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Movie review: The not so Amazing Spider-Man

July 3, 2012 4:04pm
When the first trailers for “The Amazing Spider-Man” hit the theaters last year, it was difficult not to call into question the necessity of a reboot so soon after the original blockbuster trilogy. Granted, “Spider-Man 3’s” quality was nowhere near that of the decent original film or its spectacular sequel, but neither was it anywhere near the franchise killer that Schumacher’s “Batman and Robin” was. Regardless of the reason (in a word: money), the “Amazing Spider-Man” is here, and the only question that matters is whether or not the film is any good. 
 
Andrew Garfield plays a 21st century version of Peter Parker, portraying him as a skateboard-riding, self-imposed loner who, between the film in his camera and the “Rear Window” poster on his wall, has more in common with today’s hipsters than the nerdy interpretations of old. He pines after classmate Gwen Stacy, played here to pitch perfection by Emma Stone as the girlfriend any superhero would be proud to have, with wit and brains to spare.

Emma Stone plays Gwen Stacy as the girlfriend any superhero would be proud to have, with wit and brains to spare.
The main plot of the film follows Peter’s transformation into Spider-Man and his blossoming romance with Gwen. For all of Parker’s brilliance and Gwen’s obviously being the subject of his affection for some time, he is surprised to discover that she is working for the top geneticist in the city, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who once was the partner of Peter’s father. It has been 15 years since Peter’s parents disappeared, and Connors is still toiling away on a formula that would allow humans to acquire the abilities of other species (like, say, spiders or lizards), with his ultimate goal being the regeneration of his lost right arm. His secondary goal is restoring the health of his unseen employer, Norman Osborn. 
 
Meanwhile, Gwen’s father, Police Captain George Stacy (Dennis Leary), is on the hunt for Spider-Man, believing him to be a dangerous vigilante. Naturally, things come to a head when Connor’s experiments go awry, transforming him into a giant, delusional lizard creature that threatens the city.
 
The Lizard goes on a rampage through New York
Media hype leading up to “The Amazing Spider-Man’s” release made much of a “big reveal” regarding the secret past of Peter’s parents, as though it were something everybody was clamoring to know. Let’s be perfectly clear here: Spider-Man, like Superman, is one of the world’s most popular literary characters, so if you’re going to redo his classic origin in the face of Raimi’s quintessential take on it, you’d better be bringing something new to the table.
 
Unfortunately, what’s new here isn’t enough to save a weak script peppered with holes that are both too big and too numerous to ignore.

The choice to anchor the film on the love between two young people, Peter and Gwen, is inspired, but handled too ineptly for it to be actually touching. That this narrative falls short is somewhat surprising when one considers that director Mark Webb’s last film was the touching character study of young people in love, “500 Days of Summer.” Where that film’s greatest strength lay in its dialogue, this one is content to rely on predictable one-liners and heavy-handed sentiment, coasting along on Garfield and Stone’s effortless chemistry. 
 
The filmmakers’ lack of respect for the audience’s intelligence plagues the entire film. At one point, when the mutated Connors goes on a rampage, it leads the mayor to call for the emergency evacuation of Manhattan. We are shown scenes of massive traffic jams and panicking citizens; but, apparently, city-wide evacuations don’t apply to construction workers, as literally every single one in the city is just standing by, available and willing to take orders from a single crane operator from another building site so they can lend crucial assistance to our intrepid webslinger.

Garfield looks more naturally athletic in the suit than Tobey Maguire ever did, lending credibility to the well-choreographed fights and wall crawling sequences.
 
Visually, aside from some spotty editing during key action sequences, the techniques used to bring Spider-Man to life here are, okay let's admit it, amazing. Garfield looks more naturally athletic in the suit than Tobey Maguire ever did, lending credibility to the well-choreographed fights and wall crawling sequences. Where previous films had a cartoonish, CGI look to Spider-Man swinging through the city, in this film, he has perceptible weight and heft to his movements.

Sadly, whatever upgrades Spidey’s gotten aren’t reflected in his nemesis, The Lizard, who looks too artificial to ever be taken seriously. But then again, if you believe a one-armed scientist could set up a fully-equipped laboratory in the city’s sewers by himself, you’ll believe anything.
 
Strong literary characters are very much open to multiple interpretations: Batman, Sherlock Holmes, and James Bond are prime examples. Such reinvention, however, should not be at the expense of making them unrecognizable from their original incarnations, lest people forget what they loved about the characters in the first place.
 
Andrew Garfield plays a 21st century version of Peter Parker.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” tries so hard to differentiate itself from the trilogy that came before. It goes so far as to change Spidey’s raison d'être, with wildly uneven results.
 
The most jarring revision is the manner in which Uncle Ben’s death is handled. Here, the extremely contrived event is presented as the result of dumb, bad luck, rather than inaction by Peter. Originally, this is the result of our young hero having been intoxicated with the feeling of self-importance his new abilities brought him. It is one of comics’ most time-honored, painful lessons, that “with great power comes great responsibility” and thus leading him to use his powers for good. Here, Garfield’s Parker becomes Spider-Man out of a desire for vengeance; a brooding vigilante of the night. That may be all well and good, but Spider-Man isn’t Batman.
 
And it doesn’t even really matter, as any thirst for vengeance is quite literally forgotten by both the hero and the filmmakers when Parker goes on his first date with Gwen Stacy. As attractive a prospect as kissing Emma Stone may be, Uncle Ben’s death, amateurishly depicted as it is here, is reduced to a throwaway moment, quickly forgotten and only kept in the script as an obligation, rather than an actual plot point.
 
Now, if the main characters can’t be bothered to care, why should we? — DVM, GMA News

Photos courtesy of Columbia Pictures




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