Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man (Movie Review)

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson

The Amazing Spider-Man is the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), an outcast high-schooler who was abandoned by his parents as a boy, leaving him to be raised by his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field).  Like most teenagers, Peter is trying to figure out who he is and how he got to be the person he is today. Peter is also finding his way with his first high school crush, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and together, they struggle with love, commitment, and secrets.  As Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, he begins a quest to understand his parents’ disappearance – leading him directly to Oscorp and the lab of Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), his father’s former partner.  As Spider-Man is set on a collision course with Connors’ alter-ego, The Lizard, Peter will make life-altering choices to use his powers and shape his destiny to become a hero.


Film (3 out of 5 stars) 

As a big fan of Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy, I was upset to hear that Sony decided to not only work on a reboot of the series at the same time as he was prepping his fourth entry, but that they let his effort get as far as it did before pulling the rug out from under him and run with their new darker and edgier Spiderman.  No matter where you stand on Raimi’s series (even if you hated the third one) it’s still a pretty shabby way to treat someone who brought in millions and millions of dollars to your studio.  I’m sure the studio’s knee-jerk response to the fans outcry over some of the elements in Spiderman 3 and a hard look at the bottom line probably made them decide to go a cheaper route.  I’m sure they also paid attention to the success of the Twilight franchise and thought that they needed to get in that game too.  The final result?  We have a new Spiderman (pardon me it’s now Spider-Man) who is a perfect representative for the disaffected youths of today who made Twilight such a success.
This hoodie-wearing Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a disrespectful sullen youth who comes with even more angst than just the pain from his Uncle Ben’s death, but also the fact that his parents worked for Oscorp and were killed trying to escape Norman Osborn’s wrath.  It’s bad enough that Sony and Marvel decided to start this franchise over, but what makes it even worse is the fact that they make us watch Peter’s origin story all over again just to add a few minor twists which add nothing to the story other than to make things all tie together in an overly contrived manner that weakens rather than strengthens the story.
Again, we watch Peter get bitten by a mutated spider, this time by spiders engineered by his late father, but this time it happens in Oscorp.  Once again, we see Peter learn about his new abilities and use them against bad guys.  We also get to see Peter lash out at his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) and how his selfishness indirectly ends up getting his Uncle Ben killed.  We even get a variation on the “with great power, comes great responsibility” line although it’s a lot longer now and not as catchy.  It’s interesting to see what parts of the Spiderman mythos were followed, which were abbreviated, and those that were skipped entirely.  Peter doesn’t come up with the Spiderman outfit to wrestle in disguise for money, in this movie he gets the idea after literally falling through a roof to land in a wrestling ring, where he sees a poster that inspires his costume.
Instead of Peter moping after Mary Jane Watson like in the original trilogy, this time his attention is fixated on Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) who only had a minor part in Spiderman 3.  Only this time, her father Captain Stacy isn’t played by James Cromwell but rather Denis Leary.  Peter is still bullied at school by Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka) only this time Flash seems more like a deranged lunatic than a bully.  So now that you know that over half of the movie is a retread of familiar ground, you may be wondering what sets this one apart from the previous movies.  The answer to that, is the weakest villain of the franchise and Emma Stone.
While poor Dylan Baker played Dr. Curt Connors twice and never got to be the Lizard, Rhys Ifans gets to play the scaly villain that looks more like an angry turtle, armed with a long tail, than the vicious predator we’ve seen in the comics.  Now known as Dr. Curtis Connors, the character can’t even be consistent.  In one moment he is all noble and won’t give in to Oscorp’s ruthless plans to test the new lizard brew on veteran patients, but then not long after that, he’s willing to transform the entire city into lizards.  He may be a cold-blooded killer in one moment, but then later he doesn’t kill people who are actively trying to stop his lizard world domination plans. None of it makes  a lick of sense and the character is wasted which sucks even more considering that we’ve waited through now three movies to see the Lizard in action.
Just as disappointing, is the film’s weak script that’s credited to three screenwriters.  The whole concept of Peter’s father’s research leading him into becomes Spider-Man, but also ends up saving him is an idea straight out of Iron Man 2 which is surprising as that’s a Marvel movie too.   Another disappointment is the fact that Peter sits and watches his Uncle Ben die instead of using his cell phone (which just rang a few minutes earlier) to call for ambulance. Another pet peeve is seeing Peter constantly unmasking himself throughout the movie.  To be fair, I hated seeing it happen in Raimi’s films too and I know it’s to allow the actor to emote without a mask, but it makes no damn sense. What’s even more stupid is taking off your mask in a place like the school you attend daily and can be easily recognized in for no good reason.  Peter is attacked at school and while tracking the Lizard, (and I kid you not) he takes his mask off in the school he attends.  And that’s not the only time, as apparently it also helps scared kids who have never seen Spider-Man before, suddenly become braver and able to deal with being in a car on fire.
While this franchise didn’t need a reboot at all, at least this one has a good cast although some are better than others.  While I prefer Tobey Maguire to Andrew Garfield, Garfield does have some nice moments as Peter but he doesn’t make a good Spider-Man.  For all of those people who hated Spiderman 3 because of the scenes with “Emo Peter Parker” being a jerk and dancing, then they shouldn’t like this movie at all since this version of Peter/Spiderman is basically emo Peter throughout the whole movie.  Garfield plays him as an arrogant young man (even before he gets his powers), and without the self-deprecation that Maguire brought to the role that is essential to the character of Peter Parker.   Maguire also brought a lightness of spirit to the role instead of the constant brooding Peter does in this film that’s become so popular with the young girls who like their heroes like the lite-bright sparkly vampires from Twilight.  Based on the responses from the young girls and the other young kids around me at the screening, it appears that this new direction hit the jackpot.  One thing I know for sure, is that this version of Spider-Man isn’t geared to my generation and I’ll have to deal with that since they’ve already announced that this is the start of a new trilogy.
More effective is Emma Stone, who is great in every movie she’s in and who makes Gwen a fully rounded character who happens to be smart, sexy, funny, and relatable.  Stone does a lot of the heavy lifting in this movie although Denis Leary does a nice turn as her father Captain Stacy, who is the lone voice against Spider-Man thanks to the absence of J.Jonah Jameson.  Rhys Ifans does an acceptable role as Connors but honestly, pretty much anyone could have played the part.  Martin Sheen and Sally Field are warm and funny as Uncle Ben and Aunt May during their limited screen time.  The film’s score by James Horner (who’s one of my favorite composers) sadly doesn’t hold a candle to Danny Elfman’s propulsive scores.  I’m listening to the soundtrack right now as I write this and it actually sounds like a mix of Aliens and Titanic if that makes any sense.  It seems like he wasn’t aware that he was making a superhero score and just recycled some leftover bits from his earlier scores.
I realize that this review may seem overly harsh and my opinions even surprised my friends who know how much I love superhero movies and Spiderman and I have to admit that it surprises me too.  The movie didn’t connect with me until towards the end when Spider-Man finally steps up to the plate and is assisted by the citizens of New York City. It’s been done before in the Raimi films, but it works everytime for me.  I don’t know if it’s my love for the character or the idea of average people assisting their hero in whatever capacity they can, but I love it.   No matter how much I gripe about the changes they’ve made, or how Raimi was kicked to the curb for no good reason, this is still a Spider-Man movie and it still triggers a gleeful response within me that goes all the way back to my childhood. Seeing Spider-Man swing through New York city is always a thrill and with the advances in special effects and CGI, it looks even better here than before.  The film’s 3D presentation is also strong as it was filmed in 3D and it looks great.  This may not be the version of Peter Parker that I want to see, but once that mask goes on, all I see is Spider-Man and everything is good again…until he takes that damn mask off again!
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