I’m shocked to tell you that the film is just as bad as I have been predicting it would be pretty much from the 2nd trailer onwards. Those who have seen the film are acutely aware that there is essentially nothing to spoil about this movie.
First, let me talk about what I liked, or rather – didn’t hate. The best thing about The Amazing Spiderman is the acting performance of Andrew Garfield. I was widely impressed with his portrayal of Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network two years prior and I hoped great things for him. He pulled off the Spiderman attitude brilliantly. As Spiderman, he was jovial and entertaining. Unlike Tobey Maguire in Sam Raimi’s trilogy, Garfield wasn’t afraid to act childish and immature and have fun as Spiderman. I also liked Stan Lee’s cameo. Emma Stone’s acting as Gwen Stacy was top notch too. Gwen Stacy was Peter Parker’s first love interest in the comics (before Mary Jane Watson) – part of the attraction being that they’re so similar. Both are studious and serious about their future career aspirations, and it’s easy to see how simple common ground like that, can manifest in a high school relationship.
Unfortunately, that relationship in the film is bleak at best. Gwen Stacy is a girl with an obvious crush and Peter Parker isn’t used to crushes or girls in general so obviously it made for some deliberately cringe-worthy chemistry in the beginning, but there’s nothing even remotely special about it after that. The reason for that is because of the film’s worst offense – the character assassination of Spiderman.
Peter Parker starts out as a lonesome mopey skater-punk 90s teenager. He has zero friends and zero likeability, not just in school, but even among the film audience. His only saving grace is that he overreaches himself to help bullied kids, at the cost of his face. There was absolutely no reason for Gwen Stacy to have a crush on him other than for his astute intellect, yet she hits on him anyway. Despite his socially retarded personality, he effectively already is Spiderman before he gets the bite. He gets the bite and after the first few incidents he can’t help, he becomes a complete showoff. Then his uncle is killed, so he pursues the villain for vengeance and with little care for actually stopping crime. His pursuit is halted by more pressing concerns with the emerging Lizard, so he makes the obvious choice to be the hero and save the city from a massive contagion threat. If this is all sounding familiar to you, it’s because what you’re seeing is Spiderman playing out the story of Batman Begins. There are some areas of ripping off that movie that are just downright insulting.
Spiderman is a lot of things. Complicated is not one of them. The film throws itself into contortions, trying to complicate the story in an effort to convince us that there’s depth to it. There isn’t the slightest of that, not even in the most important aspects. There is no “With great power comes great responsibility”, neither in words, nor even in practice. Uncle Ben’s death was completely trivial and meaningless! Peter Parker’s reason for choosing to be Spiderman is two-fold. The first and foremost reason is because he is at base level, a good kid with a good heart. The second and more critical reason is because he feels obligated to do it because he has been given this power – the famous lesson taught by his Uncle Ben, in the final words they shared before his death. Peter Parker is Spiderman because deep down, it is also his way of remembering and cherishing the man who was more the father to him than his real father. The Amazing Spiderman forgets that entirely; One sneak peek into the career of Richard Parker and suddenly Peter gets teary and recklessly inquisitive about dear ol’ dad. I have never in my life felt so detached from a character whom I deeply love and enjoy watching. There’s a scene in the film where he actually gets shot by the cops while trying to escape. The fact that I (being the benevolent all-loving child of God that I am…) neither cared nor even batted an eyelash at it is evidence by itself of just how unlikable and insufferable of a character Peter Parker was made out to be in The Amazing Spiderman. MovieBob put it aptly: a film can survive a lot of things – bad structure, bad acting, bad effects, bad music, but it cannot survive a bad protagonist. You can’t blame Garfield for this, because he was doing the best possible job he could with the awful screenplay and awful character arch that he was given.
But if making Peter Parker’s character utterly stagnated wasn’t bad enough, what makes it worse is the story that drove the film. The story is a series of coincidences strung together in an incoherent and inconsequential narrative that attempted to give an “untold” and inward look into the creation of Spiderman. Peter’s parents are coincidentally employed by Oscorp Industries and are coincidentally best friends with Dr. Curt Connors (aka The Lizard) who coincidentally has been working on cross-species genetics – the project that created a series of hybrid spiders, one of which coincidentally bit Peter. Gwen Stacy coincidentally works at Oscorp under Connors. And this whole thing starts because Peter Parker coincidentally finds a briefcase left by his dad with cross-genetics information the man had sought to escape from, but left it hidden in Uncle Ben’s basement for no reason. Is this the story of Spiderman or Slumdog Millionaire? Spiderman isn’t supposed to be Spiderman because “it is written”. This is not a hero that is defined or created by sheer fate. Spiderman is supposed to be Spiderman because of a simple little accident, and more importantly, a character defining moral lesson shortly before a tragic and equally character defining death. And no, I’m not being picky. The film completely ignored the core of Spiderman’s character, i.e. the thing that made him likable and enjoyable. And they did it to try and give him an origin story that was neither necessary nor even remotely well executed. There is zero closure with regards to that plot thread. They seem to be saving some for the sequel in the mid-credits Easter Egg, but I am completely disinterested in it, as should all of you be as well. This film has absolutely no respect for the material it is supposed to be based on.
When you look back at the trailers, it’s pretty easy to see why this movie was going to fail. It bore all the signals of the infamous sixth season of 24 – an ambiguous yet surprisingly and stupidly serious attempt at a plot but with the focus on the flashy visuals and the action elements. Superhero movies are able to get away with that, only because the action is a lot of fun and we all love the characters. But The Amazing Spiderman doesn’t just fail as a movie. It fails as a Spiderman movie. And that’s what breaks my heart.
All in all, if you hated Tobey Maguire’s portrayal as Spiderman and wanted to see someone new, I’m sure Garfield’s performance would please you. I maintain that he is a terrific actor and wish more than anything now that the prequel Star Wars trilogy would have been delayed so that Garfield could have assumed the role of Anakin Skywalker, and not Hayden Christiansen. It’s just too bad that his stellar acting performance came at the cost of making a movie that is so simple and so easy…so terrible. My spirit is broken and my otherwise perfectly good day completely has been tarnished by this cheap, insulting, degrading, lazy, torrential dung-heap of a film.