The Amazing Spider-Man
The Amazing Spider-Man
The buzz in Hollywood after 2007’s Spider-Man 3 was that that was Spidey’s swan song, and it looked like it was just as well. Spider-Man was first-rate, Spider-Man 2 even better, but with installment No. 3 the franchise was losing steam. Spider-Man 3 included the customary loose end for plugging in a fourth movie, but star Tobey Maguire wasn’t interested in continuing, and, evidently, neither was director Sam Raimi. Still, Columbia Pictures and Marvel Studios weren’t about to let things end there, not when Spider-Man movies were earning more than $300 million a pop. So they decided to give the franchise a “reboot”—you know, that thing you do as a last resort when your computer hits a dead-end and stops working for you? They do it for movies, too—with spectacular success in the case of Star Trek and Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, less so with 2006’s Superman Returns (yet another reboot is in the offing).
In the case of Spider-Man, maybe they should have left well enough alone. Or maybe they should have just gone on to Spider-Man 4 with a new star and director, pretending that Maguire and Raimi had never jumped ship. Cranking things back to square one and telling the whole story all over again (in James Vanderbilt, Steve Kloves and Alvin Sargent’s script, making it more complicated and cumbersome) was a mistake. An even bigger mistake was casting Andrew Garfield in the title role.
Seeing the story all over again—Peter Parker, the bullied high-school wimp, bitten by a genetically enhanced spider, developing superpowers, inventing his web-shooting wrist attachments, frittering around with his powers until his screw-it-all attitude gets his beloved Uncle Ben killed—only serves to remind us of how well Sam Raimi and writer David Koepp did it the first time.
Spider-Man (2002) was lean, clear and economical. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) clutters up the backstory, beginning with Peter at age 10, when his parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) drop him off with Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen and Sally Field), then vanishing into the rainy night (“There’s something your mother and I have to do”). Peter grows into a sullen, twitchy, slack-jawed mumbler, an unappealing dweeb with a virtual “bully me” sign taped to the back of his ratty leather jacket. Seeing Garfield slouch and glower through the role only serves to remind us of how instantly sympathetic Tobey Maguire was in the same role, doing some of the same things.
Remember the outcry in 2001 from fans of the comic books when Maguire’s casting was announced? And remember how he hadn’t been onscreen 10 minutes before we were wondering why we ever thought he was wrong for the part? Those were the days. In this new movie, even as the final credits rolled, I was still wondering who ever thought Andrew Garfield was right for it, and why. Garfield may be a good actor (frankly, he has too much of a James Dean complex for my taste), but in a role that depends on winning and holding an audience’s sympathy, he’s too closed off and hostile, the kind of character you avoid making eye contact with on public transportation.
Tobey Maguire had a wonderful rapport with Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson, the girl next door. This time, there’s no Mary Jane; instead, it’s Gwen Stacy (in the comics she didn’t come along until Peter entered college), and she’s played by Emma Stone. At least Stone does what she can, but the role is thankless, and one of today’s best young actresses is criminally underused; it’s such a waste of a valuable resource that somebody should call the EPA. Garfield glowers at Stone, hunching his shoulders and breathing through his mouth, just as he does at everyone else, and sparks never fly. Remember that marvelous upside-down kiss in the rain between Maguire and Dunst in the first movie? Don’t expect anything like that here. Garfield and Stone kiss, but it might as well be through a layer of Saran wrap.
The aptly-named Marc Webb directs the clunky script as efficiently as it will allow, and the production has all the shine that $215 million can buy. But the movie needs a star at the center of Spider-Man’s web. Instead, it has a black hole.