Sunday, August 10, 2014

Looking Back At: "The Amazing Spider-Man"

Spider-Man is the other major Marvel property besides X-Men to get a quickly and cheaply made sequel (or in this case reboot) in order to preserve whatever franchise viability its retaining studio had.  The Amazing Spider-Man is what came out of that financial necessity, and unfortunately, it shows.  I’m not talking about the cheap special effects or the fact that the film’s cast consists of actors who clearly aren’t asking for as much money as the the Raimi trilogy’s surely would have.  No, I’m primarily talking about the rushed, lazy and often non-sensical screenplay that acts as a rehash of the first Spider-Man while simultaneously cluttering the over-long runtime with shallow attempts at world-building, sequel establishment, and high school melodrama.

In fact, the first hour of the film is devoted purely to just that, establishing Peter Parker and new love interest Gwen Stacy as high school flirtations while Peter dwells on the mystery of his absent parents.  Now, I normally wouldn’t have a problem with taking that much screentime to develop the two leads; after all, this film came out a scant five years after Spider-Man 3, so making some effort to differentiate this film’s universe from the previous trilogy’s would have been a smart move.  Unfortunately, that really only works if your characters have any depth to develop, and this film’s characters are sorely lacking in personality.  Peter is a sexy rebel who skateboards to wicked montages, but beyond a few nice wisecracks doesn’t really establish himself as anything more than a bland, generic hero archetype.  Gwen, on the other hand, may take a more active role in this story than Mary Jane ever did, but she still primarily exists for Peter to pine over, and if you know anything about Gwen from the comics, that's pretty much the only purpose her character has ever served anyway. 

I think my biggest gripe, though, has to be with The Lizard, for his presence is representative of the laziness of this entire film.  What is The Lizard’s motivation?  He starts the film as a well-meaning scientist, seeking to restore his lost arm through reptile genetic manipulation.  However, by the end of the film, he’s seeking to turn everyone into lizards, and I honestly couldn’t tell you what the train of thought that got him to that point is.  I suppose one could go out on a limb (ooh, unintentional pun…) and say that the genetic manipulation drove him insane, but the film doesn’t properly establish that transition, nor does it make us care for a character that should be more sympathetic when his struggle takes a tragic turn.  Instead, the film opts to make The Lizard just another mad scientist in a scheme that seems eerily similar to the climax of 1999’s X-Men.

And that right there is the main problem: the script either relies on contrivances to move from scene to scene, or it blatantly rips off elements of films that came before it.  Many of Peter’s web-slinging goofs are just rehashes of the same jokes used in the first Spider-Man, and the loser-turned-hero-in-high-school schticks have been done a million times before in a million better movies.  On the subject of contrivances, however, the film has them in spades.  The subplot about Peter’s parentage is pretty roughly dropped after it leads to Peter meeting The Lizard.  The event of Uncle Ben’s murder is almost an afterthought in light of the events already in motion, and it only seems to be there in order to confirm that, yes, this is a Spider-Man origin story.  Perhaps most fatally, the climax relies on a lot of convenient changes-of-heart and random happenstance to pull itself along, making the whole experience feel as phoned-in as it likely was.

The Amazing Spider-Man is not the worst superhero movie ever, but it is at best disappointing.  It’s a blatant example of what a lack of effort and care can do to a franchise, and I’m hoping that there’s something salvagable when I review its sequel in a couple weeks.

What’s your favorite Spider-Man movie?  Let me know in the comments below.

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