s the case, its not explained very well and his transformation from good to evil simply happens.

I have more gripes with THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (i.e. the use of a blue CG cloud in the film’s action climax looked horrendous and its long overdue for Hollywood to stop using blue or green CG-looking clouds/liquid/alien-type substances in their films), but I didn’t want this review to be longer than it already is. The film is better than the last one, but that’s not saying a whole lot considering how horrible that film was. The only thing that prevented this film from being as bad as SPIDER-MAN 3 were the great performances by and chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Other than that, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is an altogether forgettable experience that failed to reinvigorate the franchise.

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