Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Movie review: The Amazing Spider-Man
When you aim high, be prepared to fall hard.
Rebooting a comic book series like Spider-Man just 10 years after the original film came out is tenuous for a variety of reasons. It’s unclear exactly who The Amazing Spider-Man will appeal to, since hardcore comic book fans may take offense at being asked to pony up money again so soon, and casual movie-goers may think, “Haven’t I seen this movie already?” But since 2007’s Spider-Man 3 was widely derided as the worst of the first trilogy, there’s also something smart about a studio saying, “Hey, look – a new star! A new director! It’ll be better this time – we promise!”
Said new star is Andrew Garfield, known mostly for his supporting role in The Social Network, taking over for Tobey Maguire. Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) hops into the director’s chair, a not-so-obvious choice for a blockbuster franchise, but then again, neither was Sam Raimi back in 2002. The basics of the story are still the same: Nerdy and shy student photographer Peter Parker (Garfield) gets bitten by genetically-enhanced spider, gains superpowers, uses those powers to get revenge and/or save New York City from evildoers.
Some of the details are different, however. We’re given a semi-explanation as to how Peter comes to live with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), even getting glimpses of his parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz), and his relationship with his aunt and uncle is upgraded significantly. His romantic interest this time around is not Mary Jane Watson, but Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who shares Peter’s interest in science. And his nemesis is Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a former co-worker of Peter’s father who’s obsessed with trying to regenerate tissue after losing his right arm years ago.
The beginning of the film shows promise as Webb and a trio of screenwriters – including Alvin Sargeant, who wrote the last two Spider-Man movies, and Steve Kloves, who wrote all eight Harry Potter movies – take their time establishing relationships, having fun with Peter exploring his new powers, and setting up the tensions to come. In fact, no significant action scene comes until at least 45 minutes into the movie. But the filmmakers don’t seem to have the courage of their convictions, veering into mostly crowd-pleasing territory for the rest of the film. That means speeding up relationships unnecessarily, littering the landscape with gaping plot holes, and throwing out cheesy one-liners.
And that’s a shame, because all of the actors do fine jobs trying to elevate the material over your standard blockbuster fare. Garfield gives Parker an edge that Tobey Maguire never had, but he also makes him immensely likable, making for the best of both worlds. Stone is at the top of the heap when it comes to young actresses in Hollywood these days, and she does nothing to hurt that reputation here. Sheen, Field, and Leary all play good variations of roles they’ve done many times before. The only slight oddball of the group is Ifans, who doesn’t necessarily come across as the villain type, which perhaps makes his character’s transformation fitting.
The visuals of the film are good but not mind-blowing. We were shown the film in IMAX 3D, and while the clarity and depth in that version are stunning, it’s unclear how the same scenes might come across in regular 3D or – gasp! – 2D. It’s definitely fun to go swinging through the cityscapes with Spider-Man, but, just as it was in the first trilogy, it does have a somewhat video game feel to it.
The Amazing Spider-Man has a lot going for it and makes for interesting viewing for a while. But like many a blockbuster before it, it can’t sustain the momentum it built up and fails to stick the landing.
For showtimes for The Amazing Spider-Man, click here.