My issue with Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man is simple: In a film with a handful of charmingly stutter-filled flirtations between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, everything ends up boiling down to a 40-minute climax in which nothing tangible or meaningful actually happens. It’s the same thing that happened in Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, except even a little more dismaying, since Webb’s film, during the first two-thirds, moves along with a nicely calibrated down-to-earth quality. Shame about that final act, though, which makes a 136-minute exercise suddenly feel like a 160-minute one.
If you saw Sam Raimi’s Tobey Maguire-starring Spider-Man, from 2002, a lot of story beats will be familiar. That’s to be expected. High-schooler Peter Parker (Garfield) is an avid photographer who has a rough time at school thanks to the bullying antics of Flash (Chris Zylka). (I don’t know about you, but from where I come from, adolescents who dub themselves with the name “Flash” are usually the ones at risk of getting picked on, and not the other way around.)
Peter, once again, is also being cared for by his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), and Webb — working from a script by Steve Kloves, Alvin Sargent, and James Vanderbilt — begins his film with a flashback that explains why. At first, it’s tempting to point fingers at the Uncle-Ben-as-father-figure dynamic — especially because its rehashed nearly to the letter — but it’s not like surrendering to Sheen’s heartfelt touch is akin to cleaning toilets. It goes down easy.
The biggest differences from Raimi’s trilogy-starter come in the supporting cast. Instead of falling for the abused-by-her-father Mary Jane Watson, Peter’s person of interest becomes Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and let me tell you, anyone who claims this reboot doesn’t have a reason to exist didn’t get a good enough look at Stone’s blonde hair. Their budding relationship finds a speed-bump, however, in the form of Gwen’s father (Denis Leary), who, as an NYPD captain, is none too pleased with the work of the red-and-blue vigilante who swings across the city once darkness falls.
There’s also a change in villain, though Rhys Ifans’s character, once he fully transforms into The Lizard, does share the same color palette as Willem Dafoe’s effective Green Goblin. Prior to that, though, Ifans is merely Dr. Curt Connors, an ambitious Oscorp scientist — and former partner of Peter’s father — who’s determined to crystallize the process of cross-species genetics in an effort to provide hope for people who, like him, are missing limbs. This is a functional set-up, I suppose, for a comic-book nemesis, but it’s not long enough before Ifans — a truly terrific actor, when given the opportunity — is reduced to spitting out one-liners under the guise of a hulking lizard.
The Amazing Spider-Man is Webb’s second film, and while not the follow-up you’d naturally expect from the guy behind the enchanting (500) Days of Summer, you can hardly blame him for jumping at the opportunity to get behind this type of effort. He’s inherently limited here by a variety of factors — a serviceable, checklist-like screenplay chief among them — but every so often, his personality peaks its head out, like in an off-road montage thrown in after Peter first asks Gwen out. No injected backstory, no forced conflict, no planting seeds of villainy — only pure, relaxed romanticism.
And there’s less and less of it, unfortunately, as the film drives along, spiraling into a city-wide panic that’s hard to engage with beyond the occasional note-to-self in which you’re reminded of two things: (1) That, yes, this eye-sore of a climax is still going on, and (2) Taking that into account, it’s nevertheless likely to be another 10 minutes until it finally ends. Denis Leary earns points for shepherding a well-written role that, for an instant, is heard above the robotic chaos. But one mildly pleasing moment in a sequence packed with dozens of monotonous ones isn’t a winning ratio.
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