Regardless of your feelings on the necessity of a web-slinger reboot, Sony's decision to christen its new effort THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was inspired in that it suggested - via the comic book's flagship title - a classic approach to a firmly established character. This, it seemed, was the studio's opportunity to close out Sam Raimi's Parker v. Osborn trilogy, to embark on a serialized Spidey franchise with some fresh(er) faces, a promising young director and a jocular tone more in line with the '60s-'70s comics. Best of all, it didn't have to be an origin tale because everyone was up to speed on the origin.
Nerdy kid from Queens. Radioactive spider. Arrogance. Dead Uncle Ben. Great Power. Great Responsibility. Got it.
Get ready to do it all over again.
The triumph of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is that, even at its most tedious, it's rarely infuriating. As Marc Webb proficiently goes about reconceiving Peter Parker as a charming outcast with just enough game to land a brainy beauty like Gwen Stacy, you stick with the film because you think Webb might pay off the romance with an endearing final moment (an intimate variation on MJ's "Go get 'em, Tiger" at the end of SPIDER-MAN 2). Here's the thing: he does. Here's the other thing: the rest of the movie.
I spent most of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN wondering who I'd cast opposite Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in a big-screen version of Kenneth Lonergan's THIS IS OUR YOUTH; it's that close to "good", and that close to being contemptuous of its source material. Working from a stitched-together screenplay credited to the capable trio of James Vanderbilt, Steve Kloves and veteran closer Alvin Sargent, Webb occasionally, accidentally sketches a portrait of two rambunctious kids eager to get on with fucking up their lives. Parker's a principled product of earnest upbringing thanks to the blue-collar values imparted by Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), but once he acquires his powers (after snooping around the Oscorp lab built around his father's pioneering research), he wants to cut loose in a way that's perfectly, hormonally reasonable. Contrary to Ben's obligatory admonition (hilariously out of place in this iteration), he doesn't humiliate Flash; he nonviolently humbles him. The only problematic aspect to Parker's display is that no one whips out their phone and uploads the moment to YouTube, at which point Parker would be headed for a one-and-done year at Kentucky prior to becoming the first pick in the NBA draft.
You think about these things when a movie fails to engage you early.
Sony spent a decent amount of cash selling the "untold story" of Spider-Man, which, near as I can tell, involves a corporeal depiction of Parker's parents (embodied with day-playing professionalism by Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz). It's nice to see his birth parents for once, but there's no palpable bond, and the search for an emotional connection yields nothing tangible; Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) piggybacked off Richard Parker's discoveries, and Peter, hinting at his intellectual potential, giddily fills in the gaps. How does this begin to remedy Parker's abandonment issues? Does he <em>have</em> abandonment issues? What's this kid's problem anyway? He's got superhuman strength and remarkably easy access to the twentieth-floor window of a girl he'd very much like to fuck (and who seems to be into him). There's an "untold story" here alright, and it's tapping into everything Marvel Comics sedulously avoided. Truffaut would've smashed this.
You look for reasons to be involved during THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN because you're pretty sure the writers and the director are way too smart to buy into the play-it-safe bullshit they're shoveling up on the screen at a million-dollars-per-minute (a depressingly conservative estimate). Sooner or later, you figure the film's going to pull up from its tailspin and clear the horizon. But Webb and his writers (and the studio that invested more money than they'd reportedly anticipated) can't deliver the mail. It could be that they wanted to reinvent the superhero movie and no one would let them, or they just failed to strike a balance between coming-of-age comedy and big-budget tentpole. To an extent, this feels like a studio experiment; a Brundlefly melding of TWILIGHT and BATMAN BEGINS. It's a little bit dour, a little bit cheesy, and a little bit ashamed to be there. Worst of all, it's never fun.
I hate that I'm this indifferent to a film written by the artists partially-to-fully responsible for ZODIAC, PAPER MOON and THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS (that's <em>all</em> Kloves, and I miss that guy), and I hate that this is what they're reduced to: microwaving quick-cooked pulp for a paycheck. I also understand they're voluntarily participating in their own debasement: that's called having a family in Los Angeles. In any event, there's a place for trash, and it's perfectly fine for talented writers to wallow in the muck, but when they deign to get dirty, leave them the fuck alone. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is a film buried under studio notes, an attempt at something different that, thanks to corporate timidity or obligation, fizzled out into a movie no one will ever love. Sony, realizing their mistake, has brought in Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci to write the next chapter in this half-hearted, but quite pricey, reimagining of the most joyous character in the Marvel canon. Smart move. We'll never think to care.