This is part one of a series, the best and worst movie of the summer so far. Check back soon for part two.
Look, we all know The Amazing Spider-Man didn’t get made because someone out there was absolutely dying to share with the world the “untold story” of Spider-Man’s origin. I think we were all okay with “dude gets bit by spider, gains superpowers,” without having to revisit it and explore all the footnotes (ooh, but what color hair did his girlfriend have? and what sports did the popular kids at his high school play?). It got made because Sony had to make something or else risk their rights reverting to Marvel. Whatever their motives, clearly it’s the exact opposite of a passion project. That said, the story of the 2012 has been one of business-decision movies that had no right to be good… actually turning out… kind of good (21 Jump Street was great, American
Wedding Reunion had its moments, and even Men in Black 3 wasn’t the worst thing ever). In 2012, cautious optimism for yet another Spider-Man movie wasn’t a ridiculous notion. Sadly, The Amazing Spider-Man is the exception that proves the rule, a perfect example of a movie that sounds like a terrible idea actually turning out terrible. It feels like a bunch of talented people trying really hard to give a sh*t about a story no one could really be expected to give a sh*t about. Turns out, no, there is no ghost in the machine. It seemed like a waste of time because it is one.
Okay, so Peter Parker is in high school, right? And he’s not popular, apparently because he wears lots of layers of shirts. Why is it wearing twelve different layers of shirts seems to be movie shorthand for unpopularity? Especially when it’s so clearly meant to inspire affection from the audience. Anyway, Shirty McShirterson shirts around his high school taking pictures of stuff on his old-timey film camera, I guess because he appreciates obsolete technologies. He somehow manages to piss off the head jock, Flash*, who gives Peter one of those movie beatings where multiple, brutal right crosses land flush on the face and it only leaves cute little scrapes around the guy’s eyes and mouth. Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, looking wicked hot in miniskirts and knee-high socks) comes to his aid because giraffe-necked-dudes make her panties moist, and there isn’t too much conflict there, because between Peter standing up to the bully everyone hates in front of everyone, and the super-hot chick totally wanting to do him, it seems like he has things pretty well figured. I’m supposed to pity this guy? I want to cross swords with him in that body swap fountain from The Change-Up.
Oh, except that his parents mysteriously disappeared when he was a kid, a plot point that serves almost zero purpose in this story. In fact, aside from the parent thing, the fact that the love interest is named Gwen and not Mary-Jane, and that the bad guy is Curt Connors instead of Norman Osborne, everything is exactly the same as it was in Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie. Only this one just treads water with irrelevant minutia between major plot points (I assume to avoid copying everything), which are predictable as it is. It doesn’t set anything up. Things happen because we expect those things to happen. Meanwhile, it overcompensates with an overbearing score that tries to make us feel something during scenes that evoke nothing, like when Peter and Gwen first kiss (a foregone conclusion from the first five minutes of the movie), and the background music sounds like a magical waterfall made of rainsticks.
There isn’t even a real thrill of discovery when Peter gets his powers (which was most of the fun of the first Raimi Spider-Man). Instead, we get one rushed scene of Peter skateboarding around a warehouse. By the way, where the f*ck is this magical empty playground of a warehouse that some kid can just rail grind around, anyway? I lived in New York three years, I must have missed that. And if he can basically fly around swinging from rafters and scale sheer sky scrapers with his spider hands, why would he bother with the dumb skateboard? Is there some half-pipe competition later that we don’t know about? Do I want to watch Superman rollerblade?
Likewise, Curt Connors (played by Rhys Ifans) just sort of turns evil all of a sudden. There’s no real rhyme or reason other than that they realized way too late that Spider-man actually needs someone to fight. One day Connors goes from benevolent scientist who wants to use cross-species genetics to cure disease, into a homicidal lizard man who wants to… turn everyone… into… lizards? Wait, really? That‘s his big plan? To make more lizard people? What the f*ck?
The plot is a perfect mix of things we already know, things that don’t make sense, and things no one cares about. Flash, for instance, shifts from evil to good to pathetic and back again more often than Luke in the first season of the OC**. The bigger problem is, you never know why he’s actually there. He’s totally extraneous to the plot, and it seems pretty clear that he’s only around because they need to introduce us to someone who’s going to play a factor in the sequels. And there’s nothing worse than a movie counting its sequels before they hatch. You’re worried about sequels? You didn’t even finish writing this one.
The way the story just flounders then skips from one major beat to the next has the effect of making you wish they’d just skip to the end, which turns out to be even worse than the beginning. Green Lantern and Spider-Man 3, those movies were silly. This one is just boring. In fact, The Amazing Spider-Man is probably the most boring movie ever made about a giant lizard man who slithers around the city eating people.
*Come on, really? “Flash?” Spider-man has been around for 40 years. Even if you’re dead set on staying perfectly faithful to the comic books, there are plenty of characters to choose from without having to use a bully named “Flash.” No one’s buying a bully named Flash or Slash or Biff or Spliff or Zing or Kablooey in 2012. People don’t nickname bullies after Batman sound effects anymore.
**Remember that guy? First he was the bad guy, then he wasn’t so bad, then his dad turned out to be gay and everyone felt sorry for him, then he died in a car crash or something? That was weird.