5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars5 stars

Friday, July 13, 2012


            I will confess; I was not a fan of Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy. The first movie was all right; the second movie – despite the critical acclaim – felt too much like a telenovela that I couldn't properly enjoy; and the third movie… well, we can all agree that movie was an incomprehensible mess of CGI and not much more. Comparisons between the old and the new are inevitable - it has only been five years since the Spiderman 3 fiasco - but I will try to avoid them and speak for The Amazing Spiderman as a stand-alone film.

           With that in mind, The Amazing Spiderman is a highly enjoyable film. You feel a sense of déjà-vu through out it, not necessarily because it is a rebooted Spiderman, but because since then, we have grown accustomed to the origin story of superheros. In effect, "been-there-seen-that" is the best way to describe The Amazing Spiderman. But think about all the things you've done and seen and enjoyed more the second time; I bet there are quite a few instances. The Amazing Spiderman is like that. You have seen it but are thankful that enough has changed that you can still enjoy. More attention has placed to detail, and the back-story is extended and made deeper, and best of all, Peter Parker is actually interesting even before he becomes Spiderman. Against all odds there are still some refreshing moments in the film.

           The film opens with Peter Parker as a kid living with his parents – who are still alive. His father works for some top-secret-something-something regarding spiders. One night someone breaks into their house and steals his father’s work. In a rush Peter’s parents leave him with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and mysteriously disappear afterwards. We flash-forward to high school age Peter (Andrew Garfield), who has grown up to be the lovable misfit that will one day become Spiderman. This time around Parker has been given a much-needed update; while still a misfit who can’t talk to girls, he is more likely to bully the bullies than to be the bully’s victim. And once he gets his powers, Peter treats New York like a giant skate-park; this version of Peter/Spidey isn’t above taking chances, showing off and pulling stunts to impress the girl he likes.

 The girl is Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). Gwen – who was reduced to a second rate love interest to make MJ jealous in the last incarnation - is pluckier than any of her predeceasing love interests. Like Pepper Potts in Iron Man, she takes a much more active role in Peter/Spidey's life and misadventures. Gwen becomes Peter/Spidey's confidant and partner in crime. And because it just so happens to be that her father (Dennis Leary) is the chief of police, Gwen faces the moral dilemma between obeying her father, the public face of law and order, and dating the most wanted vigilante in New York City. Her relationship with Peter/Spidey is much more complex - and fun - than the simple melodrama of a girlfriend who doesn't want to share his boyfriend with the life he lives.

To their praises, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have the ideal chemistry of two cupid struck teenagers, which lies somewhere between absolutely none and just perfect. The funniest conversation in the film occurs when Peter asks Gwen out for the first time; my best guess is that it wasn’t in the script because not a single coherent word was uttered. But we have all been there - déjà-vu. Peter and Gwen bond over their love for science, their hate for bullies, and their utter inability to speak to each other. If we take out the spandex and mutating lizards this could have been Mark Webb's follow up to (500) Days of Summer. 

            Outside the Peter and Gwen relationship the plot runs pretty much on autopilot. Parallel to Spiderman’s origin story, there is the story of how a mad scientist, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) becomes the super-villain known as The Lizard. Connors lost his right arm and attempts to regenerate by injecting himself crossbred lizard genes. It obviously doesn’t go quite the way he expected after he overdoses on lizard juice. This raises the question: do mad scientists ever read a comic book, or go see a movie? Injecting oneself with lizard genes has never goes right in fiction, why even try it?

By the end, the crazed out lizard scientist and the hero face off in a climatic battle atop New York’s tallest skyscraper – Oscorp Tower in Marvel’s universe.* Despite this being Marc Webb’s first large budget action flick, it is clear he understands that action must be slowed down to be fully enjoyed by the audience. The final action sequence is rather graceful, shorter and more fun that the current tendency to drag them out for a good half-hour. This time around Spiderman also seems to carry weight and move in accordance to the laws of physics. unlike the pervious incarnation, which limited by the CGI of its time, and improved over each sequel, always seemed bounce around as if weightless. A funny nod to the nerds who point out such things appears while Parker learns to use his new-found strength.

So all in all The Amazing Spiderman is an entirely enjoyable movie. That it suffers from being made so close to the previous incarnation is expected. Something like the Hulk reboot, where we jump directly into the next adventure instead of seeing the origins once again might have worked better. Though I understand it might have been more confusing since the film needed to establish that certain characters are still alive or not yet in Peter/Spidey’s life. But, I do look forward to se where the series will be taken and expect the sequels divert more form their predecessors.

            Finally, for those who believe that Hollywood has run out of ideas with the amount of reboots, sequels, and franchising that has been going on over the last decade, please remember that this is nothing new. Different versions of the same story have existed since Urrk and Grrr the cavemen debated over who killed the largest mammoth over a campfire; Urrk claimed he did but Grrr disagreed, yet everyone thought they were telling the same story and accused Grrr of plagiarism. Urrk proceeded to become the archetype of the hero - later he sued Heracles and Hercules, Odysseus and Ulysses and many others for stealing the show. A few millennia afterwards, multiple gospels were written about the life of Jesus of Nazareth; the Church settled on four versions as cannon but even these four versions contradict each other as much as the Original Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe do. Centuries later The Office was adapted for American audiences, and Everybody Loves Raymond was exported to Russia as Everybody Loves Kostya. Yet, even if the retelling of stories has remained a constant the world has changed so much since the release of the first SPiderman in 2001 - and that incarnation was so nostalgic towards the Silver Age - that a reboot, while totally unnecessary, is also very welcomed in my book.**

* Side note: New York in the Marvel universe’s New York must be one interesting place. Almost every day a fight goes on at the top of one of its skyscrapers. But aside from those that exist in reality, this New York has Oscorp Tower, Stark Tower, the Fantastic-Four Tower, the Triskellion and quite a few others. How can all the mad scientists afford the real estate in Manhattan? They all seem to be working in the arms development industry; shouldn't competition drive their prices and net gain down.
** For a list of all the things that have changed since the G. W. Bush era, please refer to my review of A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas. In that case, a sequel set nine years after the original suffered for no longer being relevant to its times. 

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

Totally unnecessary re-boot, but it was still very fun and entertaining. Also, Garfield was a nice choice for Peter Parker even if I do miss Tobey Maguire just a tad bit. Just a tad, though. Good review JC.

Views and comments expressed by readers and guest contributors are not necessarily shared by the consistent team of THE MOVIE WATCH. This is a free speech zone and we will not censor guest bloggers, but ask that you do not hold us accountable for what they proclaim.