By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist July 6, 2012 at 12:26PM
Sam Raimi very delicately planted the seeds for the appearance of Curt Connors in his three films, giving the character a brief mention in his first film before being played by Dylan Baker in the second and third. Should Raimi have opted to eventually follow through on that character's transformation into the Lizard (although it's worth noting that the aborted "Spider-Man 4" contained no such plans), he would have been building on the brief but effective few moments shared by Baker, a superb actor, and Tobey Maguire, delivering something that, at a minimum, would have achieved a certain level of nuance. In the new film, however, we’re introduced to Curt Connors as a shaggy-haired lab rat who’s less about the intelligence radiated by Baker’s work and more about beat-the-clock efficiency, to the point where this man hires Peter Parker right out of high school. The plot motivations for such a reckless move are certainly there -- Peter may be the missing link in Connors’ work with Richard Parker -- but there’s no real relationship between these two, compounded by Ifans’ casual, distracted performance. It’s not entirely his fault -- he has nothing to play. Connors ostensibly could answer Peter’s questions about his missing parents, but he doesn’t act as if he’s holding back a secret. It all feels very rushed, and Ifans does this motivation-less chess piece of a character no favors by showing absolutely zero intellectual curiosity between growing his arm back, and becoming an apparently schizophrenic dinosaur man. It would have been much more fun if he'd simply reprised his character from "The Five-Year Engagement" with an arm tucked behind his back.
2. Lackluster action scenes
At the very least, you expect a certain amount of zippy energy from a movie called "The Amazing Spider-Man." You want to be blown away. You want to be amazed. But the action sequences in the film are too often choppy and boring – oftentimes reminding you of similar but far superior sequences from Sam Raimi's earlier movies. With both Spider-Man and The Lizard wholly computer-generated, there's an airlessness to the action, a lack of physical weight or heft (all this despite Webb's insistence that they look at Spider-Man in this film from the point of physics) – they're just two cartoon characters ping-ponging around the screen. And often Webb seems incapable of staging action in any kind of dynamic way, and things that looked promising from earlier trailers (like a long, single, unbroken POV shot of Spider-Man careening around New York City's skyline) were either chopped up or absent entirely. Even more egregiously, Webb stages what is arguably the least interesting fight sequence in the history of the now decade-long franchise – a skirmish between the Lizard and Spider-Man in the halls of a public high school. Good lord. Could you have picked a more drab or uninteresting setting? Probably not. It doesn't help that the script is embellished with a bunch of plot points that no one can make heads or tails of (so Gwen Stacy loads some kind of anti-virus to combat the Lizard's death cloud but the cloud doesn't disable Spider-Man's powers too?) and a supposedly emotionally rousing climax where the scaffolding workers of New York point their cranes in the direction of Spider-Man, is undone by phony sentiment and (again) questionable physics. Even the final action beat, of Spider-Man swinging through New York, seems to miss the mark. Instead of soaring upwards like at the end of Sam Raimi's first film, Spider-Man is falling down.
Even if you whole-heartedly love “The Amazing Spider-Man,” it’s hard to argue that Webb’s film is well paced. While it’s only 2 hours and 16 minutes, which feels reasonable for a blockbuster that has to contend with an origin story (though Raimi managed to tell it with 15 minutes less time), “The Amazing Spider-Man” moves at the speed of molasses, aside from the dynamic third act. That first act in particular seems to move at a crawl, and while we admire Webb for taking his time to set up the characters, he's constrained because we know he's walking through the same beats as Raimi's first film; it might differ in the details, but we know what's coming. We don't get Peter in costume as Spider-Man until well into the second act, which, in a film called "The Amazing Spider-Man," is kind of a problem. We also don't get Conners' transformation into the Lizard until around the same time, and he doesn't seem to have a grander plan until that third act, and because of that, there's no threat, and no propulsion. We know that he's meant to be the bad guy, but the stakes never feel high, and that makes those 2 hours and 16 minutes feel closer to three hours.
4. Baffling post-credits scene
So, okay. Let’s pretend “The Amazing Spider-Man” is the first Spidey movie thus far, and we’ve never seen any of this, right? So, with that knowledge, what’s going on in that post-credits sequence? Sony followed in Marvel’s footsteps not only by featuring a post-credits tease that hints at a future film, but also looks like it was shot in an afternoon by an intern. First, Curt Connors is taken to a large prison cell, one that probably couldn’t hold a giant lizard-man with super strength, but we’ll let it slide (although we guess he's cured now? Or something?). Then a mysterious figure emerges from the shadows, asking if Connors told Peter everything about his father, to which Connors replies in the negative, allowing our mysterious, cloaked-in-darkness intruder a long, evil laugh, before he… teleports away? Is that what‘s going on here? Context clues in the film, as well as a knowledge of “Spider-Man” suggests this would be Norman Osborn, unseen but mentioned in the film as “dying” and needing some sort of transfusion (gee, what's the worst that can happen?), and presumably destined to reappear as the Green Goblin in the second film. If so, why is this dying man teleporting into a prison cell? Can’t he just say these things from the other side of the bars? The credits clarify that this character is “Man In Shadows” and he’s played by Michael Massee, a deep-voiced, pockmarked character actor who has played memorably scummy villains in “24” and “The Crow,” and who bares a distinct resemblance to, um Willem Dafoe. He'll presumably be replaced by a bigger name down the line, which makes the whole thing doubly irritating -- maybe if we'd seen an unannounced A-lister turn up, it might have given more of a thrill. But as such, it strikes us as the creation of someone who understands that the Marvel post-credits scenes excite fans, but doesn't have a clue why.
Noticeably darker than Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series and akin the recent run of grittier superhero films, “The Amazing Spider-Man” sometimes feels at odds with itself. It does have a darker, moodier palate to be sure -- you can see it in the marketing and photographs and just in its general mien -- but it also wants to be true to who Spider-Man is. But dark and somewhat gritty, and therefore more realistic, chafes up next to Spider-Man the quipster who likes to make corny jokes while fighting crime. It’s not completely incongruous, but imagine Batman in “Batman Begins” making dumb jokes while on his night prowls; it just doesn’t always feel that appropriate. But file under quibbles if you like. Perhaps more noticeable is the two movies within “The Amazing Spider-Man”; one is a fairly traditional superhero movie (that doesn’t reinvent the wheel in the slightest), and the other film (arguably the better part of the movie), is the romance and character struggle between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. “The Amazing Spider-Man” is scoring well with women and that’s because part of it is romantic, sexy, believable and fun; you’re into and buy their crush-worthy flirtations, and this is where director Marc Webb excels. “The Amazing Spider-Man” is arguably “The Notebook” of super hero movies. However, when you’re making one movie, you want to have some coherence. What we get is, much like our review already stated, a strong teenage love/coming of age story constrained by a mediocre and run-of-the-mill super hero film.