Sunday, July 1, 2012
Review: "The Amazing Spider-Man"
Let's just get this out of the way: no, there was absolutely no need for this reboot of the Spider-Man movie franchise. The first film came out just a decade ago, and the last one was a mere five years ago -- and was underwhelming at that.
From what I understand, "The Amazing Spider-Man" had to be made or the rights to the iconic comic book hero would've lapsed. As motivations go for spending a reported $220 million on a movie -- or even $220 -- it's a pathetically shabby one.
But that's the studio honchos. The filmmakers and cast, however, have attacked the material with pure hearts and dedication, and come up with a genuinely terrific super-hero movie.
(Of course, the studio bosses are the ones who hired the movie-makers, so let's give them that credit.)
The most obvious question people will have about this new version of Spider-Man is how it differs from the previous trilogy, starring Tobey Maguire and directed by Sam Raimi. Without giving too much away, the answer is: quite a bit.
This Spidey is more of a throwback to themes of the original comic books, in which young high school student Peter Parker is a socially outcast science whiz who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and finds he can climb walls, lift cars and sense impending danger. He's lost and shut off, especially after his wise father figure, Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), is killed by a robber Peter could have caught but chose not to.
Andrew Garfield's Peter is much more alienated than Maguire's relatively smooth and serene take. Garfield stammers, won't look others in the eyes and hunches his shoulders like he's trying to collapse into his torso.
His lady love isn't Mary Jane Parker, but Gwen Stacy, who's just as smart as him and is played by Emma Stone, one of the best actresses of her young generation. It's a bit of a mystery why a brainy, popular girl like her would fall for the nerdy Peter, but Stone offers little grace notes that help us feel the connection.
Director Marc Webb's only other feature film was the wonderful "(500) Days of Summer," which had approximately 1/30th the budget of this movie. It was a bold choice to pick him to helm a mega-budget production like this, but one that has paid lovely dividends.
Webb chooses to go light on the CGI to depict Spider-Man's web-slinging -- at least initially. For awhile, he's more akin to one of those parkour guys, bouncing around walls like an Olympic-grade gymnast. Webb lets us to see Peter slowly grow into his powers.
Another interesting change is the use of Spidey's webs. In the previous films, the web-slinger utilized them almost exclusively for locomotion, whereas here it's an integral part of his fighting style. Also notable is that they're not an organic part of his package of spider powers -- as many have pointed out, if it was then the webbing would come out of his butt instead of his wrists. Instead, it's a bit of technology that Peter "liberates" from a huge corporation and adapts for his own use.
That company is Oscorp, known from the other movies as the brainchild of Norman Osborn, aka Green Goblin, who is absent here. Instead, Oscorp's top scientist plays the heavy. Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) is a leading herpetologist looking to perform cross-species DNA splicing.
He has a very personal motivation: Connors wants to use the regenerative powers of reptiles to regrow his missing arm. After some mad scientist experimenting, he turns into the fearsome Lizard, full of scales and muscles, who soon tangles with Spidey.
Rounding out the cast are Sally Field as Peter's Aunt May, Irrfan Khan as an Oscorp toady and Dennis Leary as the stern police captain who views Spider-Man with contempt -- and also happens to be Gwen's father.
"The Amazing Spider-Man" does take a while to get going. Like an epic roller-coaster climbing that first big hill, the first 75 minutes or so carefully -- sometimes painstakingly -- build up the characters and the universe. But in a moment, you can feel the movie achieve takeoff. For the next hour, it's an amazing ride of action-scene thrills and visceral twists.
Even though I found the first section slow-going at times, I realized as I was watching the latter part that the movie had earned its emotional capital so it could pay off dividends.
Webb and his trio of veteran screenwriters -- James Vanderbilt, Steve Kloves and Alvin Sargent (who also penned the last two Spider-Man films) -- clearly are gearing up for another run of several movies. There's a vague framing story involving the disappearance of Peter's parents that tickles us with possibilities without giving anything away.
Based on this strong reboot, though, I hereby withdraw any objections to more Spidey flicks.
3.5 stars out of four