You know that line in 10 Things I Hate About You when Gabrielle Union’s character ponders: “I know you can be overwhelmed and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?” That’s how I felt watching The Amazing Spider-Man. Whelmed (and for the record, I think you can in Europe). I had heard only good things about the film, so I went to see it with good expectations. I enjoyed it well enough and thought everyone in the cast did a great job. While there were a few new and interesting things that this reboot had to offer, ultimately it was treading familiar territory and didn’t exactly deliver with its promise of telling “the untold story” that we had moodily heard about in the trailers. Overall, I enjoyed it and would recommend seeing it for fans of the genre, but I wasn’t blown away or particularly impressed by what I saw. I was a tad confused, also, because in the moody trailer we are asked what’s most dangerous, “secrets that we keep or the secrets that are kept from us”, and yet this question is never answered in the film. So in a sense, what was supposed to make this movie special - the “untold story” - didn’t exactly turn out as planned. For Marc Webb’s first big-budget film, however, this was a pretty good feat, with a grounded, fairly well-paced story and well-choreographed stunts.
I thought Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker was interesting and well-acted. Giving him a skater persona was a nice update and afforded him a confidence that made sense and could resonate with today’s audiences (I say ‘today’s audiences’ even though the original Spider-Man was released only 10 years ago). This new Peter Parker is pretty comfortable with his intelligence, boldly venturing into biotech company OsCorp’s headquarters, impersonating (sheepishly, but only because his schoolboy crush catches him in the act) an internship applicant and volunteering science facts for whole crowds to hear, something Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker probably would have chosen to mutter under his breath instead. This new Peter Parker’s skater background gives us an idea that he is confident in his abilities and competitive with himself, and definitely not shy from taking risks or making his own artificial web shooters. Despite the confidence that this guy has, he still keeps most people at arm’s length, which explains why he throws himself into schoolwork and doesn’t really have any friends. I found this to be a nice tie-in to the abandonment issues he would have from his history with his parents. In this sense, I thought the film did a really good job giving us a sense of what Peter was like pre-radioactive-spider-bite (cross-species genetics-spider bite doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it). Overall I thought Garfield portrayed the character well and approached it from what felt like a very authentic angle.
Emma Stone was her usual adorable self as the perfectly affable Gwen Stacy, doer of no wrongs and every fanboy’s dream girl. Her chemistry with Garfield was undeniable and it was fun watching their relationship blossom (although I have to admit there seemed to be a lot of scenes between Peter and Gwen that were repetitive and could have instead been devoted to more character development for her). The downside was that Stone’s character in this film was a tad one-dimensional, which is a shame, considering she probably would have been able to do more with the role had she been given a little bit more to work with. There were hints of promise in which there seemed an attempt to give Gwen some layers, such as in an intimate scene with Peter where she expresses how hard it is to be the daughter of a cop, never knowing if her father was going to make it back home. That’s really the only glimpse we see of what Gwen is all about. Despite the fact that she’s smart enough to not only be a top intern at a leading research facility such as OsCorp but also be at the top of her class, she never talks about her aspirations or expresses any conviction about anything. This is unlike the writing in Raimi’s Spider-Man, where Kirsten Dunst was at least given a lot of material to work with, with her MJ revealed to not only be in an abusive household (hence her attraction to the heroic Spider-Man, who always saves the day) but also aspiring to be an actress.
I really liked Martin Sheen, Sally Field and Dennis Leary in this film, but I especially liked what Rhys Ifans did with his character of Dr. Curtis Connors, who transforms into the antagonist of the film, but who starts out successfully earning the sympathy of the audience by expressing his desire to cure people with his research (even though a large part of it is self-serving because he himself has something to gain). The special effects and stunts were also pretty well done, and I really liked the way this Spider-Man was more…for lack of a better word…spidery. In one scene he literally weaves his own web in an attempt to detect and trap approaching prey.
As I mentioned, I enjoyed the film and liked the character performances, however I did find myself missing a lot of the charm and lightheartedness of the original film. There’s just something painfully endearing about seeing Peter Parker riding his bicycle and delivering pizza. This is not to say both films can’t be appreciated, though. Both are enjoyable for different reasons. I felt like the original film felt more like a comic book movie, while this one felt more like a teenage drama about a troubled high schooler who just happened to be bitten by a genetically-engineered spider. The original had more excitement and humor, while this one had more heart and well-contained drama. Ultimately this slightly premature reboot lacked an oomph that the original had. In a nutshell, worth seeing but just a tad short of amazing.