Review: ‘The Amazing Spider-man’ has Everything Except the Most Important Thing

One expects certain things from a summer blockbuster.

It must have thrills, a few chills, some chuckles, and preferably a syrupy romance.

The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield as the newest Spidey to skitter across our screens, has those things in spades.

What it lacks is the next level, the moral core that made Tobey Maguire’s version something to revisit long after the flip-flops had been stowed and the snowcones swapped for hot cocoa.

Andrew Garfield’s only other real claim to fame was as the ant beneath Facebook guru Mark Zuckerberg’s boot in The Social Network. His lanky, nerdy frame seemed ill-suited to the Spider-man suit in previews, but give Garfield a chance. He fills out the Peter Parker role well, making it his own. He’s easy to believe as a nerdy, confused, angry teen living with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) after the mysterious disappearance of his scientist father.

His high school crush, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) interns at the biotech firm run by Parker’s father’s former partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). In an attempt to find answers about dear old dad, and somehow flirt with Gwen in the process, Parker trespasses into a room filled with bio-tech radioactive spiders of doom and is bitten.

That’s when life gets really complicated.

The teen has the physical power to impose his will on the world, but neither the wisdom nor the self-sacrificial spirit to make power a good thing in his hands.

Uncle Ben, a good-hearted blue collar man, has plenty of both. His advice to Peter forms the moral core of the movie: “If someone has the power to do good for someone else, they ought to do it.”

After his uncle’s tragic death, this question should be the heart of the movie. Will Peter use his power for non-selfish good or will he seek revenge?

Unfortunately, the themes that were so beautifully apparent in the Spider-Man trilogy of the 2000’s starring Maguire are lost in the dazzling effects of this film. Using CGI effects, the new installment takes the viewer on a vertigo-inducing swing through Gotham. His web slings and his body jerks like a gymnast in the Olympic trials. At times,the action is shown from a Spidey-point of view, all twisting, falling, soaring, and landing.

The villain, a sort of man-reptile hybrid, is exciting and scary as well, if not particularly complex internally. He’s more of a science experiment gone wrong than a megalomaniac bent on world domination. He does knock things around a good bit, being growly and scary enough to give the movie its PG-13 rating. Sexuality and language are almost non-existent in this film, although there is some rather innocent and mushy kissing that will make ten year old boys squirm.

Spidey gets all wound up in thorny themes, then swings and spins his way to a resolution without revisiting them. Although Sheen and Field are warm and lovely in the film, neither ever gets the chance to set the young hero on the right track. Indeed, it seems Aunt May and Peter could use some family counseling to get them to talk to each other. As the film goes on, she has to stretch further and further to pretend his late night excursions and serious contusions are normal for a teen boy.

It’s a shame, too, because the audience expects and waits for the meaningful interaction that will help the Spandex-clad youth put everything in perspective and bring a tear to our eyes, and it never comes.

The upshot is that the exciting action and good moments will never upstage the previous version.

Everything is there except the spider’s heart.

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  • r. stark

    I enjoyed the family dinner scene and–in general–Leary’s performance. I very much wish that the villain’s motives would have been clearer and more complex. The lost arm is interesting, philosophically, and the scientific attempt to restore (at minimum) what was truncated via the fall in Eden–fascinating. The writers might have thought about putting a copy of Francis Bacon’s Advancement of Learning on a table in one of those laboratory shots. –Not enough of a “self-sacrificial spirit”–great point.

  • David French

    Rebecca Cusey, only twice have you led me astray. First, when you praised the infernal “Babies” to the high heavens, leading me to a cinematic experience that I take medication to recover from. And now, when you have damned with faint praise a top 5 superhero movie of all time. This is so much better than the previous three spiderman movies that, like New Coke, Jar Jar Binks, and Matrix: Reloaded, I now pretend they never happened. This movie had tons of heart, great characters, and supercool effects.

    I forgive you. Two missed reviews in three years is acceptable.

  • rebecca w

    Love your reviews. Will you add a “Subscribe to this blog via email” option at the bottom right like all the other Patheos movie blogs? Pretty please? 🙂

    PS: A check box for “notify me when other comments are made on this blog post” would be awesome too. … You’re awesome.

  • Rebecca Cusey

    Thanks for the push. I added the subscribe feature, which really should have been there all along. We don’t currently have a subscribe to comments feature, but I’ve heard a rumor that it’s in the works. I’ll add it as soon as I can. Thanks for calling me “awesome.” That’s my favorite part.

  • Rebecca Cusey

    Thanks for the grace. 🙂

    You’re not the first person to push back on this. I just didn’t find the film moving. I found it exciting and interesting, but it never had that part that gave me a lump in the throat or a tear in the eye. Much like “Avengers,” I thought it was technically awesome and well done, but just a bit shy of fantastic. Both were everything you’d want in a superhero movie except that last little bump that makes the movie stick with you.