I kept an open mind about rebooting a movie that was only 10 years old. Sure “reboot” has become a buzzword that’s gotten out of control when they do it arbitrarily, but imagine what a precedent it would set if it were awesome? Hell, reboot or otherwise, I was interested to see what Marc Webb did with a superhero romance. And if he’s reading this, I hope he’ll forever accept my thanks for helping me get over my 500 days of Diane, but nowI am forced to confirm that The Amazing Spider-Man did not set the new precedent for immediate reboots of recent franchises.
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a high school nerd who gets bitten – - wait a minute, do we really haves to resummarize this plot? I mean, I know this is supposed to be the untold story and all, but it’s really the same. Peter is bitten by a genetically altered spider and gets the ability to stick to walls. This time he invents his own web shooters with an Oscorp sticky compound. It’s Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) instead of Mary Jane. There’s no Harry Osborn and Norman is only seen in an obscured portrait on the wall of Oscorp labs.
But Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) still dies because Peter lets a criminal go. It happens in a convenience store instead of a wrestling match but come on, it’s the same story, the same lesson. Peter uses his new powers to stand up to Flash (Chris Zylka), maybe a little more viciously in this version. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) is trying to develop a way to regrow missing or amputated limbs, but it turns him into a lizard. So his big plot is to turn the whole city into lizards and Spider-Man has to stop him.
It is really effing weird to see the exact same story played by different actors. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man is still fresh enough that this feels like the bizarro Spider-Man. It’s just like “What if Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire didn’t make Spider-Man? This is what that would look like!” (I call dibs on the movie rights to Marvel’s What If series.) In a way, that’s cool because we rarely get a peek into an alternate universe, but Amazing turns out to be a lesser version, not even equal.
So what of all this “Untold Story” business? I always thought it was a mistake to promise that because no matter how much mystery subplot they add, it still gets to the same Spider-Man story. So at best people would say it’s still not the untold story. It’s maybe more story, but not anything we haven’t seen (or read, hello!) before.
This turns out to be the most offensive part of the reboot though. Not only is it not the untold story, but they don’t even tell the untold story they promise to tell. It turns out to be a big tease for the next Spider-Man movie. Now that’s just balls, asking you to come to a new Spider-Man origin movie to hear a different version of it, then revealing they haven’t even told you and they’re going to make you wait until the next one. They establish that Peter is angsty because his father (Campbell Scott) abandoned him, but that’s not an untold story. At best it’s very slight character motivation, if that, but there’s no follow through anyway. This is a script issue, but it comes from the top. If the producers didn’t want to drastically alter their flagship property, no screenwriter or director could get that on screen.
If you thought Spider-Man 3 felt like too much studio interference, Amazing feels even more cluttered with scenes mandated by producers. They’ve got to get one scene of Peter Parker wise cracking for the comic book fans, but it’s not a consistent character trait. They’ve got to have him build the web shooters because fans didn’t like that last time, but it’s a throwaway scene of exposition from the Oscorp database, so there’s no glorious genius invention. I didn’t even get a sense of what The Lizard was trying to do or certainly how Peter figured it out. It’s kind of skimmed over, making it generic supervillainry, hardly the tragic character arc that Norman Osborn had.
The action feels very small scale, which I feel bad saying because it surely cost $200 million just like the other Spider-Men. Maybe they wanted it to feel more intimate and one on one with Spidey rescues and battles, but it just feels like nothing much is happening. Even when Spider-Man and Lizard tear through the school, it feels contained, like nothing a night shift clean-up crew can’t fix up when they’re done.
Garfield and Stone do have good chemistry. There are several moments that feel like Spider-Man is back, particularly when he’s discovering his powers for the first time (the best sequence of Raimi’s Spider-Man too). The 3-D looks good.
I really thought any Spider-Man story had to turn out pretty good. I mean, Spider-Man is a good story so any version of that would work, right? I guess they make bad Batman movies too so it’s always possible. The main thing is that it’s not different enough, but then if it were more different maybe that would have been distasteful. Also “Amazing” is such an outdated adjective. Call me when they do The Amahzing Spider-Man.