A Totally Biased Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

Spidey’s origin story is retold with a more emotional, nuanced, personal, darker, and ultimately, better story.

The last two movies I’ve reviewed have both been superhero films. And, on top of that, I went to a midnight premier for each, much to the detriment of the following workday. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed with either outing. In fact, both films far exceeded the expectations I had built up for them, and while Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man will never measure up to the sheer scale and epic action of The Avengers, it’s not quite trying to. This is a different sort of story altogether. And, more importantly, it’s trying to tell a different story than Sony’s previous foray into the Spider-Man realm, already some of the most popular and well-received superhero films of all-time. Does the new story stand up against the previous one? Thankfully, with a detailed and nuanced tale, and carefully crafted characters, it does.

To be honest, I’m probably going to argue that it even surpasses the previous films, lest I be flamed by the army of trolls that’ll… Well… They’ll probably never read this, anyway.

As everyone knows, this is the story of Peter Parker, a somewhat average, though brilliant, teen trying to make it through high school, deal with bullies, and fawn over a girl, despite that he doesn’t think she even knows his name. However, Peter has a strange, unexplained past: his father’s secretive work caused Peters parents to both disappear one night after leaving him with his aunt and uncle. He’s since grown up, however, and unexpectedly begins uncovering clues about his parents and their work, which eventually leads him to Oscorp Tower, into contact with a strange, genetically engineered spider (obviously) and to the man his father was working with before he disappeared, Dr. Curtis Connors, a scientist without a left arm whose life’s work centers around cross-species genetics. When Peter hands over parts of his father’s work that was thought lost, Dr. Connors is able to proceed with creating formulas and serums that allow rats to regrow their limbs. As is the case with these sorts of situations, things quickly spiral out of control, and the doctor finds himself opposite the red and blue clad hero before too long. Amidst all this, there is a budding romance between Peter and the girl he’s secretly admired for years. It’s not easy being a super-powered teenager, apparently. Lots to handle and lots on your plate. All the time.

To begin with, Andrew Garfield is a fairly different Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire’s was. Despite being rather good-looking and decently dressed, he’s more socially awkward, has zero friends, and is more inept around girls, channeling a bit of Michael Cera into the character. It feels more in line with what I believe Peter Parker was like from the comics, although perhaps a bit more contemporary. The bottom line? It just works. Peter is much more likable and feels much more fleshed out here with clever writing, good dialogue, and the conviction of Garfield’s performance. Whether or not Garfield had to change much for the role, I can’t say, because this is the only film I’ve seen him in. But, I do know he’s English, and his American accent is flawless, so hat’s off there.

It’s also not necessarily that Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker wasn’t executed well, it’s just that the story and characters in Sam Raimi’s original trilogy were all so romanticized and idyllic, where everyone was a good person and no one made mistakes. Peter was a genuinely good person with no character defects or flaws, despite everyone around him thinking he was falling apart because he was masquerading as Spider-Man. Despite the social ineptitude, Peter here is arrogant and reckless, taking unnecessary chances and showing off with his new-found powers. In the original, Peter was told that he had to take responsibility and did, almost without question. Sure, Uncle Ben dying certainly helped, but when he died in the original, Peter had just blown him off and been kind of rude. In this iteration, Peter and his Uncle Ben had been screaming at one another before Peter storms out, his Uncle reluctantly chasing after him, making his Uncle dying a more tragic, painful and emotional loss, and feels like a much more genuine contributing factor to Peter risking his life night after night. How so? Because, for months it seems, he isn’t running around being a noble do-gooder. He’s systematically hunting down the man who killed his uncle and attacking only shady men who fit the description. It isn’t until he witnesses a monster terrorizing the Brooklyn bridge that he knows he’s the only one who can do the things that have to be done to save lives. It’s a great moment for the character, to say the least.

The emotional tone and serious nature of the story isn’t quite driven down your throat, thanks in large part to the humor sprinkled liberally throughout the film. While comedy legend Denis Leary helps, lending his talents to play Police Chief George Stacy, and by extension, Peters girlfriends dad, it’s Peter himself who gets nearly all of the film’s best laughs, with a few slight exceptions for Uncle Ben. Of particular note is the morning after Peter is first bitten, when his powers have all fully manifested themselves. The laughs are always well-placed, with even better delivery, taking cues from Marvel’s recent run of fantastic superhero flicks.

The drama, however, is the real star of the show, either in spite of or despite of all the intense action, I can’t really make up my mind. And make no mistake, the action is intense. The Lizard, as he is known in the comics, is at least 8 or 9 feet tall, with massive, retractable, razor-sharp claws, seemingly unlimited strength, a hideous, cowling maw and a powerful, prehensile tail. How in the fuck is ANYONE supposed to fight something like that? But, Spidey does it 3 or 4 times through the film, using his agility, speed, and powerful webbing to full advantage. And he needs to. The Lizard is absolutely fearsome, cold-blooded (get it?), and terrifying. In fact, perhaps too much so… The Lizard is much more monster than super villain, and the grievous injuries constantly inflicted upon Peter made me wonder if this wasn’t on the higher side of PG-13. I’m also, admittedly, a chicken when it comes to scary movies, and hate suspense and tense, scary moments when you know something’s going to jump out. Needless to say, the action is very tense in the film due to the violent nature of the villain, and I wonder if they wouldn’t have been better off going with a villain Spidey can just trade punches with like in the first three films. The other issue with the villain is he’s a little one-dimensional and is given very little screen-time to flesh out his character at all. With a film like this, however, it’s naturally better to spend the time on the hero.

A lot of things help move the story along, not the least of which is the budding romance between Parker and Gwen Stacy, his ORIGINAL girlfriend from the comics, who is made into a very genuine teenager and made very likable by the talented Emma Stone. Gwen is an intern that works directly with Dr. Connors, further complicating the already intricate web of relationships in the story. Her family, though only briefly shown, are memorable, with special exception to her father, the Chief of Police. Leary plays his trademark, dry, sarcastic, impatient part to perfection here, as he hunts down Spider-Man to stop his string of vigilante crimes. It’s also ironically poetic that such a devout and proud New Yorker like Leary plays the NYPD’s Chief of Police. Martin Sheen and Sally Field embody the loving, caring, wise Uncle Ben and Aunt May, respectively, giving them both much more vitality and character than in the original series. Martin Sheen is especially wonderful as Uncle Ben, however brief the role is, and seems every bit the protective, caring, fatherly figure you’ve come to love from the comics. If the sequel doesn’t bring J.K. Simmons back as J. Jonah Jameson, though, it’ll never measure up to the original. Best piece of casting… ever.

As is the case with most of Marvel’s work these days, the special effects and sound work is among the best you can get out of a film, with especially notable praise to the film’s fantastic 3-D work. As far as I can remember, this is one of three films, so far, to be filmed in and then released in 3-D, rather than filmed in 2-D and concerted to 3-D after. I haven’t seen Prometheus yet, which is one of the other three films, but The Amazing Spider-Man’s 3-D is easily the best since Avatar, the Golden Standard of 3-D Movies. The CGI characters are animated brilliantly and move fluidly and gracefully, with Spider-Man especially hitting all of those strange, evocative poses that are the signature of the flashy covers to his comics. The dude just LOOKS like Spider-Man. It helps add more “comic authenticity” that Garfield himself is very tall, lithe, and lean, all traits I thought Maguire didn’t really possess, being a little shorter in stature and a bit more ripped and bulky. If the film falls short in one category, it’s the soundtrack, which I thought was serviceable, but not very memorable. You can’t argue that Danny Elfman’s score for the original series didn’t help it tremendously.

Even a one-dimensional villain and forgettable score can’t hold back an emotionally driven story and more-balanced characters in a great, fresh start for the franchise.

A more thoughtful film with more insight into Peter’s motivation and his turmoil. He can barely express himself, but is able to muster the courage to do what he knows no one else can. Gone are the nerdy narrations from Tobey Maguire. Gone are the idyllic, nuclear people populating the original franchise. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man bounced headlong into danger from the get-go to save the innocent and protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. Marcus Webb’s Spider-Man isn’t trying to save anyone so much as get vindication, until the story reaches the half-way point, where he decides to save a boy trapped in a burning car. His actions and heroics, from then on, speak more volumes than the entirety of the original three films combined: Peter feels responsible for protecting people because he both chooses to be, and because has to be. And that, is what a hero is made of.

Oh, and Sony and and Disney better get on their shit and get Spider-Man into The Avengers 2… Seriously. Match. Made. In Heaven.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: