THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
*** (out of 5)
July 3, 2012
Andrew Garfield as PETER PARKER
Emma Stone as GWEN STACY
Rhys Ifans as DR. CURT CONNORS
Denis Leary as CAPTAIN STACY
Martin Sheen as UNCLE BEN
Sally Field as AUNT MAY
Directed by: Marc Webb
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Ten years ago, when Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” hit the screens and broke massive box office records, I was not yet doing movie reviews. However, I caught it in the theater on a double bill with “Men in Black II.” As expected, “Spider-Man” was a much better film, though there were elements of it that did bother me, namely the shallow MJ character along with some silly dialogue and cheesy presentation.
“Spider-Man 2” was far superior, and I actually kinda like “Spider-Man 3” for what it was. I understand when Raimi left the franchise, Marvel and Sony wanted to start things over again. However, a clean reboot like this was just unnecessary.
The biggest problem with “The Amazing Spider-Man” is that the entire first hour of the film is achingly familiar. Oh sure, there are differences. We’ve got a different cast. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) ends up using mechanical web fluid rather than the organic shooters that Raimi introduced. Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is the love interest instead of Mary Jane Watson. And the bad guy is The Lizard rather than Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin.
But still, in essence, the first hour of “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a carbon copy of “Spider-Man” from 2002. Even when the plot thickens up past Peter Parker discovering his powers, the movie is just going through the motions. Eventually, we get a focused threat, which is Dr. Curt Connors of Oscorp (remember that from the other films?) who tries to regenerate his own limb with a special serum only to mutate into a giant lizard.
Even that whole premise is familiar. In Sam Raimi’s film, Norman Osborn tests his performance enhancing drugs on himself when he faces losing a military contract. In this movie, Connors does the same thing when his project is threatened to be pulled. Sure, this are standard superhero plots, but too much familiarity gives the entire film an uncomfortable feeling of deja vu.
However, there are some nice improvements. While Tobey Maguire was a good Peter Parker, his Spider-Man was a bit stout. From a physical standpoint, Andrew Garfield’s wiry frame really works on the web-slinger, making him really look like the Spider-Man we know and love from the comics.
Also, Gwen Stacy is a vast improvement over Mary Jane. Sure, it’s again a similar story, but I didn’t loath Gwen as a character. Sure, she’s still bending to the whim of her boss (Dr. Connors), her father (the police captain after Spider-Man) and even Peter, but she’s not a stuck-up, entitled, tow-faced bitch that Mary Jane was in the 2002 film. Plus, Emma Stone is simply adorable in the role.
The chemistry between Garfield and Stone is good, but their dialogue isn’t. The actors carry the scene well, but director Marc Webb’s history in smaller films (particularly in the indie hit “(500) Days of Summer” a few years back) seems schizophrenic in this movie. The story jerks from in-your-face action moments to mumblecore high school angst when Gwen Stacy shows up.
After ten years of superhero movies, the effects have greatly improved, and the movie looks fantastic in 3D, though it could have done with some footage from a real IMAX camera. It’s this kind of blow-up process that makes me really yearn for “The Dark Knight Rises” in a couple weeks.
At least the overall dialogue has gotten better. As fun as Raimi’s “Spider-Man” was, the script was gooey and silly at times. That had a real Stan Lee flavor to it, but that’s a kind of cadence and structure that really only works on the pulp page from the 1960s.
In the end, I enjoyed “The Amazing Spider-Man.” That action is quite good, and the effects are top-notch. This is, in fact, where the movie shines. A silly story and rocky characters can be forgivable for such a big summer movie push.
My only wish, however, is that Hollywood takes a page from the comics and stops rehashing unnecessary origin stories. Does the moviegoing audience really need to be reminded where characters like Spider-Man, Superman and Batman come from. Just jump right in and make a good two-hour story next time without making us sit through something we’ve already seen a dozen times before.