The one advantage that film will always have over comics is giving characters the visceral thrill of movement. With someone like Spider-Man, that lets viewers enjoy the thrill of watching someone fly through the air, slide across the ground and use the force of momentum to his constant advantage. Its exhilarating, visually interesting and thrilling to simply watch movement.
It is in these moments that “Amazing Spider-Man” makes a case for its’ own existence. Looking back on Sam Raimi’s films, the special effects haven’t aged particularly well and it was filmed more as an homage to the comics and pulp action than as a film that was meant to thrill with stunts. “Amazing Spider-Man” does a great job of bringing this energy back to the franchise but it loses all that momentum as Andrew Garfield struggles through lines, director Mark Webb directs without style or panache and the story struggles with telling anything that viewers haven’t heard before.
My biggest problem with the whole thing was that need to do the origin story again. Peter Parker’s transformation from nerdy kid to super-powered defender of New York City might as well be ingrained into our American mythos. Webb doesn’t do a lot new with it, playing Pete’s transformation mostly for laughs but he does brilliantly change the death of Uncle Ben to tie more closely to Peter than to Spider-Man, making Pete’s choices, personally and behind the mask, more defined by Ben’s death. Martin Sheen does a great job as Uncle Ben but he isn’t given a ton of screen time to make an impression.
And that’s really strange for a movie that drags over the two-hour mark without any real reason. The origin story takes over an hour to set up and it forces us to race through a disjointed plot by scientist Curt Connors, a not particularly deep antagonist from Dennis Leary’s Captain Stacy and the romantic subplot with Gwen, played by Emma Stone. No one really makes a huge impression and the generic plot doesn’t connect too well.
There are the building blocks of something that could make future installments more engaging. Webb makes the odd decision of keeping the fate of Pete’s parents a secret, tying it into Connor’s work at OsCorp. It is a strange move and Webb does little to make it one that we should care about. That’s a shame because the rest of the mysteries of the mysteries of the corporation are super engaging. The specter of Norman Osbourne looms over the film, both in the lobby of his building as well as in constant lines of dialogue. If Spider-Man’s greatest enemy is to show up before the series ends, he’s already had a great sense of mystery built up around him.
This lack of connection is what makes the movie’s exhilarating action sequences less memorable than they should be. Webb uses great tracking shots and close angles so that we can see every move Spider-Man makes as he zips and darts around his enemies but if we don’t care about the character or the people he’s fighting, then why does it matter?
It is clear that Webb was given the unenviable job of setting up a new franchise so that Sony could continue to hold onto the Spider-Man license for as long as possible. As such, he’s stuck having to keep Peter Parker in a very narrow world as well as having to keep the audience’s mind as far away from the unfairly maligned “Spider-Man 3” as possible. That’s why the film seems so narrow, so aimless and at times, so downright dull. Hopefully, like the superb “Spider-Man 2,” the inevitable sequel to this film will be able to build off the formidable base in order to craft a franchise that can not only keep the money coming in, but also keep fans interested.