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Review: The (Less Than) Amazing Spider-Man

Review

Watching The Amazing Spider-Man, there was one adjective that kept coming to mind, and it wasn’t “amazing.” The Serviceable Spider-Man doesn’t have the same ring to it, though.

Maybe that’s getting off to an overly negative start. I didn’t think it was a bad movie, understand. But… look, going into this summer, I was really excited about the trio of superhero movies set to make their silver screen debuts. (The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises… not that you need reminding.) And sorry, Spidey, but assuming The Dark Knight Rises is even half as amazing as it looks, there’s only one of those three that I foresee slipping from my memory like star systems through Grand Moff Tarkin’s fingers, and it’s yours.

For the most part, that’s because of the story. Going into any superhero or action movie, you have to assume there are going to be plot holes and convenient coincides in place to keep the narrative moving along. If the movie’s good, if you’re engaged by it, chances are you won’t even notice all the little bits of creative license taken by the writers until later. (Yay fridge logic!)

I don’t know if it’s just me, but with The Amazing Spider-Man, all the little instances of “Hey, wait, that makes no sense, why don’t they…?” were glaring. I’ll try not to get too spoilery here, but if part of the baddie’s evil plan hinges on using a super high-tech piece of machinery, why wouldn’t one of the good guys think to just knock it over? Hit it with a hammer? Toss it down some stairs?

And why is security at Oscorp so lax? The transformative bite that turns Peter Parker into Spider-Man takes place in a lab that, despite being labelled “RESTRICTED ACCESS,” isn’t even locked.

(Sure, Peter had to get past a locked door to get to the super secret spider room itself, but if bypassing a whole bunch of high-tech security is as easy as looking over an employee’s shoulder while they’re entering the access code, Oscorp might need to invest in some security guards.)

Speaking of Oscorp, isn’t it convenient that the film’s love interest just so happens to be a science nerd who, as a protege of Dr. Connors’, has access to his lab and knows how to use his equipment? Crazy, right?!

And wow, Dr. Connors left a video explaining his motives all cued up on his laptop in his underground lair for Spidey to find. How nice of him!

And how nice of Uncle Ben that he would leave Peter a voicemail so eminently closing monologue-ish. No sirens in the background, no car horns, not a single “Uh…” or unnecessary pause. Just the perfect advice Peter needed to hear in wonderfully scripted prose!

Flames! On the side of my face!

Again, let me clarify: The Amazing Spider-Man probably has about the same amount of internal inconsistencies as any other superhero movie. But the story was so thin, so lightweight, that it was easy to get distracted by all the plot holes. And that, in turn, distracted me from Andrew Garfield’s performance, which is a shame, because it was really good. I feel like I could have enjoyed it more had I not kept getting distracted by how remarkably cavalier Spidey is about the whole “secret identity” thing. (If you’re going to converse with [SPOILERY CHARACTER NAME REDACTED] about how they know who you really are, just check to make sure there isn’t some guy standing not five feet away watching the whole thing. I know you’re new at this, Parker, but God, it’s just basic superhero stuff!)

And now, to stop ragging on the movie… I said I don’t think it’s bad, and I don’t. And that’s because of the characters. Garfield does a great job at playing a superhero who’s more high-energy, more snarky, more—well, a teenager—than moviegoing audiences are used to seeing. Rhys Ifans’ Dr. Connors is quite the compelling villain, an interesting take on the traditional “mad scientist.”  And Emma Stone does a great job of taking a character who easily could’ve been a bland, 2-D cardboard cutout and giving her a personality. The chemistry between Stone and Garfield is great, even though I found my attention wandering during their more serious scenes, like the one where Peter explains to Gwen that, since he created the Lizard, he has to be the one to stop him. It’s the “With great power comes great responsibility” moment, but it’s done in such a standard way that it doesn’t really bring anything new to a character whom we last saw on the big screen all of five years ago.

Maybe that’s the biggest problem that I have with The Amazing Spider-Man. If you’re going to reboot a franchise not even a decade after it tanked before, if you’re going to do it with great actors and release it within months of what are sure to end up being two of the biggest superhero movies of the decade… you’d better damn well deliver something exceptional. And exceptional The Amazing Spider-Man is not.

It could have been. Had the writers taken a bit more time with the story and script, given it a bit more substance, given the many great actors they had at their disposal something more to work with, The Amazing Spider-Man could have been, well, amazing. It could still have been lighthearted and fun; not every director needs to be a graduate of the Christopher Nolan School of Cinematic Grittiness, and the scenes where Peter cuts loose and just revels in his superhero abilities were among the film’s best, mostly because they were so realistic. If you were bitten by a radioactive spider and developed super powers, wouldn’t you find an abandoned building to swing around in and just have a good time? I know I would.

The fact that there are so many good bits really makes me wish the movie as a whole had lived up to the promise of its characters. When (if) this movie comes to mind a few years down the line, I imagine I’ll be thinking less about any specific scene than the fact that it has so much wasted potential.

Rebecca Pahle writes for MovieMaker.com.

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