The Amazing Spider-man: The Film Equivilent of Playing Prevent Defense ***

In its first two acts The Amazing Spider-man is a surprisingly fresh, well developed and runaway winner of a film.  However in the third act, and perhaps sensing an easy victory, Director Marc Webb (500 Day’s of Summer) reverts to the standard Marvel Comic Summer playbook and finishes out the film executing the equivalent of football’s prevent defense (i.e., boring enough to put you to sleep).  The Amazing Spider-man does not end up a loser of a film, but does feel like a less than totally satisfying trip to the theater.

The script has three writer’s credited, which usually indicates problems. On their own, James Vanderbuilt (The Rundown, Zodiac), Alvin Sargent (the previous Spider-man films and Unfaithful) and Steve Kloves (the Harry Potter films) are well pedigreed.  What I sense is that at some point in the creative process someone said “wait a minute we are way ahead and this story is too cleaver and creative.  Plus we got this huge budget for computer graphic imagery (CGI).   Let’s not risk it. We need to play it super safe and simply finish this installment via CGI of the villain turning into an over-sized monster who climbs buildings, threatens the city, almost kills our hero who is ultimately helped by the father of the heroine – whom of course bites the bullet in the end.”

What saves the film is its first two acts.  In the first two acts, the script is a pleasant variation of a familiar theme. The Amazing Spider-man has infused enough tweaks to prove interesting and grabby.  The support cast is top drawer. Highly decorated veterans Sally Field as Aunt May, Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben, Campbell Scott as Richard Parker, Embeth Davidtz as Mary Parker,  Dennis Leary as Captain Stacy and Rhys Ifans as Dr. Connors and the Over-sized Lizard get their lines and hit them exceedingly well.  The 29 year-old Andrew Garfield playing 17 year-old Peter Parker/Spider-man and 23 year-old Emma Stone playing 17 year-old Gwen Stacy demonstrate great on-screen chemistry.  Too bad we are asked to believe these two are high-school kids.  It feels as if Garfield is trying just a touch too hard to appear as the awkward 17 year-old.  However, after watching her performances in Superbad, House Bunny, Zombieland, Easy A, Friends with Benefits, Crazy Stupid Love, The Help and now The Amazing Spider-man, I would be hard pressed to imagine Stone not being able to perform a role in less than convincing fashion.  However, the problem is that great acting ability, makeup, lighting and costumes cannot hide the fact that Emma Stone is a beautiful and talented adult female actress in her mid twenties.


Note:  In the original version of the film Manchurian Candidate (1962) lead bad guy Lawrence Harvey’s sinister and psychopathic mother was played by Angela Lansbury.  In real life the two were only a couple of years apart in age.

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