By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist July 6, 2012 at 12:26PM
This is the fourth movie in the "Spider-Man" canon and the third to feature a scientifically minded mentor of Peter Parker's who suffers a psychological break and a physical transformation that turns him into a villainous monster. Been there, done that. (Another example of how all this "reboot" talk is a lot of hot air.) And while director Webb can talk all he wants about how the movie's central thematic concern is "finding your missing piece" (with Peter looking for the truth about his parents and the deranged doctor Curt Connors looking to replace his arm), it never quite comes across, especially since Connors seems to be working almost solely at the behest of the never-seen Norman Osborn. His injury seems more like a convenient plot device than an actual quest (and much of this was probably stripped away when Webb and company decided to delete scenes involving Connors' wife and child, turning him into more of a two-dimensional cartoon dinosaur). His character is a mess –- does he change into the Lizard at a certain point, werewolf-style? Can he control it? Will he eventually get stuck that way forever? Do his scales fall off and drop into his soup or coffee? These questions beg to be answered. His evil scheme is never fully defined either –- he wants to turn everyone in New York into a fearsome lizard-beast. Or something. For what? There's some half-baked implications about fixing imperfection, but it mainly comes across as something he's doing because he saw Ian McKellen try THE EXACT SAME PLAN in the first "X-Men" movie. From a visual standpoint, the Lizard is a bore too – his facial features owe a considerable debt to the Killer Croc design from the "Batman: The Animated Series" cartoon, and he only gets to wear his trademark lab coat (a visual benchmark for the character since its inception) in what feels like half a scene. (The fact that we were cheering on the return of a lab coat tells you how low our energy was.) "Some random dinosaur guy" would have been a more appropriate name than "The Lizard."
2. The compromised storyline hacked to death in post-production
It’s not unusual for films to feature lines of dialogue and sequences in ad campaigns that don’t make the final cut of a film. But “The Amazing Spider-Man” featured a significant chunk of material that viewers had seen in trailers and stills before release. Even without that knowledge, however, it’s not hard to see that “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which emerged from the aborted cocoon that was “Spider-Man 4,” feels like three movies stapled together. What suffers is Marc Webb’s supposedly grounded approach, which falters when we’re pointlessly zipping from location to location, day-to-night. The first third of the film features Peter learning about his parents, trying to figure out what they were hiding, discovering their magic equation and taking it to Connors. The mid-portion seems dedicated to Peter learning about his new powers, completely abandoning anything about his parents and then coping with the passing of Uncle Ben. And then the last third, where both his parents and Uncle Ben are never mentioned (nor any growing pains Peter had from his new powers, or struggles working his new web-slinger), finds Spidey facing off against the Lizard’s sketchy mad-science plan to turn New York into Koopatown. Never mind the fact that characters like the threatening Oscorp higher-up (Irrfan Khan) splits when the Lizard starts rampaging and never shows up again. And never mind the fact that, when Spidey first sees his scaly opposition, he doesn’t bat an eye. It’s very possible there was an excised scene before this where Spidey audibly reacts to Connors becoming such a terrifying creature, and maybe a scene later where Parker tries to reason with his old friend inside the lizard skin, but it's not be found here, symbolic of the disjointed nature of the film overall.
While Vulture clued us in a little bit more as to what happened to the Indian guy who worked for Oscorp and wanted to use the Lizard's serum on a bunch of war vets, we walked out of the screening assuming he was still hanging by some spider-web off the bridge. But that's not the only dangling thread or unbelievable moment in the movie. What about Spider-Man's epic, 20-minute hunt for similar-looking criminals that ended not in an arrest but in a tacked-on moment towards the end where the criminal is still on his "to do" list, pinned on his cork board? Or how about Gwen Stacey, a low-level intern, being able to synthesize an anti-venom and load it into some kind of machine that will dispense it across all of New York? (And what happens to people who haven't been exposed to the Lizard serum who are then sucking down the anti-venom? Couldn't there be serious health risks or, at the very least, annoyingly loud coughing?) These are just a few of the huge plot holes/gaps in logic that "The Amazing Spider-Man" assaults you with almost every moment it's on screen. When we brought these up to a friend of ours, they said, "It's a slippery slope criticizing a comic book movie for a lack of realism." And it's not a lack of realism – we're clearly sitting in a theater about to watch a radioactive spider give a moody teenager enhanced abilities – it's the clumsiness of the script, the lack of its own internal logic, that is the most grating and (worst of all) actively pulls us out of our enjoyment of the film. It doesn't help that the movie is coming out so close after "The Avengers" – a movie that reminded us how much fun the "comic" part of comic book movies can be, with an internal logic that was occasionally cartoonish but never far from compelling or believable.
4. The science.
And on a similar note, "If it bends, it's funny, but if it breaks, it's not funny,” a great writer/director once wrote. The same theory applies to the suspension of disbelief. And there’s something ungainly about the science in “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Yes, it’s a comic book movie, and yes, Peter Parker is the son of scientist Richard Parker, and so he’s inherited much of his intelligence and aptitude. However, we’re to believe that Peter Parker is the only amateur scientist in the world who has figured out how to use Osborn’s biocable technology to create web shooters? Yes, this is the way the origins go down in the comics, but when you’re creating a fairly dark and realistic Spider-Man movie -- which ostensibly the movie wants to be most of the time; see how often the story is rooted in character and emotion -- it’s much easier to buy that Parker would inherit true and holistic spider-powers instead of creating web-shooters that will carry the weight of a teenage boy swinging all over Manhattan (the fact that Peter jumps right off a building without safety-testing the webshooters and whether they work seems to act counterintuitively with a boy we’re supposed to believe is a super genius). Sure, we’re shown moments of Peter’s intelligence beforehand -- Uncle Ben telling us he stopped being able to help with Peter’s homework after the age of ten, and Parker’s affinity for making gadgets around the house -- and perhaps this is where, once again, all the clunky editing and dropped sub-plots come in -- but, Peter seems to go from smart kid to genius in a few short, unbelievable steps. Also, why is it that the technology in Oscorp seems to be right out of “Prometheus,” but the rest of this world is pretty similar to ours? The science of 'Spider-Man' doesn’t seem to always jibe with the rest of the movie.
The whole "reboot" angle to "The Amazing Spider-Man" is a cynical corporate ploy. This is less a reboot than a faithful remake of the first "Spider-Man," with slight alterations to characters and plot and, for the most part, it's almost exactly the same. It ends the same, Uncle Ben dies in a scene almost shot-for-shot like the original, there's even a similar music cue for the first time Peter Parker climbs a wall. But more than specifics, it just kind of feels like a watered-down version of Raimi's film. If the most successful reboots in recent memory – "Star Trek," "Casino Royale," and "Batman Begins" – have taught us anything, it's that you can't be too precious with the pre-existing mythology. People will respond, loudly, to huge shifts or alterations as long as they're pulled off with style and panache, and it would have been really fascinating to see a version of Spider-Man where, say, Uncle Ben didn't die but something else spurred on Peter Parker's commitment to masked vigilantism. (Hey, if "Star Trek" can blow up the planet Vulcan, Spider-Man could get away with this.) You hunger for deviation from the norm watching "The Amazing Spider-Man," but everything seems so similar – there's a heroic moment on a bridge, an example of New Yorkers teaming together to save our hero, and even major character changes like having Gwen Stacey be the center of attention instead of Mary Jane (or having The Lizard beat up on our hero instead of Green Goblin) seem arbitrary and underdeveloped. The biggest difference we can tell is that Gwen is blonde while Mary Jane was a redhead. Besides that, they're kind of the same. Which is something you could say about a lot of "The Amazing Spider-Man."
--Oliver Lyttelton, Gabe Toro, Drew Taylor and RP