Marvel Movie Madness! Part 37: The Amazing Spider-Man

by | April 15, 2013 | Comments

Enter Marvel Movie Madness, wherein Rotten Tomatoes watches all of the significant Marvel movies ever made. Full Marvel Movie Madness list here. Tune in! We give you our thoughts, and you give us yours.

Part 37: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012, 73% @ 279 reviews)

Directed by Marc Webb, starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans

Ryan: One thing I failed to note in our discussions on the previous Spider-Man franchise was that he was my favorite comic hero when I was a kid. With that in mind, I’m always going to be a little predisposed to liking feature adaptations of the character. I enjoyed the earlier three films (yes, even the third, despite its problems), and likewise, I thought this latest reimagining of the character was pretty good as well.

I was already a bit of an Andrew Garfield fan coming into The Amazing Spider-Man, and I think he’s an even better choice for Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire was. Garfield plays the character as less of an awkward dork, more of a misunderstood smartass, and I think that fits probably a bit closer to his portrayal in the comics. I know some folks are growing wary of the trend to repackage heroes into dark, serious, brooding types with “issues,” but I thought this film did a fine job balancing the melancholy elements of Peter’s personality with his inherently fun-loving nature.

I also thought the story made sense, in the same way any comic book origin story makes sense in its own universe, and that the acting all around was pretty strong — though, that should have been expected with such an impressive cast. It wasn’t the most compelling dramatic arc, but I thought it sufficed in refreshing the franchise; whether or not it needed a refresh is a different discussion, but taken on its own merits, I think The Amazing Spider-Man is a solid movie, and I look forward to future installments.

Tim: You’re right, Ryan. Taken on its own merits, The Amazing Spider-Man is reasonably solid. It’s dispiriting, however, that we’re being sold another Spider-Man origin story in a world where Sam Raimi’s superior treatment of the material already exists, primarily for the purpose of a major corporation maintaining the rights to the character. I’m not so naive as to believe that all movies are made solely for artistic reasons, but a franchise reboot only half a decade after Spider-Man 3 seems particularly egregious.

That being said, given its pedigree, there’s only so bad this movie could possibly be. Let’s start with the cast: Andrew Garfield is darn likable as Peter Parker, and if he lacks Tobey McGuire’s dizzy vigor, he conveys better sense of the confusion and malaise that would likely cloud the mind of a teenage superhero. (I also like the way Garfield discovers his new powers — the way he unintentionally and apologetically cleans house on a subway car is borderline Chaplinesque.) Emma Stone is even better, emanating her typically infectious air of smarts and decency; I don’t know of a contemporary actress who is more herself. There’s a moment when Spidey tosses her out a window and zaps her with a web to get her out of harm’s way, and the look on Stone’s face — a mixture of fear and exhilaration — is just priceless. Martin Sheen and Sally Field are, as you’d expect, terrific, grounding the action in a sense of reality. And in a role he could play in his sleep — that of a grizzled cop with a heart of mush — Dennis Leary is always fun to watch.

So what’s the problem? Well, the talking scenes are a lot more interesting than the fighting scenes, which mostly consist of Spidey and the Lizard duking it out with little balletic poetry — their battles might as well have been a series of cartoon fight clouds. And the big climactic showdown is a disappointment, not least because the Lizard’s big nefarious plan seems ripped off from every other super villain in history. Can’t these guys come up with something more interesting than infecting the city with some chemical? Plus, while The Amazing Spider-Man introduces the intriguing idea of a superhero gaining notoriety in the social networking age, it doesn’t do much with it; in an era when Redditors can track down people with the barest of information, wouldn’t it cause more of a stir when Peter destroys his high school’s basketball hoop and goalposts? Something tells me he wouldn’t be able to keep his identity secret for long.

Ryan: Regarding your point about the fight scenes between Spidey and the Lizard, I can’t really disagree. In fact, at the risk of implying I don’t enjoy superhero movies in general, this is one of the things I personally find problematic on a regular basis: the climactic battles are rarely very entertaining for me, even in otherwise enjoyable films. I’ve felt this way about pretty much all of Marvel’s “Phase One” movies (yes, even The Avengers), and I was a bit disappointed here as well. It didn’t kill the experience for me, obviously, and to be fair, it’s only rarely a make-or-break issue for me, but I do wish it had been a little more exciting.

Since you brought it up, can we talk about the basketball scene? I know basketball is a popular choice when filmmakers want to demonstrate the physical prowess of their characters, but I kind of wish it wasn’t, because it almost always looks awkward and often looks terrible (Catwoman, anyone?). I don’t know; maybe it was intentionally cartoonish here, but it would have been more impressive if it felt like Andrew Garfield had actually played a pickup game or two in his life. This isn’t a criticism of this movie as a whole, per se; it’s just another of those common storytelling devices I wish filmmakers would treat with a tad bit more care. At least Teen Wolf looked like he knew what he was doing, even if everyone else on the court was a buffoon.

Tim: This raises an excellent question that I’m sure most comic book fans have considered at least once: would superheroes be allowed to play sports? Would the Flash be banned from the Olympics? If Beast played linebacker, would he lead the NFL in sacks? I think Peter Parker should probably stick to soccer; given his superhuman reflexes, he’d be the greatest goalie of all time. I agree that he seems awkward on the court, and plus, Jerome Lane did pretty much the same thing without getting bitten by a radioactive spider.

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