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Double Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2

Updated on May 4, 2014

Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Chris Zylka, Dennis Leary, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz

It seemed more than a little odd that a movie should deliver another Spider-Man origin story, when Sam Raimi's 2002 version was barely ten years old and still fresh in our minds. Marc Webb's reboot The Amazing Spider-Man covers pretty much the same story beats and plot developments that Raimi's film did. Once again, Peter's Uncle Ben (this time played by Martin Sheen, who turns in the film's best performance) is killed by a robber; once again, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is bitten by a genetically altered spider while visiting OSCORP (this time, he sneaks in instead of touring the premises with his classmates on a field trip); and once again, Peter is mercilessly bullied by school punk Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka).

So, what's new? A few things, actually. For starters, Peter's love interest here is scientist Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) instead of woud-be actress Mary-Jane Watson; Flash actually becomes a little more likable as the movie wears on (he even offers Peter his condolences upon hearing of his uncle's murder); the web Spider-Man shots comes from a couple of wristbands Peter made himself instead of from his body; and the villain is a one Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), Gwen's mentor at OsCorp who becomes The Lizard upon injecting himself with a serum that was meant to regenerate his lost arm.

The screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves offers up a number of amusing interludes (the best comes when Spider-Man playfully bullies a car thief), and the scenes between Peter and Gwen have a real sweetness to them (it's almost impossible not to smile when Peter makes his first attempt to ask Gwen out on a date). The performances are also really quite strong: Garfield brings a real charisma to Peter (although I kind of miss the nerdy Peter that Tobey Maguire played so well); Stone is charming as his love interest Gwen; and Ifans makes for a surprisingly tragic and sympathetic super-villain. The only two weak performances in the film were turned in by Sally Field (as Peter's Aunt May; she doesn't hold a candle to Rosemary Harris) and Dennis Leary (who blandly plays Gwen's police chief father).

Director Webb pulls off a couple of spectacular set-pieces, including an unusually hypnotic sequence involving a burning car dangling from a bridge, but when it comes to the drama, he falls just a little bit short. It's disappointing how emotionally inert many of the big dramatic scenes are. The scene where Peter watches his uncle die falls especially flat, as does the final scene between Peter and Gwen's father. Because the film often comes across as emotionally unsatisfying, the movie's slow and deliberate pace becomes pretty problematic, and begins to test one's patience after a while (the movie is 136 minutes long, but it feels a bit longer than that).

In spite of these couple of missteps, The Amazing Spider-Man is a fun and entertaining film. The movie leaves a few of its mysteries unsolved, such as the circumstances that led to the disappearance of Peter's scientist father, as well as the nature of the shadowy figure who visits Connor in jail in the movie's post-credit scene. No doubt, part 2 will focus some more on these elements when it gets released this summer. With the same cast and director on board, one hopes for another successful, if not superior, installment in this seemingly promising franchise.

Rated PG-13 for lots of action, violence, VERY mild language

Final Grade: *** (out of ****)


Marc Webb
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Dane DeHaan, Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Sally Field, Dennis Leary, Colm Feore, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz

Watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a maddening experience. There are scenes in the movie that are quite well-acted, written and directed, and the special-effects are truly wonders to behold. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner has so many characters, so many subplots, and so much exposition, that the end result feels rather cluttered and unfocused. The movie's faults outweight its virtures, and while The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not necessarily a bad movie, it is one that's awfully difficult to embrace.

The movie's opening scene is pretty terrible, as it goes into further detail into the events that lead to the deaths of Peter Parker's parents. It involves a scene on a plane that is so badly photographed (Why are you shaking the bloody camera Mr. Director!?!?) that it gives you a headache as you watch it. Thankfully, the other action scenes are much more crisply staged, although it does beg the question: what in the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks was going on behind the scenes during the making of that one scene?

The villains this time are many; too many, if you ask me. The first one is unquestionably the weakest: Electro. Introduced as a nerdy OsCorp engineer named Max (Jamie Foxx), who becomes obsessed with the web-slinging hero after he saves him from getting hit by a car, he eventually turns into an electricity shooting bad guy who hates Spider-man for reasons I'm not entirely sure I understood. There is not a moment in the film where Electro is either menacing or frightening. He just seems petty and pathetic. Foxx's performance is no help. As Max, he seems to be channeling Richard Pryor's performance from Superman 3, and as Electro, he's just listless and dull.

Faring much better is Dane DeHaan as Harry Oswald, an old friend of Peter's who returns from Europe in time to be with his vile father Norman (Chris Cooper), a CEO at OsCorp, before a genetic disease ends Norman's life. As is turns out, Harry suffers from it as well, and in trying to find a cure, he at first asks Spider-Man for a sample of his blood before injecting himself with some leftover Spider venom that's secretly kept at OsCorp. Before that happens, Harry is framed for the accident that turned Max into Electro (he fell into a vat of modified electric eels) by OsCorp board members, led by Colm Feore's Donald Menken (whose character receives no payoff), and is fired from OsCorp.

"Let me play you a sad song on the world's smallest violin!"
"Let me play you a sad song on the world's smallest violin!"

There's actually another villain in the movie, one who's seen once in the beginning, and once in the end. He's Aleksei Sytsevich, aka The Rhino, and he's played by Paul Giamanti in a performance that's so over-the-top that it's bound to induce snicker fits from the audience. Then there's Peter (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). Peter is reluctant to continue his relationship with Gwen because of the promise he made her father (Dennis Leary) at the end of the original movie, and Gwen is ready to head off to London to study at Oxford. Meanwhile, Peter is still trying to understand why his parents left him with his aunt and uncle all those years ago.

Phew, let me catch my breath!

For a movie that runs on for two hours and twenty-two minutes (!), it's amazing that there's very little depth to the material. For example, the friendship between Harry and Peter feels as tacked on as that unnecessary Stan Lee cameo earlier in the film. You never get a sense that these two were ever friends, and both their reunion scene, and the scene where they go walking together, feel especially unconvincing. The relationship between Gwen and Peter feels more genuine, and to be honest, their scenes together are the best in the movie. There's real warmth and sincerity in the scene where Peter tells Gwen that he wants to go to London with her.

Apart from Foxx and Giamanti, the acting is actually quite good. Garfield is just as charismatic here as he was before, and Stone brings a real sweetness to the role of Gwen. Sally Field returns as Peter's Aunt May, and while I didn't care for her too much in the original movie, she seems better used this time. The best performance is, I'd argue, turned in by DeHaan. While his character is not very well developed, DeHaan turns in such a snaky and sinister performance that he never becomes uninteresting either. The action scenes aren't very exciting, but they are well-staged and entertaining (the final fight between Spidey and Electro, however, does veer into overkill), and the movie's final 20 minutes are quite shocking and effective.

Man, and I thought my room was messy! (I won't lie. It is. :/ )
Man, and I thought my room was messy! (I won't lie. It is. :/ )

Is the movie worth seeing? If you're patient with it and lower your expectations, maybe, but it really won't hurt anything if you decide to wait for DVD. There are things in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that deserve praise; it's just that they're stuck in such an unfocused and meandering movie.

One final note. Every time Peter tries to continue his relationship with Gwen, the movie has him hallucinate her father looking on in disapproval. He's there during a high speed chase, and even during Gwen and Peter's graduation ceremony. I was hoping the movie would have a little fun with this element. For example, there's a scene where Gwen and Peter hide out in a maintenance closet, and he kisses her. I think it would have been a riot if, once the kiss had ended and he opened his eyes, he saw Gwen's dad instead of Gwen's face. It would have at least got a laugh from the audience, who had been quiet for quite some time by then.

Rated PG-13 for pretty much the same reasons as the original movie.

Final Grade: ** ½ (out of ****)

Your Thoughts

Which movie did you like better? :)

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      Joseph Ray 3 years ago

      While I was not the biggest fan of The Amazing Spider-Man to for many of the reasons you give, I do think it might have been a good setup movie. This is of course all dependent on what they do in the next one though. The series though has an Archvillain in Osborne, and it has a team of villains being built up using OsCorp technology.