[Review] – The Amazing Spider-Man

18 Jul

Title: The Amazing Spider-Man
Year: 2012
Director: Marc Webb
Writers: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves, based on a story by Mr. Vanderbilt, based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Campbell Scott, Irrfan Khan, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Chris Zylka
MPAA Rating: PG-13, sequences of action and violence
Runtime: 136 min
IMDb Rating: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 70%
Metacritic: 66

I love Spider-Man. That’s first and foremost. I’m a big comic book fan and, bar none, my favorite comic book character is Spider-Man. There is just something about Peter Parker as a character, his emotions, his backstory, his way of life, that you can so easily connect to. He’s not a guy from another planet, he’s not the wealthy playboy with good looks, he didn’t find and alien ring; he’s a skinny white boy like so many of us, the nerd with the big glasses, a total outcast.

As such I remember being totally thrilled when in 2002, after being stuck in development hell for over two decades, we got Spider-Man, the film, to finally come out. That film was directed by Sam Raimi, and starred Tobey Maguire as our friendly neighbor, with Kirsten Dunst starring as his own neighbor, the lovely redhead that is Mary Jane Watson. That film was absolutely incredible, and it was a huge commercial success, scoring what at the time was the biggest opening weekend of all-time, and ushering in the new comic book movie era alongside the X-Men movies.

Sam Raimi and his team obviously returned two years later with Spider-Man 2, what is widely regarded as the best film in the franchise and one of the best superhero films ever. Then three years after that, in 2007, Spider-Man 3 came along. That film was met with a much more tepid critical reaction, being the one people noted for introducing “emo Spidey”, and it was actually a pretty messy film. Commercially, however, it was a tremendous success, with a worldwide tally of over $890 million, currently ranking as the twenty-third highest grossing movie of all-time.

Obviously, after that huge success, the plan was for Mr. Raimi to take the reigns on a fourth installment of the franchise, which was set to be released in May of last year. But by January 2010 things fell apart, Mr. Raimi saying that the story wasn’t really doing it for him creatively, and he left the project, and with him went his cast, since Sony decided to instead of giving a fourth film a go start from scratch and reboot the whole thing.

I was unsure about that whole thing, pushing the restart button with the recent films still so fresh in everyone’s minds, but I was given a lot of reason to cheer once it was announced that Marc Webb was tapped to direct the film (the obvious puns with about his last names came in flooding, natch). He had made his directing debut in 2009 with (50o) Days of Summer, one of the absolute favorite films of the last decade, as well as directed the pilot for Lone Star, which was absolutely genius, even if that series lasted for only a couple of episodes.

Then the big thing for us fans was the casting. Who would replace Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. Fortunately for me, two of my favorite young actors were elected, so I felt super confident about it. Andrew Garfield was chosen to play Peter Parker, beating out the likes of Anton Yelchin and Jamie Bell for the role. And I was absolutely ecstatic about that, this was a guy that was coming off a 2010 that saw him give splendid performances in both The Social Network and Never Let Me Go, two films I don’t hesitate to call masterpieces. Plus, as we would then learn with his appearance at Comic-Con, the guy is a huge geek for this character, too, so we were definitely in good hands.

Now it was all about who they chose to play Mary Jane Watson. Except, wait a second, Mary Jane wasn’t going to be the love interest in this one, we were told, but rather we were going to be getting a Gwen Stacy storyline, a character played by Bryce Dallas Howard in Spider-Man 3. That I thought was awesome, because it gave this film something to differentiate itself from the original trilogy, and as a comic book reader I had a soft spot for the character. And I have an even bigger soft spot for the actress who was given the task of playing her: Emma Stone, who beat out the likes of Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Mia Wasikowska to get the gig.

We had our director set, and our two leads were set in stone, too. Quickly the supporting cast rounded out by names like Martin Sheen, Sally Field and Rhys Ifans, and we knew we were in for something special; the geek in me was infinitely pumped. Well, now I’ve actually seen the film after this couple of years just waiting and waiting. And I can say a few things. To begin with, it’s one of the best films of the year. Marc Webb provides some stellar direction, just super smart and confident throughout. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are pitch-perfect, and they’re by far the best thing about this movie. However, this one’s hurt quite a bit by the fact that the other films are so recent.

I know one shouldn’t judge this one on that, but it’s just impossible to ignore. Had this film been the first iteration of the character, or at least, I don’t know, premiered two years from now, it would have been way better. Because this is a character that already had a franchise launched a decade ago, and the last film of that series was released only five years ago. No matter how incredible this film is, it’s hurt a bit because it revisits a lot of the exact same plot points and elements from those films because of the origins story it has to go through, and it’s stuff we’ve seen done way too recently. I mean, the way this one goes about them does add some new thrills to the whole experience, but in essence we are indeed just watching the same stuff done a bit differently.

Still, even though that kind of bothered me a little bit, there’s no denying that The Amazing Spider-Man is a truly spectacular and fun movie. Yes, in many ways this feels entirely like the sort of film that’s just totally unnecessary because we’ve already had it not that long ago, but Mr. Webb makes it work because he keeps the whole thing grounded by his characters and not so much by the big action sequences, and because those characters are played by Mr. Garfield and Ms. Stone this one wins you over, becoming the kind of comic book movie that actually speaks to the heart.

That’s what enabled me to ignore the fact that in so many ways it was a remake of the first Sam Raimi film, the fact that it was grounded by emotions, that it had great performances, that it felt like an entirely more thoughtful experience. And even though it had to revisit that origin story and it’s pretty much the same one, I felt like here we got more of the context, and it gave us an opportunity to understand Peter Parker a whole lot better.

We see him deal with the loss of his dad, then finding out about the research he was doing and tracking down Dr. Connors, his dad’s partner who has lost an arm and is trying to grow it back by injecting himself with lizard genes. Here was a character that was played by Dylan Baker in all three of the Sam Raimi films, but never once became the big villain those of us who grew up with the comic books and the animated series knew this character would become (maybe that was the big bad they were hoping for the third film). In Mr. Webb’s film he’s played by Rhys Ifans, and it’s not before long he goes overboard with those injections and becomes The Lizard, trashing the whole of New York in his violent rampages.

What I loved so much about the action sequences is that Mr. Webb found a way for them to make sense. In the vast majority of big action-y films nowadays you can’t really follow the action around because it’s just all over the place with quick cuts to mask the stuff that not even awesome technology would be able to create at the desired level. Mr. Webb knows that sometimes he has to slow stuff down to make it feel cohesive , and the action sequences here were actually really nicely done.

Mr. Garfield is also tremendous in this role, and he definitely distanced his incarnation of Peter Parker from the one Tobey Maguire gave us. Even though Mr. Garfield is actually 28, he embeds this character with just the right amount of teenage feeling, and how he portrays all the big overwhelming emotions Peter’s going through right now, the loss of his parents, the fact that he’s Spider-Man, falling over for Gwen, having Gwen’s police chief father (played by Denis Leary) tracking Spidey down because he thinks he’s responsible for The Lizard’s mess, is just totally on point. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy is, also, sheer perfection here, you believer her every gesture.

Is it too soon for The Amazing Spider-Man? Well, yes, I think the reboot would have been better off coming out in a couple of years. But the fact is that Mr. Webb and his cast and crew had to deliver regardless, and they did, I actually think this is a better first film that the first Spider-Man (though not at as good as Spider-Man 2), one that’s really interested in character development and little things that these kinds of movies usually overlook. And now that they have gotten the origin story stuff out of the way, I think they can concentrate on really making these characters their own when the sequel comes out. And for that one I really won’t be able to wait.

Grade: A

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One Response to “[Review] – The Amazing Spider-Man”

  1. colincarman July 18, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    I hope your ecstasy faded to disappointment as fast as mine! Check out my 8 reasons to hate all the limbs of SPIDERMAN.

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