In this Part 2 of a two-part analysis of The Amazing Spider-Man’s struggle to be as good of a movie as I wanted it to be, I focus on the villain and the overall effect of the underdeveloped themes. It picks up right where Part 1 left off, so here’s a link.
Speaking of the Lizard, he was one of the most heavily criticized parts of the movie, and for good reason; not only was the monster design really boring, but this was a woefully undeveloped villain character as well, which is a shame considering Rhys Ifans’ very solid performance. The Lizard had a great potential motivation, but they didn’t capitalize on it very well. Instead, they explained his actual, boring motivation by having him talk to himself – something that never happens before that scene, nor after. If that didn’t make it clear enough for you, they also have Dr. Connors’ recordings tell you his motivation again when Spidey finds the Lizard’s lair.
If you know a little bit about film-making, you know the golden rule is ‘show, don’t tell.’ Unfortunately, TASM has to tell us why the Lizard does what he does. Even then it only explains part of his actions (if he needed Spider-Man out of the way to gas the city, why does he proceed to do so after failing to off him? If he doesn’t need him out of the way, why did he attack him at school?). This was a major red flag when I saw it. Mystery villains aside, f you don’t think your villain’s motivation can be communicated without dead-pan explanation, well, you need to think harder about your villain until it can.
If you’ve read my article on Loki, you know that an engaging villain is just as important to the story as an engaging hero. So how can we make Connors’ transformation into the Lizard an engaging moment, not just a necessary plot development to give Spidey someone to fight? First, we need to identify what the Lizard’s motivation actually is: According to his internal monologues, he finds being the Lizard isn’t just about getting his arm back, it’s more satisfying and rewarding than being human in pretty much every way. He enjoys the thrill of being the Lizard, and figures everyone else will, too.
That’s a good starting point, but I don’t really think it would catapult someone to forcibly evolve the entire city against their will. I am of the belief that villainous deeds are the result of psychological insecurity; the Joker tries to break the minds of others to justify his own psychopathy, Magneto attempts to eradicate mankind to prevent the widespread abuse and slaughter of mutants he fears will come, and Loki tries to conquer Earth to assuage his bruised pride. What, then, could the Lizard’s villainous flaw be?
I think the most satisfying answer is already mentioned in the movie; outcasts. In the movie Connors talks about making the world one with no more outcasts. By adding a scene where he is rejected by those he loves/society, you set up his own desire to be accepted, his own insecurity, as the fuel for his villainous fire. Did you know that IMDB actually has a cast list for TASM which includes Martha and Billy Connors? Their scenes were deleted, but initially Connors had a family, and those are the perfect ones to reject him.*
So instead of trying desperately to catch up to that OsCorp guy on the bridge, have Connors volunteer to experiment on himself, thereby saving the hospital victims. He does it, it works, his arm is back, and OsCorp is a-buzz with his success. He goes home to his wife and child, who at first rejoice, but then he starts morphing into the Lizard. They are terrified and run away as he accidentally wreaks havoc to their home. He returns to OsCorp, causing a scene on the bridge on the way, perhaps, and asks the OsCorp corporate guy for help, but the suit says he’s blown it and has to be gotten rid of. In self-defense, Connors kills him. The commotion attracts others who scream and run away and call the police, and he has to flee to the sewers.
When he reverts to human form, Connors is grieving over his family’s abandonment, the rejection from OsCorp, and that he killed a man. He has become an object of horror, a monster. But it worked, he feels; his arm was healed, his strength and senses were increased tenfold, he had become a super-human being. They just couldn’t accept him; just like being seen as a cripple, he was now seen as a monster. If they could just feel the difference, everyone would accept him, even join him. And he would no longer be an outcast; he’d be a savior. Everyone would finally be equal; a world without outcasts.
Now, that sounds monologue-y, and you’d have to exposit this transition from pitiable grief and shock to obsessive resolution in a clever manner. The one that comes to my mind is a conversation with Peter, Spider-Man, or Gwen, perhaps, wherein they discuss being accepted; Spider-Man should be dealing with the fact that the police are after him and the Daily Bugle is making him out to be a menace, so it kind of comes up with Dr. Connors in human form. That’s not terribly creative, but it’s all I’ve got right now. If you’ve got a clever idea of how to make that twist, you should leave it in a reply.
So now Connors realizes he needs to Genali device the city, to jump-start evolution, and not let ignorance and fear stand in the way of progress any longer. From here the Lizard’s plot can ultimately get to the exact same place. But I have one more tidbit to add; once Connors realizes that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, he realizes that he’s another cross-species genetic…thing, like himself. He finds Peter initially not to kill him, but to recruit him; Peter is the only other soul who can understand the transformation he’s gone through, and the power it has brought him. He asks him to help him evolve mankind, but Peter refuses, probably due to something he learned from Uncle Ben/Capt. Stacy that ties into the power & responsibility theme. Again, leave a reply with your idea of how this conversation should go, it might just be awesome.
When Spider-Man rejects him and even calls him out for just trying to force everyone to accept him, he switches tactics and tries to lure him in with information about his father, but when that also fails, he decides the web-slinger is a liability and tries to kill him. He might even formulate a special spider-antidote serum that will neutralize his powers, and attack him with that during their final confrontation, upping the stakes there significantly.
Anyways, all of that, plus a better-designed CGI monster, would make the Lizard an engaging, memorable villain, like Doc Ock from SM2 or Joker from TDK, instead of the cliched, ultimately forgettable naked green man that we got.
Now, my last criticism is more of a generalization of all the others; thematic static. Amazing Spider-Man’s themes were just unclear too often; the power & responsibility theme was strong until it was suddenly dropped and not brought up again (whatever happened to Uncle Ben’s murderer?), right along with the ‘who am I?’ theme (what happened to the Lizard’s taunts about Peter’s parents from the trailer?), Gwen & Peter’s relationship was thematically hollow until the second half of the movie, and I’m not even sure what theme the Lizard was exploring (militant science, I suppose?).
Rather than this being a separate issue, I think it’s just the global effect of the screenwriters not knowing how to develop the story, scene by scene, towards the climax. It hangs over the film like an urban smog; sure each scene works really well on its own, but the lack of tight, long-term cohesion makes the whole thing ugly from a distance and uncomfortable to spend a lot of time in.
My hope for the sequel is that they pick compelling themes, set them up, develop them, and arrive at their conclusions with full momentum and impact the viewers. Which is just what I want out of every movie, especially one that takes itself so seriously as TASM. Also, Spider-Man’s jokes. Those need serious help.