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The Amazing Spider-Man series has been maligned in popular culture as little more than a by-the-numbers rights-retaining cash grab. And to some degree this is true: The Amazing Spider-Man had to come out when it did because it had been five years since Spider-Man 3 came out, and if Sony didn’t produce another movie soon (say within five years or so), the rights would revert to Marvel Studios, which could then have worked the character into the nascent Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Amazing Spider-Man, however, does not deserve all of the abuse that it receives. Though it is not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, The Amazing Spider-Man is an enjoyable watch (for the most part). They make some confusing decisions and butcher a few characters, but there is some great character development and a lot of fun action.
Of course, just about every good thing you can say about this movie comes with some sort of qualification.
Let’s start off with Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man. Andrew Garfield portrays a decent Peter Parker, but either Garfield or the screenwriters does not understand what kind of character he’s supposed to be. Part of the time he’s supposed to be a quiet nerd who can’t talk to people; the rest of the time they’re going for the slacker/hipster/skater type of “alternative cool” that’s still in style (perhaps even more in style) today. The character in the comics is a shy nerd before becoming Spider-Man, but if they wanted to go with the “skater” vibe, they would have been much better off if they had just skipped the whole “nerd who can’t talk to anyone” thing entirely.
Garfield’s portrayal of Spider-Man is just as good as I remember thinking it was last time I watched these movies. The “web” scene when he’s trying to get proof of the Lizard’s existence is especially clever (aside from the fact that he uses his own camera that traces back to him—stupid). Likewise, it’s interesting to see how spider-like his actions are as Spider-Man. However, his “fight banter”—which is so important to Spider-Man’s character—leaves so much to be desired. I thought that Spider-Man was more into the “cheeky teasing,” not mean-spirited taunting.
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The romance subplot between Peter and Gwen is another “highlight” of this movie. For a pair of 20-30-year-olds pretending to be love-struck teenagers, these two make for a pretty believable couple. Unfortunately, all of this comes to a screeching halt just about every time they open their mouths! It’s not Star Wars: Episode II-bad, but it’s pretty bad. We got that Peter has trouble talking to Gwen—you don’t need to rub it in every time they are in the same room! Also, that needs to go away, or at least diminish, as the movie progresses. It doesn’t.
Doc Connors makes for a very sympathetic villain. He wants to cure himself (and Norman Osborn, and everyone in the world) using genetic material from other species. However, he does not want this to come at the expense of hurting people; he wants to do it legitimately, within accepted scientific procedures. So when he finds out that Oscorp is going to test his lizard serum on uninformed patients at a VA hospital, Connors uses it on himself to find out if it will work. Why couldn’t he have just done that in the first place, before his boss (who’s never given a name) fired him and took the serum to the hospital? If he wanted a human test subject, Connors could have just offered himself if he was going to do it anyways. Regardless, Connors’ story is very sympathetic, up until he injects himself and turns into a fruitcake. Why did he have to become another literally-insane-from-powers super-villain? It would have been so much more interesting if Connors still believed that the serum was a success and was the answer to all of humanity’s problems and chose to use it on everyone to cure them, not to end humanity.
About the only unqualified positive comment I can make about this movie is about (of all people) Flash Thompson. Flash (surprisingly) gets a complete story arc, going from jerk to sympathetic to Spidey-fan. I want to avoid commenting on the Sam Raimi trilogy as much as possible, but this seems necessary: I did not realize Flash Thompson was in more than a couple scenes of that trilogy because he was that forgettable. I actually could recognize Flash Thompson and see why he was in this movie.
Now for the litany of negative comments that this movie so richly deserves.
For one thing, why does the montage of Peter testing out his powers focus more on his ability to jump really high on his skateboard and not on his actual Spider-Man powers? I would rather have seen a little more of Peter testing out his web shooters while closer to the ground, rather than him skating around an abandoned warehouse-type-building.
Next up, why do they needlessly overcomplicate things? I get not wanting to (second Sam Raimi comment) rehash the “with great power comes great responsibility” speech from the Spider-Man trilogy—even if that is the major turning point for Peter’s early hero career. I understand trying to find a different way to say it to avoid comparisons to the Raimi trilogy. However, having Uncle Ben say “If you could do good things for other people, you had a moral obligation to do those things” WAS NOT THE WAY TO DO IT!!!! That doesn’t sound intelligent; it sounds pretentious. And Uncle Ben in this movie is a very down-to-earth guy—not a pretentious jerk. If this was the best you could do, you should have just stuck with the original.
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Captain Stacy is actually a really good character as someone who is trying to keep the city safe and is confronted by something completely unexpected in the form of the parallel appearances of both Spider-Man and the Lizard in the same week. Consequently, it is understandable for him to try to get Spider-Man off the streets, considering that he is mucking up police stings and doing the police’s job poorly (from his perspective). However, Stacy’s character gets pretty much annihilated when the Lizard starts running around New York in the open and releasing a biological weapon that transforms SWAT teams into lizard monsters, and Stacy starts J. Jonah Jameson-ing for Spider-Man! Considering that Spider-Man has been (in his own way) attempting to do the right thing by stopping criminals, would it not have made more sense for Stacy to just ignore him for the duration of the Lizard incident? Even if he wants Spider-Man off the street, allowing Spider-Man to fight the Lizard wouldn’t have made things any worse (considering that they were evacuating the city anyways and it was already really bad), and might even have resolved both the Lizard and the Spider-Man problems simultaneously. But instead Stacy diverts precious police resources from the Lizard chase to confront Spider-Man. Stacy’s decision to help him when he realizes it’s Peter (and that Gwen is at Oscorp) almost redeems him, as does his heroic death buying Peter the time to switch canisters, but it doesn’t quite get there. If Stacy needed to unmask Peter, there had to have been a better way to do it—maybe on top of Oscorp when Connors was taunting him with how alone he was.
On the topic of Captain Stacy and his untimely death, I actually wish they hadn’t killed him. I get that things can’t go particularly well for Peter, but this is the fourth father figure (third surrogate after Uncle Ben and Doc Connors) that he’s loses in this movie. I honestly think it would have been better for him to survive—injured by the Lizard and sent to the hospital, but alive—to see how that would develop his character, as well as Peter’s and Gwen’s. Imagine Stacy asking to see Peter and Gwen alone in the hospital and giving them the same speech he gives to Peter in the movie, saying that he doesn’t want to see Gwen get hurt. Peter sadly agrees that it’s for the best because he loves her and wants her to be safe. Gwen, however, refuses to accept it—he’s a police captain and faces danger to himself and his family on a regular basis, so it’s hypocritical for him to say that Gwen can’t risk that same danger with Peter. Gwen refuses to go along with her father’s wishes, and he resigns himself that she is going to stay with Peter. This is when he and Peter both say they will look out for the other (in part for Gwen’s sake). This would then set up a completely different plot in the sequel as Stacy is still leery of Peter dating Gwen while being Spider-Man. Peter and Gwen for their part would actually be able to move forward together, instead of replaying the “will they/won’t they” from the first movie. Then when Gwen (inevitably) dies, Stacy’s and Peter’s working relationship is strained until Stacy motivates Peter to go back to being a hero in Gwen’s memory. I think this would have made for a better story overall.
Finally, did you know there was a mid-credits scene on this movie? I missed it when I watched it the first time a couple years ago. Connors is in prison and someone (maybe just Connors’ psychologically-broken psyche) comes to him and starts talking about what Peter doesn’t know about his parents. What was the point of that? It doesn’t do all that much to set up the next movie; Connors doesn’t factor into the plot of Peter unraveling the mystery of his parents’ disappearance at all, and Peter trying to figure out that mystery is a total non sequitur. Really, this scene was just a spectacular waste of time.
So there you have it. The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t as bad as people call it, but it’s still not particularly great. I would say that it earned its sequel, but only barely, and only based on the potential that Spider-Man brings to it—that and the further exploration of the Peter/Gwen relationship.