Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

Seeing as Spider-Man is my favorite super hero and altogether one of my favorite comic book characters, the blockbuster movies based on him are always a special occasion to me. On the one hand, I may be extremely difficult to entirely satisfy. I will find gripes, small and major, from comparing the film to the long legacy of comics I have read and cartoons that I've seen. On the other, I'm willing to forgive a stupidity or two if I'm entertained enough. After all, it's Spider-Man! So I've enjoyed Sam Raimi's Spider-Trilogy (yes, even Part Three, warts and all), but in no way did I find them to be the ultimately perfect cinematic representations of the character. There was a lot of room for improvement. But still, I perhaps wouldn't have pressed the Reboot button so fast.

There were several reasons why Sony had to reboot the Spider-Man franchise. The film had to be made fast, as Studio executives want to churn out the sort of films that are popular at the moment. As The Avengers have already shown this year, super heroes are as high-flying as ever. Waiting could mean the fad fades away or turns to something else. Sitting on a franchise-cow could also mean Marvel (and Disney) could start a bid to acquire the rights to the character back, which is every studio's worst nightmare.

Several of the choices made by Sam Raimi made sure that the franchise would be hard to follow after him. Essentially, Raimi the same mistake as the comics – they made Peter Parker too old. If the same storyline would've gone on for the fourth film would have had to feature the wedding between Peter parker and Mary Jane Watson, which isn't something romance hungry teenagers really want to see. Raimi was also notoriously adamant to have the villains he wanted, which were not the most easily marketable ones. Kids probably wouldn't have bought John Malkovich -looking Vulture Pez-dispensers and toy cars.

So while this is a wholly corporate investment (as, well, all summer blockbusters tend to be), Sony had the good sense to choose (500) Days of Summer's Marc Webb as the director. This would ensure that the film wouldn't be a soulless money-grabber but a romance action/adventure with a comedic twinkle in its eye, that appeals to the kids. And boy, does the film want to appeal. This is a film about secrets and the sins of the fathers in the way of Harry Potter, that intends to unfold the whole story in the ensuing films (and possibly spinoffs). And at it's center is a forbidden romance in the vein of Twilight, between a accident-prone vigilante and the bookwormish daughter of a Police captain.

But let's start at the beginning. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) in this incarnation is more a Marty McFly -type individual rather than a nerd. He digs science and photography, and is awkward with girls, but also likes skateboarding, and only gets in trouble with the bullies when he stands up to the bigger dweebs getting humiliated. Peter lives with his elderly Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Fields). As his important scientist parents have disappeared and found dead when he was just a small boy, they try as hard as they can to bring Peter up to be a good man. They don't actually say "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility" in this one, but they are hard-pressed to find a suitable substitute for it. They do try, and speak almost entirely in fortune cookie wisdoms.

Attempting to find out more about his late father, Peter meets his old work partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Connors is a head scientist at the major corporation of Oscorp, studying genetic transformation to enhance the human genomes. The visit also deepens Peter's relationship with the beautiful and smart young Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who is Connors' lab's head intern. After curiously stepping behind a closed door, Peter gets bitten by a genetically altered spider, and you can probably remember what that means. He starts to develop strange, spider-like powers, but doesn't find good use for them. Only when Uncle Ben is killed by a shoplifter (you can't say this is a spoiler of any kind), he starts a personal vendetta to find the culprit and to capture every small-time crook in New York. Gwen's father Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) vows to bring the vigilante known as Spider-Man to justice.

This plot recap takes about an hour of screen time and it is quite boring to sit through. For an action movie, we have to wait excruciatingly long for something new or exciting to happen. And the first people Spider-Man (or rather, Parker) fights are just some random bums at the subway that don't even seem that threatening. I honestly can't figure out why they have to pan out the origin for so long, as the basics could've easily been shown during the opening credits (like in The Incredible Hulk) and start with a fresh plate. The film comes dangerously close to failing altogether in the start, the only upside being the supercute and talented Emma Stone, who also has good chemistry with Andrew Garfield. They really don't sell themselves as nerdy teenagers (although the awkward date-invitations and such ring true), but they are a lot better main couple than Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. Stone's exceptional acting abilities, whether comedic parent-eviction or a teary-eyed lover confrontation, also shine brightly.

As a Spider-Fan there were several things I would've wished Raimi would have delivered better. The producers have heard fans and changed some sources of their gripes. These range from small (Spidey now builds his own web-shooters) to a little bigger (a little more quips while fighting, although most of them have already been shown in trailers). My favorite change, however, is that Spidey is now a vigilante that beats crooks in narrow alleys and is hunted by the police. I've always liked that even though he did as much good as he could, Spider-Man as a hero was never trusted by all of the citizens (the parents and the elderly especially) nor the major institutions such as the news media or the police. This misunderstanding was a major draw to the character back when I was a pre-teen.

The film starts to pick up steam once the familiarities have been dealt with. Spidey doesn't just fight the police, of course. Curt Connors is another one of those friendly, fatherly scientists who has an experiment go wrong and is turned into a monster. The vengeful monster then is bent on destroying all of New York. If it is repetitive in the films, it's just because they are so faithful to the comics. However, I'm glad that The Lizard isn't just a slobbering giant beast, but capable of speech, thought and a nefarious plot to create more lizard-men. The Ditko-like appearance where he has a face yet also a creepy wide lizard-mouth also works better than all the pointy noses and sharp teeth of the world. Connors' boss, Norman Osborn, is kept in the shadows for now, but will no doubt return for one of the sequels.

The action is quite good, as Spidey's web-slinging looks way more realistic now than 10 years ago. The scrap between The Lizard at Peter's high school, which goes through walls and to the ceiling and back, and makes good use of Spidey's webbing, is the second-best big screen Spidey fight after the train-fight with Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2. It's also nice that Gwen has a lot of important things to do as well. She is Spidey's confidant, rather than just the MacGuffin that needs to be reached. Hey, a sidekick is a noticeable upgrade for the main female part from "screaming supervillain target"!

The ending brings the plot threads of this film together, although it once again reminds of some of Raimi's initial film's choices. It also doesn't take long before the film is setting up the plot for the next in line for the franchise machine. The mid-credits extra scene is already a trope of super hero movies. This time it is a way too vague one. I want to see the next film's villain like in The Avengers, dammit! Not just some vague promises about how we shall dwell more to the back story in the next film, while there wasn't much about it in this one anyway. The Untold Story? Yeah maybe, but it isn't this one.


USA, 2012
Language: English
Director: Marc Webb

Screenplay: James Vanderbildt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves
Cinamatography: John Schwartzman
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Denis Leary, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Fields


+ Good cast, who works well with each other
+ Visually closer to John Romita than Steve Ditko, which is a step forward
+ Gets better as it goes along
+ Several exciting action scenes
+ Vigilantism
+ Emma Stone!
- Tedious first hour of boredom and clock-watching while the film treads paths already walked
- A little too eager to please young cinema-goers
- No wrestling (except a little allusion where Spidey invents his mask from a luchador)
- No J. Jonah Jameson (or J.K. Simmons for that matter)
- No Bruce Campbell

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