Reviewed Jul 05, 2012
Tony Huang’s review:
An action movie that really just wants to be a quirky romantic comedy, The Amazing Spider-Man is occasionally smart, frequently funny, but ultimately lacks the conviction to answer its own questions--namely, the question of Peter Parker's identity. As an origin story (which are basically coming-of-hero tales), Spider-Man implicitly carries this burden--but it's spelled out explicitly as well. Multiple times throughout the film, our titular hero is asked 'who are you', and almost exclusively in a probing, 'learn who you are' manner--a heavy-handedness that deepens the curious hollowness of the ending, which leaves Parker's essential nature mostly single-minded, and inconsistently likable. Despite serviceable action scenes and an attractively done romance,Spider-Mannever bothers to place us on our protagonist's side, preferring to take our sympathies for granted and build-up for a sequel.
Granted, I spent most of the movie commending the movie's efforts to make Parker as ambivalent a Spiderman as possible, having basically two dominant motivations: revenge, and horniness. As boring and incompetent the opening backstory scene was (if the audience didn't see the title screen "Spiderman", we'd have no context for caring about the kid's emotional turmoil), it did make Peter's less-than-noble dedication to crime-fighting plausible. His anger over Ben's death is felt; his assholery to Ben is also convincing. That it takes a firm talk-down from a police chief to shake him out of the revenge phase is also believable. His apparent willingness to make himself known to Gwen Stacy is also a fairly eloquent way of relating his spider-enhanced confidence (he can barely talk sans powers). In fact, most scenes with Gwen Stacy (and this might just be my Emma Stone bias talking) seemed to be calibrated rather expertly on the balance of responsibility versus want, the personal and the general. Their relationship as a whole is expert, and shows Marc Webb's experience from directing (500) Days of Summer; convincing teen love is rare nowadays, but the chemistry is handled fantastically.
But the film shifts around as awkwardly as Garfield does, and by the time our central villain is in full force, most of the goodwill starts to lose weight. Many inexplicable things happen here: most of the film's first half makes Dr. Conners to be a diligent, basically virtuous man. And then, as soon as he turns reptile, he becomes unremittingly evil, coming up with a frankly ridiculous plot to just turn everybody into reptile monsters--maybe this can be explained away because the gene itself makes you violent, maybe he's just really upset about his arm (though his insistent refusals to do human trials suggest otherwise), but he does save Peter Parker's life at the end. So did he turn inherently evil or not? The plot required some villainy, so he was, and then he wasn't, because what about all the sympathy we built up, right? The police chief, who until this moment remained competent, if slightly annoying, devotes far too much energy to the unitard vigilante to be believable. There is literally a giant lizard making other giant lizards--first priority is not the vigilante with an agenda.
And here's the most egregious shift: by all accounts, Peter Parker should've learned about the responsibility inherent with power, having killed his girlfriend's dad, indirectly doomed his mentor, and grieved over his uncle. His silence vis Emma Stone's chastisement of him ditching her seemed almost indicative of maturity, growth. And then it takes all of five seconds for him to come up with a witty line and win her back. After spending a good two hours with an only mildly likable protagonist, who showed, for at least two scenes, potential of being one we root for unconditionally, all the film really wants is a happy ending open to sequels. Despite a whole journey bent on curing Parker's significant flaws, the film just sighs and gives up at the end--we'll get it next time.