Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Review: "The Amazing Spider-man"

With only 10 years separating Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-man from Sam Raimi's Spiderman, and only five years between Webb's film and Raimi's last Spidey flick, it's easy to understand complaints regarding Sony's decision to reboot the character so quickly (origin story and all). Despite the crashing disaster that was Spider-man 3, Raimi's first two films were both big hits and popular with the public (and even the third made bucket-loads at the box office). Even if the reboot was good, there was still one critical question: was another stab at the origin story necessary so soon? The answer remains 'no,' but in fairness, Webb's reboot is mostly a success even as it's forced to hit so many of the same story beats. 

Having made his name with (500) Days of Summer (2009), Webb wasn't the most obvious choice for the job. However, his skills with emotion and his surprising flair with action set pieces make me hope that he'll stick around for the rest of this Spider-man series. Even when Peter Parker/Spider-man (Andrew Garfield) is battling the hulking Lizard (Rhys Ifans) in close quarters, Webb and his camera team nimbly capture both figures (and their CGI avatars) with a herky-jerky sense of movement that proves surprisingly effective and actually allows you to see what's going on. Webb also deserves credit (though I suppose some of this belongs to the script as well) for giving audiences the best obligatory Stan Lee cameo, working it fluidly into an action scene in a way  that proves hilarious.

And speaking of humor, that's another thing this Spider-man has going for it. Raimi's films were never devoid of humor (or attempts at humor), but much of it felt somewhat like pandering. Here, Peter Parker/Spider-man himself is allowed to either be funny or be in funny situations, and it pays off. Whether he's quipping while battling a carjacker or satisfying some spider bite-induced munchies, the sense of humor feels more organic, built more out of the situations than in some desperate attempt to keep the proceedings from becoming "too grown up."

Of course, funny lines or scenes can exist on the page, but can be horribly botched if the person involved in them on screen isn't pulling their weight. Thankfully, Garfield carries the humor off with great skill, using his spindly frame to perfect effect. Like Webb's film, Garfield is generally adept at both drama and comedy, though it has moments where it falters. Emma Stone as love-interest Gwen Stacy remains as engaging as ever, even though she's technically not given much to do despite abundant screen time. Sally Field and Martin Sheen also give nice, albeit limited, turns as Peter's aunt May and uncle Ben. Rhys Ifans is certainly convincing as Dr. Connors, the man who eventually becomes the Lizard, even though the script's developments with him are among the film's weakest.

The script, unfortunately, provides the film with its best and worst elements, particularly when it comes to the story elements that are being redone. The changes to Peter's personality work wonders, but other aspects, like the demise of uncle Ben, feel so much weaker. The staging of the robbery that eventually leads to Ben's death in Raimi's film had enough separation in it so that it really hit home when Peter discovered what happened. Here, the scenario feels contrived, with Ben trying to chase down Peter to talk to him, only to have him run into the robber who delivers his untimely death sentence. On the super hero front, the script often seems completely unconcerned with the general reaction of New York City to Parker's web slinging alter ego. Yes, the NYPD puts out a warrant for his arrest, but other than that, one never gets a sense of the masked hero's developing notoriety. 

The same can also be said for the developments regarding the Dr. Connors/Lizard, who seems to lurch from one big moment to the next. And when the two collide, things get even shakier, with Peter's realization that Connors is the Lizard feeling like a minor development when it should be so much more. Webb generally controls the tone effectively, but there are scenes where it all feels a little too casual considering the stakes. Even the vastly better romantic subplot with Parker and Stacy occasionally becomes too forced and cutesy, with both of them awkwardly/adorably stammering at each other to the point where you want to shake their lines out of them. And for all of Garfield's good scenes on the dramatic front, there are a few where his emoting feels distressingly weak. 

Thankfully, these are problems that get better as the film progresses. Webb has crafted a slick, emotionally engaging film, one that would have been so much better if it hadn't felt the need to cover the origin story again. It's the familiar that keeps The Amazing Spider-man from reaching its full potential, which is a shame because of the strengths clearly on display. One can only hope that the inevitable sequel will, like Spider-man 2, significantly raise the bar for this new series.

Grade: B-/C+

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

I agree with, 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 J.