“The Amazing Spider-Man” — A Slice of SciFi Review

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Before I discovered Star Trek or Doctor Who, there was Spider-Man. I fell in love with the character from his appearances on the Electric Company and was an avid comic book collector in my younger days with a large portion of my collection devoted to the web-slinger.  And during all that time of collecting and loving Spider-Man, I always heard rumors that a movie based on the hero was just around the corner.

Turns out that corner took close to two decades before it was turned, but when it was, I was more than pleased by the results.  The original Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man was everything I wanted from a film adaptation of my favorite super-hero and a few years later Spider-Man 2 became the gold standard by which I judge all other comic book movies.  Sure Spider-Man 3 was a bit of a letdown, but I’m one of the few who will defend portions of the film and see how it could have been better had the studio stepped back and let Raimi follow his vision for the franchise instead of forcing certain decisions on him and the script.

So, I’ll admit that when it came time to see The Amazing Spider-Man, I was both optimistic and pessimistic about the whole thing.  On the one hand, I was eager to see a new cast and crew’s take on my favorite super-hero.  On the other hand, I wasn’t exactly eager to experience another origin story movie nor was I certain this set of filmmakers could capture lighting in a bottle again like the Raimi trilogy did.

And that’s the biggest thing working against The Amazing Spider-Man.  No matter how you feel about the Raimi films, there will be inevitable comparisons between the two takes on the super hero.

But give director Mark Webb and his star Andrew Garfield a lot of credit–they had some big shoes to fill and, for the most part, they do.   While the Raimi films captured the spirit of the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko/John Romita days of Spider-Man, Webb and Garfield channel the vibe of the popular Ultimate Spider-Man comic series that’s been running since the late 90′s.

In Amazing Spider-Man, Parker is still a high school outsider, but he’s got a bit more of an edge to him.   A science whiz who skateboards and is a bit of a loner, all while pining for Gwen Stacy, Garfield’s work as Peter is the strongest selling point of the film.   It’s nice to see that Garfield and Webb allow Spider-Man to retain his signature witty banter in the film, something that was missing at times in the Raimi version.

Garfield is  helped by a strong cast of characters around him, including Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben, Sally Field as Aunt May and Denis Leary as Captain Stacy, but a lot of the movie falls on Garfield’s shoulders and he’s more than up to the task.  It helps that he shares some great on-screen chemistry with Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy.   Stone also does solid work here and it helps that the script makes Gwen more than just the screaming female victim that Spider-Man has to save throughout the film.

Of course, the first third of the film is tied up with the familiar origin story, though there are  a few twists thrown in to keep things feeling fresh.  It’s once Peter gets his powers that things pick up a bit.   Tying the origin and creation of Spider-Man to that of the Lizard works fairly well and Rhys Ifans gets to chew a lot scenery as Dr. Curt Connors aka the Lizard.   It’s nice that the franchise has returned to the focus on one threat to Spider-Man in the film (though there are hints of a larger threat lurking in the background as the movie is clearly working to set up a franchise).

In many ways, this film feels like it could be to the Spider-Man universe what Batman Begins was to the Batman universe.  And if that’s the case, I have high hopes for a second installment.   (And make sure you stay through the credits because there is a teaser for the next film in there).

However, while I liked Amazing Spider-Man, I still can’t say I loved it the same way I did the original entry.   Amazing is so focused on Peter and Gwen that we don’t get much time to really develop some of the colorful supporting characters from the Spidey universe that I came to know and love reading the comics.

It will probably take a second or third viewing of Amazing Spider-Man before I can really say whether I loved it or not.  In a summer of high profile comic book movies, it’s not as much movie-going fun as The Avengers and it’s not likely to be as dark as The Dark Knight Rises will be.  As a reboot, it has its merits and it’s a nice reset for the franchise.

If you’re wondering whether or not to check out the film in 3-D, I can say it’s hit or miss.  The point of view sequences (two short ones) of Spidey using his powers are nicely done and certainly the 3-D doesn’t detract from the film.  But I don’t see that it necessarily is essential to enjoy the film or adds a whole lot to the experience.  And if you’ve got the IMAX option with the higher ticket price, which is how I saw the film, it’s certainly not essential but it’s nice if you want to pay a bit more for optimum image and sound.  Of course, it goes without saying that an IMAXed Emma Stone is a good thing, but that’s more a personal preference based on my fan-boy crush on Stone.

Comments

  1. And I really think that this movie does a lot of things better than the Raimi movies. Here’s just a few:

    1 Andrew Garfield is a much better Peter Parker (and Spider-Man): Garfield just IS Peter Parker, combining the geekiness, charm, scientific brilliance, humour and sense of responsibility that define Peter Parker in a way that captures the essence of the character much better than Maguire ever did. Toby was great but he was a bit bland. And as Spider-Man, the Raimi characterization lacked the humour and spark of the comics, while this version perfectly captures the classic Spidey banter – part cockiness, part false- bravado, part distraction to keep his foes off guard.

    2 Emma Stone is a better love interest as Gwen Stacy: Now I love Mary Jane as much as the next guy. And I really like Kirsten Dunst. But She wasn’t a great MJ. Like Maguire she was a bit bland, which is a pity because MJ is supposed to be anything but bland. Whereas Emma Stone’s portrayal of Gwen Stacy was wonderful, showing her to be smart, charming, witty, courageous and just adorable.

    3 The relationships are more believable: The central relationship between Peter and Gwen is significantly more believable and deep than that between Peter and MJ in the Raimi movies. Webb’s track record as a director of indie romance movies (which I have not seen!) shows in a movie in which the central love story is as interesting and engaging as the superheroics. And its not just the love story. Some critics have noted that this movie moves a little slowly in telling the origin story as compared to the Raimi movie. This is true, but not only does it do it well, but in doing so it allows for the characters to be better realized than in the previous version. In particular Uncle Ben, played wonderfully by Martin Sheen, get a lot more screen time so you get more time to get to know him and care about him before his inevitable demise and you feel that loss much more.

    4 The villain is better: OK, so the lizard doesn’t look exactly like he does in the comics, but that’s probably a good thing. And he looks a lot better than the Green Goblin in Spiderman 1, who frankly looked silly. And while there are some similarities between the two villains – both are mentors to Peter, both have a split personalities and a dark side that gets the better of them – Rhys Ifans ( and the movie script) portrays a more nuanced character than did Willem Defoe’s Green Goblin.

    5 Things that early reviewers criticized as loose ends have now been are clearly plot threads for the now confirmed trilogy. I am eager to find out about the fate of Peter’s parents and how it relates to his powers and to Norman Osborne, and probably lots of other things I won’t realize are connected until they are revealed in a later movie. And I like the fact that they are taking their time with things. We know Norman Osborne is an integral part of the story and will certainly appear as the ultimate villain in the third movie, but I’m happy they aren’t jumping right to him like the previous movies did. I think I will appreciate his story line more as it unfolds rather than it being told in one movie.

    6 The superhero action is awesome and made my inner twelve year old giddy: The action in this version was no better and no worse than the previous version. It was just as good and really hit all the classic Spidey beats I was hoping for. And in some ways the “Spidey-ness” of the action was more accurate to the comics, bringing back the Peter Parker banter and, due to Garfield’s more wiry frame, better replicating the comicbook “look” of Spider-Man than Maguire’s stockier build.

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