Monday, July 16, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

I'm about as big a fan as Spider-Man as they come. I've read close to every issue of Spider-Man ever published. Not just The Amazing Spider-Man comic, but also the various other titles, Spectacular Spider-Man, Web of Spider-Man, blah blah blah. As a kid, my mom had my uncle paint a picture of Spider-Man on my bedroom wall. It was awesome.

When Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man movie came out a decade ago, I saw it three times on opening weekend. I know it was a flawed movie, but Sam Raimi got so much right, and even more right the second time around. Well, I guess I feel the same way about Marc Webb's reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man. Despite many plot holes and flaws in the narrative, he got a lot right, including some things that Raimi didn't. And I hope this movie might pave the way to an even better sequel.

The broad strokes of the origin have stayed the same: Peter Parker is a quiet high school kid, who gets bitten by a spider in a science lab that imbues him with spider powers. He is inspired to fight crime when he loses his Uncle Ben through an act of his own negligence. There are some slight alterations, but for the most part, nothing too surprising happens. Now Peter's parents are involved in his origin. His father's work as a scientist is somehow tied to his powers. How, we don't know yet, I suppose it will havve to wait until the sequel.

What I really liked about The Amazing Spider-Man was the cast and their performances. Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker/Spider-Man isn't much like Tobey Maguire's at all. I like aspects of both of them. Garfield's is a little more believable as a high school teen, rather than Maguire's more dweeby, classical geek. He's a lot more angsty and, you know, going through teen things. In fact, he stays a teen all the way through the movie, unlike the Raimi version, who is done with high school within the first hour of the first movie.

Emma Stone plays Peter's love interest, Gwen Stacy. I was worried she would just play the role as Mary Jane with blond hair, but she did great. She was Gwen Stacy. She even looks like an old John Romita drawing. She and Garfield were great together, and by the end of the movie, I was totally into the romance between the two of them. One of my favorite scenes was when Peter fumbles through asking her out on a date.

Martin Sheen and Sally Field play Uncle Ben and Aunt May. They get a lot more screen time this time around, which I thought was nice, because they both do great. Denis Leary is really good as Captain George Stacy, Gwen's father, a cop on Spider-Man's trail. Rhys Ifans' Curt Conners/The Lizard is adequate, but from what I've seen online, his character suffered a lot of cutting and re-editing.

Some things I didn't like as much as Raimi's version. Obviously, the familiar origin scenes didn't feel very fresh the second time around. There's no real sense of awe or excitement in the web swinging, since we've already seen it so much before. I preferred Raimi's bright color scheme and comic booky, more comedic tone. I don't mind the slightly more muted, realistic take on the world, though. They've done it both ways in the comics over the years, and there's room for both in movies too.

There are also too many ticking digital clocks in the movie's finale. That's par for the course for this kind of movies, I guess, but what really bothered me was the lady's voice on the computer telling us how much time is left. The lady announcing how much time is left at the very end seemed especially forced, as it was coming out of some device that The Lizard rigged together. Why would he give it that voice?

During the credits, they try to do the post-movie sequel tease now expected at the end of superhero movies. When done correctly, like all the Avengers teases, they get everybody talking. (OMG THAT'S NICK FURY!) (THOR'S HAMMER!) (THANOS!!!) But this one doesn't work at all. I won't spoil it, but it's nothing very interesting, so, you know, don't get your hopes up for that post credits scene. I guess we'll just have to rely on the actual movie's merits to get us excited for a sequel.

As for the complaint that it's too soon for a reboot, I suppose that's probably true, but they tend to update and retell the origin in the comics every decade or so, too. There have been a lot of different versions and takes on Spider-Man over the years in all kinds of different styles, and this is just one more. I can live with it.

Overall, I thought The Amazing Spider-Man was pretty good, but not as good as the Raimi movies when they were at their heights (half of part 1 and all of part 2). The cast really elevated this movie for me. I'll be happy to watch Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, and Sally Field in future installments, and I look forward to meeting the new Mary Jane Watson, Norman and Harry Osborn, and maybe J. Jonah Jameson. There's a lot of groundwork in place for them to knock it out of the park next time. I hope they pull it off.

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