A film review by Craig J. Koban July 11, 2012
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
2012, PG-13, 136 mins.
2012, PG-13, 136 mins.
Spider-Man/Peter: Andrew Garfield /
Gwen: Emma Stone /
Lizard/Dr. Connors: Rhys Ifans /
Stacy: Denis Leary /
Uncle Ben: Martin Sheen /
Aunt May Sally Field
imagine that it's very difficult
for viewers – and many critics – of Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN trilogy
to divorce themselves from those films when it comes to embracing a new reboot of
the entire franchise. Too
many, for sure, have become preoccupied with notions of “it’s way too
soon” or “unnecessary” to retool a film series featuring Stan Lee
and Steve Ditko’s most cherished Marvel Comics super hero creation.
Yet, perhaps the best way to approach THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is to
simply disregard the fact that, yes, it’s a reboot and instead look at
it as a unique new film on its own. If you do just that, then you may be surprised – as I was – at
just how satisfyingly high this new Spidey effort soars – or should I
say swings – above and beyond our collective memories of the
decidedly mediocre SPIDER-MAN 3,
which ended that series with a thud instead of on a jubilant high note.
Reboots are hardly anything new: the critically lauded BATMAN BEGINS came just eight years after the disastrous BATMAN AND ROBIN; X-MEN: FIRST CLASS retrofitted the very recent X-MEN film saga on a innovative note; and CASINO ROYALE – one of the greatest of all James Bond films - came just a scant four years after the easily forgettable DIE ANOTHER DAY. What the makers of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN are doing here is not without precedent; in pure hindsight, labeling it as a “too soon” affair is a bit unjust.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN flirts with familiarity in terms of its central
origin tale, but where it becomes a rousing success is in how it subtly
tweaks and twists the already established Spidey canon and grounds the
character in a grittier, more emotionally resonating, and more agreeably
character driving blockbuster entertainment.
Perhaps even more so than any of the other previous SPIDER-MAN
films, this new one brings the high flying character down to earth and
focuses more on its human elements than on spectacle and CGI overkill.
Like the best remakes/reboots, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN takes old
material, honors it without lazily recycling it, and takes it in new
course, feelings of déjà vu are inevitable here.
The new story has many elements that we’ve seen before – but how
could it not without seeming like a bastardization of the enigmatic wall
crawler? There’s the
socially extroverted teen geek, hated by his peers and bullied by others;
the accidental bite from a mutated spider that grants the dweeb powers; the
discovery montage of him learning his extraordinary abilities; the moment
where a loved one is murdered indirectly because of his inaction to use
his powers to stop a criminal; the self-actualization of the mourning
young man to realize that his powers lead to a higher calling of “great
responsibility”; the creation of his spandex-covered alter-ego hero…and so on. All of this
is here in the new film.
the film battles its familiarity with its wonderfully spot-on casting, its
keen focus on character psychology and motivation, and its humanistic
spotlight of the man under the mask.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN offers up a new parental disappearance
mystery to young Peter Parker that provides, I think, a whole new set of
reasons as to why he explores becoming a hero in the first place.
In a tense opening scene, we see a pre-adolescent Peter lose his
parents not to death, but simply to their own self-imposed – and
questionable – abandonment. He
then comes into the care of Aunt May (a fine Sally Field) and Uncle Ben
(an equally fine Martin Sheen), that care for the boy into young adulthood
as best they can, seeing as he struggles with the "loss" of his parents
most of his life.
18-year-old Peter (THE SOCIAL NETWORK’s
Andrew Garfield, replacing Tobey Maguire) finds an old briefcase of his
father’s filled with scientific formulas that leads him to Oscorp and one
of its leading scientists, Dr. Curt Connors (the sly and finely modulated
Rhys Ifans) that – comic fans will know – is a one-armed researcher
that tries to find a way to regenerate lost limbs and cure diseases; his
serum eventually is tested on himself, which turns him into a humanoid
lizard. The film’s script
finds a compelling manner of bringing Peter and his parentage together
with the goals of the affable and caring doctor that eventually will turn
into a madmen. In the classic
tradition of super hero tales, the hero inadvertently brings on the
creation of the power hungry villain.
at Oscorp the inquisitive Peter takes a wrong turn into a secret
experimental lab, where, yup, he’s bitten and…you know the rest. Personal tragedy leads to his full development of his
superhero identity and concurrent to this is a sweet, well defined, and
most involving aspect of the film, Peter's awkward romancing of his
fellow classmate, Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) which hits stumbling blocks
beyond Peter keeping his masked adventuring ways a secret from her; he
also has a conflict with her father, Police Chief Stacey (Dennis Leary, an
off-centered and inspired casting choice), who eventually vows to bring
Spider-man - whom he thinks is a criminal vigilante - to justice.
the very first SUPERMAN, THE AMAZING
SPIDER-MAN does not rush to show us its hero too soon; the film is patient
and spends much of its first half developing its characters and honing in
on the human relationships. The
film gives time and space to the Parker/Stacey relationship in more
intrinsically moving and complex ways than the original films ever hinted
at with the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane Watson. The romance here is
stronger and more richly involving because greater emphasis has been placed on
the interplay between the young lovers.
Emma Stone in particular – so reliably perky, confident, radiant,
and droll in all of her roles – makes for a great substitute for Kristen
Dunst. That, and she totally
looks like a John Romita Sr. pinup come to life.
has been said of Garfield’s age (he’s 28) in regards to him playing a
teen; that’s a non-issue at best. He’s
blessed with young good looks and comes off as a believable teen filled
with angst (remember, Maguire was 26 when he donned the costume).
Physically, Garfield is more in tune with the original Ditko penciled
comic panels of Spidey: his thin and wiry frame is a natural look for the
how the hero was originally envisioned in the 1960's. Wisely,
Garfield never goes to duplicate the love-sick, puppy dog do-gooder
mentality of Maguire’s Parker, but rather makes the role his own by
creating a shy, introverted, but resourceful, intelligent, smart-assed,
and frequently arrogant protagonist.
His Parker is less a book-wormy nerd than he is a sweet-tempered,
but misunderstood loner and rebel with a reckless undercurrent.
This film’s Spider-man is not a dark hero (he’s still cheeky
and fun), but the world he resides in is a grungier and more dangerous
place of hostile menace; he’s still a colorful personality, albeit in a
Webb may seem like the least likely choice to helm a big budget super hero
bonanza like this; he last made the low-budgeted (500)
DAYS OF SUMMER, which I thought was one of the best romcoms in many
years. In pure hindsight,
though, he is an inspired directorial choice.
The reason, I think, that we are drawn into the film is because of
how he gets thanklessly lived-in and believable performances from all of his
actors amidst the backdrop of extraordinary events.
He infuses a thoughtfulness into the individual characters so that
they just don't stand out like props.
This SPIDER-MAN still looks awfully good (the production
design and visual effects are all Oscar grade) and Webb wisely shot the
film in 3D for 3D consumption and didn’t hastily unconvert
it after the fact. The action
scenes pitting grotesque villain and intrepid hero have a kinetic clarity
and moments of Spidey spinning his web and swinging through the streets of
New York have a believable sense of weight and gravity that the largely
pixalized and rubbery superhero in Raimi’s films never really had.
new SPIDER-MAN is not completely without flaws: the underlining mystery of
what happened to Peter’s parents is not nearly as compulsively enticing
as it should be considering that it was a well advertised addition to this
reboot. The Lizard's end-game of
turning the whole city into versions of himself seems to lack practicality
and a plausible motivation. And, uh huh, there’s a lot of
what transpires in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN's origin plot that we’ve seen
before. Yet, the film’s
look, tone, casting choices, and sincere performances make this new
Spidey venture feel revitalizing and novel.
It might be impossible for most to get Raimi’s films out of their
minds while watching Webb’s incarnation (SPIDER-MAN
2 still remains the best of the Spidey films), but I for one found myself
immersed in it in ways that I was frankly not expecting.
This isn’t the masterfully comic book reboot that was BATMAN
BEGINS, but it’s surprisingly close.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
And, for what it's worth, his ranking of the SPIDER-MAN films:
1. SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004)
2. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012) 1/2
3. SPIDER-MAN (2002)
4. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014) 1/2
5. SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007) 1/2