As a comic book geek for the past 3 decades, I'm a little more critical than most. However, "The Amazing Spider-Man" gets some things right, comic book-wise, but gets a lot wrong. And from a movie perspective, it's really quite weak. Overall, it's an amazing, albeit expected, disappointment.
I think it's important to look back on what the original Sam Raimi trilogy did right and wrong, and what led Sony to dump the entire cast and crew when the 4th movie was being developed and all stars were locked in. The original Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 were, pardon the pun, absolute marvels. The stories were first-rate, the translation of the comic onto film was near perfect and, even when it wasn't accurate, it held its own in the context of the films. For instance, Green Goblin was not a suit. It was a Jekyl/Hyde transformation. While he may have looked like a character out of Power Rangers, Willem Defoe was a great Norman Osborne. In addition, Dr. Octopus was not American, nor even the Persian persuasion he was portrayed by in the second film. Yet, it worked. I never really questioned them since those characters didn't have a strong portrayal in any other way that completely ruined the perception of the viewer. Tobey Maguire was a near-perfect Peter Parker, playing up the naive, innocent teenager aspect of his character.
However, that changed when Spider-Man 3 was released. As has been the case with many of the major Marvel storylines translated to film, viewers had thoughts on how characters like Dark Phoenix in X-Men: The Last Stand should have been portrayed. However, giving hacks like Brett Ratner the helm to such an important story resulted in minimization and, eventually, complete destruction of what should have been very carefully presented. Many of us hardcore fans will never forgive Ratner. Such is the case, as well, in Spider-Man 3. Hardcore fans had been waiting for a long time for Raimi to take on Venom. When Spider-Man 3 eventually came out, while I still believe it wasn't given its due, there is validity to the fact that Venom was badly, badly handled. Venom should have been very beefy and muscular at 3 times the size of Spider-Man. Topher Grace was an awful casting as Brock. And even though I loved Thomas Haden Church's Sandman, there was just too much going on in Spider-Man 3 that minimized yet another very, very important villain and diluted an otherwise phenomenal storyline. Don't get me started on Harry's "Goblin" either.
So when it came time to deliver a 4th movie, it would not have surprised me for them to go a different route, maybe bring on a new writer/director, maybe a new cast, maybe a reboot. And that was the word for a while. But when all of the cast and Sam signed on for the 4th, I was pleasantly surprised and a tad excited since I never thought Spider-Man 3 was as bad as people thought, even as I agreed to the poor handling of Venom. The first two were so good that I was willing to give them a pass.
Something happened, though, and I'm not sure what. It's never been discussed much, but Sony just decided to "go a different route." In fact, they went down that different route quickly, unexpectedly and pushed heavily for the reboot. The result is "The Amazing Spider-Man."
Rumors were that the Lizard, whose identity is Dr. Curt Connors, who appeared, played by the great Dylan Baker, in the last two of the original Spider-Man movies as one of Peter's college professors, would be the focal point of Sam Raimi's 4th film. I was surprised, especially after the unexpected addition of Sandman in the third film, that the obvious setup of including the Lizard was there, that it had taken this long to produce him. However, the Lizard, frankly, is a boring character. The story is pretty simple and, given the mythos Raimi had created, it probably would have resulted in a boring movie. Yet, with this reboot, the Lizard was finally prepared to take center stage. Given how quickly after the original trilogy this was made, my expectations were this movie were very low. I personally thought Sony had jumped the gun in pulling the reboot trigger so quickly after 3 very successful films. Punisher, I understand. Ghost Rider, I get. But this seemed too quick.
So I casually kept up with the creation of this new film. When Emma Stone was cast, I thought she would be a GREAT Mary Jane with her red hair and attitude. I was shocked to hear she was cast as Gwen Stacy, the original love interest of Peter from back in the day. I thought Bryce Dallas Howard did a great version of Gwen in Spider-Man 3, but given that Mary Jane had been such a central character, I thought it was weird to try and force that, but it fit in the context of the film. I was curious how Emma's portrayal would differ.
Then Andrew Garfield was cast as Peter. I had just seen The Social Network and thought they hit it out of the ballpark. I remember having a long conversation with an old comic buddy of mine about 10 years ago after the original film was released and how we both thought there was NO way someone else could ever play Peter again. I was wrong, I thought, after hearing about Garfield's casting. Excellent modern choice.
Then Sally Field, as Aunt May (huh?? She's not THAT old!), and Martin Sheen, as Uncle Ben, were cast. Ok, I could see Martin, but I really liked Cliff Robertson in the original trilogy. While I like Martin Sheen, his acting ability gets worse with every film in which I see him. The Amazing Spider-Man was no different, and I'll explain why later.
Of course I would end up seeing The Amazing Spider-Man, but I really didn't hold out much hope, especially after reading rumors that Sony execs absolutely HATED the film. I couldn't get Brett Ratner out of my mind.
July 3, 2012, it was finally released. I tried to go see it July 4, but it was sold out. Apparently the early Rotten Tomatoes buzz got people in the seats. Critics had been thinking well of it, so that intrigued me. the trailers hadn't done much to inspire me with much hope, but I did like the more playful, arrogant and cocky teenage attitude Andrew was putting into some of the scenes that were shown. A couple of days later, I finally got to see it.
Now, let's talk about what The Amazing Spider-Man did right. Spider-Man was created by Stan Lee (writer) and Steve Ditko (artist). Ditko's initial artistic take on the character was as a skinny, gawky, nerdy teenager dealing with typical teenage problems, developing a love for science and photography. Even though I had read that Willem Defoe seemed irritated that they were retelling the origin, I was convinced Sony was going to play it perfectly like they did with the Hulk reboot. Don't waste our time retelling the origin, or, God-forbid, CHANGE the origin. Just start with the next story and allude back to the origin and any convenient pieces you need to progress the story, and that would be that. Well, that's not what happened.
Raimi's modernization of Spidey's origin fit well for movies. The fact that he could shoot webs from his wrists was an ok change from the original comic book story that he used his scientific prowess to develop the web shooters. To portray any sort of comparison to the real world, I always Raimi pulled that off well. Yet, when I heard that The Amazing Spider-Man would include him making his own web shooters, I was intrigued how that would be done. Clearly Sony looked into fan complaints of the original trilogy and made adjustments. Only, as they did that, they undid or even fabricated, completely new stories. Nearly 50 years of Spider-Man stories, yet they had to make one up for this movie. I didn't get it, at all. Even on all the promotional posters and ads, they proclaim, "The Untold Story." Uhm, WHY? The story was great. Why mess with it???
However, back to what was done correctly.
Andrew Garfield's portrayal of Spider-Man and Peter Parker were very good. He was skinny, gawky, cocky and funny. He WAS Ditko's Spidey. I loved him as much as I loved Tobey. And that is saying a LOT. They included his love and aptitude for science. His dialogue while dealing with common criminals was very accurate with a teenager given a little bit of power, yet not realizing the responsibility that comes with it. Painful lessons then ensued to bring said cocky teenager back down to Earth. This interpretation of the teenage mind was actually better than the original trilogy. In addition, the creation of his web shooters being a product of Oscorp that he essentially weaponizes was a perfect modern take on them, and another improvement on the original trilogy.
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy was absolutely adorable. Her strength, personality and sheer cuteness (even though I prefer the red hair...I have such a thing for red hair) complemented Andrew's portrayal well, especially as they interacted more and the story progressed.
While I was hesitant about the Lizard as a primary villain, they wove him into the story so well that I was pleasantly surprised to find him so interesting. While Rhys Ifans did a great job as Dr. Connors was a much better selection for portraying the raging Lizard, I always liked Dylan Baker's Dr. Connors. The key to making the Lizard a suitable primary villain, though, was weaving him into a story with some depth, which they did. He was centralized very well with not only a reason to become the Lizard, but also a reason to tie him into Peter/Spidey. Also, fixing the problem they had with the portrayal of Venom, the Lizard was larger than life, ominous and a physically superior being to Spider-Man.
Finally, while it took until end to finally see it, the last scene with Peter and Aunt May established a very good chemistry and character element to the overall story. I look forward to seeing this blossom in the future movies as it greatly exceeds the original casting by Raimi. At first I was concerned about May not being portrayed as old enough, but in the end, it worked.
All of the good things above transpired in the second half of the film, which made me actually stay because, while I've only walked out of two movies in my life (Dune and the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), this was very close to being my third. The first hour of The Amazing Spider-Man was mind-numblingly boring. I was not aware they were seriously going to redo and/or retell his entire origin. The "untold story" required it, apparently. For those who love the ACTUAL origin story and loved the way Raimi told it, this was a kick to the crotch. It was insulting. It was unnecessary. It was so very badly done. It, frankly, ruined the movie for me. I think there was a way to weave the actual origin into this without redoing it all.
The major element of it that I hated was the inclusion of his parents. Spidey's parents are an afterthought, not a primary story. This story had not been told because it tainted (not ruined, but tainted) an otherwise strong origin story and 50 years of building against that origin. I find that Sony dumping Raimi and the cast to tell THIS story is a major reason why Marvel is trying to get all of its properties back. Embarrassingly bad.
Next, the script. While the second half of the movie added meat to this new origin, which made the rest of the film tolerable, the dialogue was complete crap. As much as Andrew and Emma seemed good together, the dialogue between them tried repeatedly to screw it up. It was weak, fake and hard to watch. Completely unnatural for two people who appeared to have chemistry.
Next, the directing. Direction in this film is clumsy, spotty and elementary. Some action scenes are good, some are choreographed and/or edited very poorly. The camerawork during the Emma/Andrew scenes meant to bring them together and have the viewer care about the relationship developing, misses the mark completely. Editing may be more at fault here, especially during action sequences, but the qualitative variance from scene to scene smack of a poorly directed film.
Finally, I didn't like that not much time was spent with the Daily Bugle, none with J. Jonah Jameson and the public dynamic with Spidey and the paper. By the end, citizens were helping Spider-Man when it was never really shown or explained why the public liked Spidey so much or why they knew Spidey needed to get to Oscorp tower. Just another example of choppy, clumsy story-telling.
In the end, while I am always a sucker for comic book movies, especially beloved ones like Spider-Man, nothing happened in The Amazing Spider-Man to warrant dumping Raimi and the original cast. As bad as some may have thought Spider-Man 3 was, this movie did absolutely nothing to prove this was the right direction in which to go. Yet, based on audience and critical reaction, as well as the press around the mid-credit surprise ending piece, two more movies have been announced to tell yet another trilogy. Hopefully this movie will improve over time as the story unfolds, but with Christopher Nolan's Batman/Dark Knight masterpieces and Raimi's original bar set, there is no reason this movie shouldn't have been able to stand on its own, independent of supporting story lines in later films.