Here’s a little-known fact. As a reviewer, you’re always secretly hoping for the film you’re seeing to stink. Really bad films are a gift for a writer who wants to just riff on silly dialogue and shonky effects and questionable continuity. A real hatchet job can leave a movie reviewer feeling like they’re the funniest guy (or lady) alive.
Second prize is a film that’s flat-out awesome. Sure it’s a drag thumbing through the thesaurus hunting down new synonyms for ‘spiffy’ but still…you’ve just seen a great movie. What’s not to love about that?
The ones us movie review guys really hate are films that are just ‘fine’. If a movie doesn’t conspicuously reek, but doesn’t absolutely rock either, a writer has to work hard to make his review interesting.
I’m going to have to work pretty hard on this one.
A lot of the early gossip I heard on The Amazing Spider-man, from colleagues who had attended the first screenings, suggested it was a very poor show indeed. I don’t see it that way. The Amazing Spider-Man comes across to me as one of those flicks that would have picked up some great reviews before Christopher Nolan and Joss Whedon came along and raised the superhero movie bar, ruining everybody else’s fun.
A couple of embargo-busting UK newspapers ran absolutely ecstatic reviews of this film. I don’t quite get what those writers saw in this movie either. There’s a long list of things that Marc Webb got right, but I can think of a few major elements that were very poorly handled indeed.
For example: There’s a kind of X-Files conspiracy plot that launches Peter Parker’s life, and indeed this rebooted Spidey franchise, into a new direction. After a little while though it’s more or less forgotten, presumably to be wrapped up at the end of the expected Spider-man trilogy.
The creature design for The Lizard is…well….meh. They’ve given him a weird ‘Jack Nicholson as The Joker’ mouth that doesn’t in any way seem natural with Rhys Ifans’s voice coming out of it. And this is one talky lizard.
..and at a pivotal point in the film Peter Parker Googles his (missing) Dad to find out a whole lot of crucial plot points. He’s seventeen years old. He didn’t think of that before? Ever?
Well, when I say Peter and Gwen Stacy are seventeen years old. They’re seventeen like Stockard Channing was seventeen in Grease. That is to say ‘not seventeen at all’.
The high school romance element, which has led many commentators to describe this film as a superhero movie for girls, and what I’ve decided to call ‘Twilight in tights’, is cute, well-handled and believable. Even when you find out the implausible coincidence of what Gwen’s Saturday job is. And who her Dad is.
I liked Sam Raimi’s organic webshooters in the previous Spidey franchise. It seemed to minimise the number of impossible things that the viewer was asked to swallow before breakfast. Here Peter’s technical genius is very much to the fore. We see Peter as an inventor and as photographer quite some time before we see him as a web-slinging superhero.
The sequence showing Peter learning about his powers is funny and clever. There’s a fair bit of what I’m going to insist on calling ‘Peter Parkour’. Of course it devolves into that standard superhero flick geek wish-fulfilment fantasy of suddenly being good at sports. We’ve all seen Teen Wolf, right?
At least the origin story isn’t dwelled upon for too long. Although the sequence of Peter lashing together that amazing costume could have done with a few more mistakes and false starts before we see that final, incredibly professional, job.
Something that does work well is how Peter’s personality changes when he puts on the costume. The shy, retiring nerd of the photography club suddenly becomes the wise-cracking web-head we know from the funnybooks as soon as he pulls on that mask.
What with that, and the resurgence of the mechanical web-shooters this is closer to the Spider-man of the 616 universe than the hero Raimi gave us. Having said that, I kept expecting the shooters to be a plot point, to run out of fluid or get broken. I’m still waiting.
I’m not expecting two hours of solid fan service in this movie but would it be too much to ask that when Peter is mistaken for a Latino classmate, that classmate couldn’t be called Miles Morales?
For a primary villain, The Lizard doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time. Most of the time we’re looking at Rhys Ifans as the one-armed scientific genius Curt Connors, who now works for Oscorp rather than at Columbia University. Ifans is overall pretty good, even if his character’s motives seem a shade confused at times.
Connors’s boss, Norman Osborn is mentioned a few times but remains (almost) unseen. There’s a suggestion that like that other millionaire industrialist Peter Weyland in Prometheus, he’s in search of a genetic elixir of youth.
One thing here made me cross: Doctor Connors’s Phantom Of The Opera underground lab is just silly. What’s his power source? Where did he get all the science gear so quickly? Who is he? Alfred Molina? And what’s with all the baby lizards running around? Seems like someone got bored of their pets and flushed an MC Escher painting down into New York’s subways. Turtle Power!
In action movies where you have a proper actor as the villain, it’s a rule that there has to be a brainy quote from great literature. For fact fans this movie’s token brainy quote is not, for a change, from Shakespeare but from Florentine polymath Michelangelo Buonarotti’s The Silkworm.
When you’re a super-hero, one of the things you do is keep your secret identity secret. That’s sort of the point of calling it a secret identity. By the end of this movie everyone in New York except Aunt May knows that Peter is Spidey. And I think even she knows really, she’s just keeping quiet about it because Sally Field is too polite to bring it up.
Amazing Spider-man is by no means a bad movie. It’s well-made, there are comparatively few holes in the plot (although Peter’s free access to classified areas of Oscorp’s labs needed a bit more explaining) and all of the actors do a fine job. Andrew Garfield is maybe a shade too cool to be entirely convincing as Peter Parker, übernerd but it’s a solid performance. The 3-D cinematography is glossy, lush and immersive and there are some beautiful action sequences.
It even has, for me, the single best Stan Lee cameo ever. Given how many there have been now, that counts as a major achievement.
It just isn’t the best movie of the Summer. It’s not even the best super-hero flick of the Summer. But given the competition, there’s no great shame in that.
And yes, there is a little sting at the end. And no, Samuel L Jackson isn’t in it.