Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

This past week I had a chance to catch up with some old friends and family in Boston and I was hoping to maybe catch Spidey while I was up there but didn't get the chance. One of my friends from Sony has been anticipating my reaction to the film because he knows what a big Spidey fan I am and probably to see if I'm going to join the chorus of fanboys who have, for some reason, really come after the flick in a negative way. From Aint-it-Cool-News to Film School Rejects the geek quotient on the internet has spoken, at it's best they claim it's lackluster entertainment at it's worst it's a series of studio notes and poorly paced tripe. Having seen the film myself yesterday I would have to strongly disagree with most or all of these issues save one, I do agree that it was just too soon to put another reboot of Spidey back on screen. But I will say that director Marc Webb has done a pretty good job of weaving a solid Spider-Man story he just has way too much to live up to and that, unfortunately, is not something he can control.

So this whole thing started, probably, a couple of years ago when Disney bought Marvel Entertainment. Sony more than likely flipped out at the prospect of the Mouse House buying up one of their biggest properties. So they tried to fast-track a Spidey story with then Director/Producer Sam Raimi with the Vulture as the Big Bad and things went south quickly. The third film in the first series of Spidey films has been and continues to be much maligned. I myself over time have found that the film truly did succumb to the worst instincts of a very talented filmmaker. I also blame Sony a bit for pushing Raimi in a direction he wasn't comfortable going either, namely the Venom debacle. So with Raimi and Toby officially out they had to come up with something so they turned to writer James Vanderbilt to start from scratch. This had to be done because of a certain contract that was set to expire if a film wasn't made soon. Let's make no mistake this was mostly about saving their distribution franchise and probably nothing else. Thankfully for all of us they got lucky with Vanderbilt and director Marc Webb who truly put together a great reboot despite the reckless road Sony put them on.

If you are familiar with the Spider-Man history from the comics or the previous film there isn't too much different here. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), orphaned by his parents Richard (Cambell Scott) & Mary (Embeth Davidtz) after they die in a mysterious plane crash. He is left with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) & Aunt May (Sally Field) as he attempts to get through High School the best he can. Peter falls for the lovely Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who interns at Oscorp working for the very man who may be able to hold answers for Peter regarding his Parent's death, Dr. Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans). While trying to learn info about Connors he is bitten by an experimental spider that gives him his spider-powers. They explain it is a cross-species recombination serum in a sense that blends two species together. This serum used by Connors on himself later causes him to transform into the Lizard which wrecks havoc in NY. There were some not so subtle hints at the potential for Norman Osborn to show up. He is unseen through the film but you can feel his influence pulling the strings. As this looks to be a new trilogy I expect Storming Norman to show his Green Goblin face at some point.

Was this as good as previous Spider-Man films? I really don't think it's fair to judge in that way. Even though the origin story is basically the same, there isn't a wrestling scene and the search for Ben's killer is very different from the original and of course the girl is different, instead of Mary Jane we now have Gwen Stacy. This is very much the Dark Knight effect on Spider-Man. The pacing, the edginess and the real world landscape allow this film to fit in more with recent Superhero films. I also really appreciated them coming back to the original web shooters as opposed to the organic ones. It does provide Spidey with more challenges then with the organic shooters. As my wife put it the first Spider-Man films seem more vintage and this one more realism. Or as much realism a giant lizard man running through the streets of NY can allow. I will admit that some of the magic was gone for me from the first time I saw Spider-Man in 2002 versus today. The things you were able to see your favorite hero do in live action can never fully be duplicated. Also I did find myself groan a little watching this Spider-Man spend ten to fifteen minutes learning to use his spider powers in very similar ways to the first one. Which makes me think this film would have been even better if they had cut out or moved around how he received his powers so we could focus on this story rather than his training montage. Take a page from The Incredible Hulk a few years ago and use the flashbacks for quick scenes but we really didn't need to see all of that again especially with Uncle Ben and the mugger. Even though it was written and paced well it just felt a little unnecessary.

I really did love Garfield as Peter Parker and Spider-Man, I thought he really captured the essence of the character from the comic. He played the sarcasm and smart assery to perfection and he demonstrated that there are many layers to Peter Parker as he is trying to come into his own as a hero and as a young adult. I also thought that Emma Stone's Gwen was a perfect foil for him as she provided a true relationship for them to grow on. I read a few reviewers bitching about this relationship that it wasn't fully formed and I have to tell you it made much more sense and was allowed to breathe much more than the Rami Spider-Man was ever allowed to. Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane just doesn't stack up to Emma's Gwen and that's a fact. I also really enjoyed the Lizard I thought the CGI was pretty good and he was a pretty good copy of the Lizard in the comic. He didn't have to be too fangy just big and scary and the team pulled that off well. I also thought that they did a great job with Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) and he did help to ground the story especially when you had a giant Lizard running amok in the sewers, it kind of sucks that he didn't get a little more screen time. I also thought the focus on Peter's parents was a welcome change and it allowed the filmmakers to go in a different direction from the previous installment. I would also recommend you see this thing in 3D Imax it was pretty spectacular, all of the POV scenes and the action pieces really jumped off the screen. I have to admit I felt like a ten year old watching those scenes as I imagined many times as a child what it might feel like to web swing through Manhattan. It was damn impressive, again Sony should be kissing Marc and James' asses for how they saved this film. Not to mention Emma and Andrew, they really did make this a personal film that showed once again why Spidey is above the rest when it comes to balancing action with solid drama.

In conclusion, was this the best movie of the summer or the year? The answer is no, but it was a really great ride with the trifecta of excellence, pacing, writing and characterization. Unfortunately it was probably too soon for a reboot and to be honest Marvel is partly to blame as well. For the past 5 years we have seen something never established in movie making. Characters from other films and even across other studios coming together to form a larger universe. It was a great big gamble but it worked as seen by the big box office of the Avengers earlier this summer. The problem is it worked too well and now all of us fanboys want more. The rational ones understand that because of rights and contracts and studio bullshit that it will always be a struggle to bring the previously sold properties into the fold of the Avengers; like Spidey, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, X-Men etc. And this just bums us out. As fun as it was watching this movie I couldn't help but want to see Stark Industries on some of the trucks or when Connors was working on his serum a part of me wished he had mentioned that super soldier serum that created Captain America. It sounds silly I know but it's part of why I like comic books. I love the characters but I love the Universe and now more than ever it's important for Marvel and the people that make Marvel movies especially ones not within the Avengers Universe that they could all make a shit load more money and fan support if they would drop all of this legal shit and let the whole thing exist in every Marvel film. I know it's a pipe dream but one can always hope.

Grade: 4 buckets

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

I agree that it didn't mix up the formula or bring anything new to the table to make it worth the redux. Garfield is a better fit in the role but that's about it. It’s just a film that didn’t really need to be redone, even if it is a well-done one. Good review.