Friday, November 9, 2012

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN - REVIEW

The Amazing Spider-Man
July 3, 2012
136 min
United States (English)

Directed by Marc Webb
Written by Steve Kloves, Alvin Sargent & James Vanderbilt


Here we have another take at the Spider-Man origin story which absolutely sizzles with its romance, sometimes succeeds in superhero action, but gets snagged in its shortcomings. At its best moments the film almost lives up to its haughty name, "The Amazing Spider-Man."

I've not read nor listened to any singular review of "The Amazing Spider-Man" that did not mention the Sam Raimi directed trilogy also from this young 21st-Century. How can you not? Those are still oh-so fresh in all of our minds. They were mega blockbuster hits, extra-large sized movies on the menus of our multiplexes, each beating the opening weekend box office records of the one before it and surely responsible for this resurgence of superhero movies that currently has no end in sight. I for one had fond memories of the first and the second "Spider-Man" movies of the trilogy and even held some appreciation of the widely-despised third (revisiting all three early this year has certainly changed some of my opinions). 

I make mention of this at the onset of my analysis of "The Amazing Spider-Man" because it had a lot going against it and a lot to live up to, perhaps most of all to prove that this project was more than just a cash grab. Director Marc Webb, hot off of his Sundance hit "(500) Days of Summer," had a great responsibility, but did he have the power (a reverse of Peter Parker's situation) to make a movie that would not be overshadowed by its predecessors. You and I and the rest of filmgoers all thought it was too soon for a "reboot," though "remake" might be a better term in this instance. There's a temptation to turn this into a compare/contrast of this film and "Spider-Man" from 2002, though that would probably merit its own feature. Can one go into a film like this with a blank slate? Should you (even try)? Those are questions worth discussing, but we cannot and probably ought not forget. This is why I've not read nor listened to any singular review of "The Amazing Spider-Man" that hasn't mentioned the trilogy.

Peter Parker is played by Andrew Garfield who caught nearly everybody's eye for playing one of the many perfect pieces in "The Social Network." Orphaned at a young age he was raised by his Aunt and Uncle and it isn't until high school that he begins to un-dust mysteries of his father's scientific studies. His father worked with Dr. Curt Conners on laboratory work that combined human DNA with that of various animals in an attempt to cure illnesses and defects. A quiet moment where Conners (played by Rhys Ifans) looks in the mirror at his stump of an arm hits us over the head with why this work is important to him.

Parker ends up meeting Dr. Conners and uses a formula left from his dad to prove useful in the lab, where he just so happens to be bitten by a radioactive spider. Yes, the film has to jump through all the hoops of this origin story that we already know so well, leading up to an inciting incident ignited by what happens to Uncle Ben. You may find yourself waiting for the film to show you something new when a brief but brilliant last confrontation between Peter and his Uncle deeply resonated with me. "The Amazing Spider-Man" manipulated my emotions so easily from the fun as Peter started discovering his abilities to the anguish he feels when he has nobody to turn to for help. The story is already classic: high school nerd by day / city-saving web-slinger by by night. He's Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can.

Peter is mildly dorky, but attractive enough that you could understand why there are instantaneous sparks, though enshrouded by an appropriate amount of teenage awkwardness, between him and Gwen Stacey. She is played by Emma Stone, a former up-and-comer who has now secured her foothold in the Hollywood hills. To my pleasant surprise she is hotter than ever as a blonde. I found myself raving about Garfield and Stone's chemistry after the movie and rooting for the everlastingness of their relationship (seriously, what did this movie do to me?). Later Nancy told me they were dating in real life and I smiled. On or off the screen, these two are star-crossed and irresistible together.

Girlfriend? Check. All that's needed is a super villain to give Spider-Man a challenge worthy of a feature film. Lizard is the one and only this time around (thank goodness they didn't go overboard). The first sequence with him wreaking havoc on a bridge results in Spider-man's daring and memorable rescue mission of a little boy. This and a later scene where the city returns the favor to aid Spidey's quick access to Lizard as he threatens the entire city are admittedly sappy, but worked for me. I could see both in a comic book and felt they were translated well to the screen.

Because Spider-man is conveniently all "suited up" when in character his presence is diminished to an onscreen CGI avatar during nearly all action scenes, something that Christoper Nolan for example never needs to resort to in his commendable Dark Knight trilogy. It looks fine enough but when Lizard shows up the subterfuge is practically see-through. Their romp through Peter's high-school is probably the highlight though and features one of the best Stan Lee cameos I've ever seen.

Something that was rather apparent is the way the story skips along without much consideration. It felt like there were many scenes left on the cutting room floor as the final product was already over two hours long. For "the untold story of Spider-Man" there wasn't a lot new. Furthermore, missed opportunities like Peter's photography make bewildering short appearances that amont to nothing. The film came out on DVD and Blu-ray today so now we can finally find out what was scrapped and why.

"The Amazing Spider-Man" is one of the few films of the year that I've seen twice and in 3D both times. On that note I'll quickly add that the sequences with Spidey slinging and swinging his way over New York have never been better. The underused first-person shots are exhilarating! While this re-start is not without its missteps, I had fun with "The Amazing Spider-Man," which offers a good time and a lot of heart.





★★★½

CONTENT: sequences of action and violence

Updated 11/11/11

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