PLOT: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN tells the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), an outcast high schooler who was abandoned by his parents as a boy, leaving him to be raised by his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Like most teenagers, Peter is trying to figure out who he is and how he got to be the person he is today. As Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, he begins a quest to understand his parents' disappearance - leading him directly to Oscorp and the lab of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), his father's former partner. As Spider-Man is set on a collision course with Connors' alter-ego, The Lizard, Peter will make life-altering choices to use his powers and shape his destiny to become a hero.
REVIEW: Let me kick of this review of Marc Webb’s THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN by stating I was wrong. I made a mistake in judging this flick so harshly so soon. Sorry about that. I’ll try to keep a more open mind in the future when it comes to comic movie reboots. Or not. Really can’t make that promise. But let’s not worry about empty promises and just focus on the fact I admitted I was wrong when it came to this particular comic book movie reboot.
When news first broke of SPIDER-MAN going back to the beginning, I was pissed. My fanboy brain couldn’t process the idea Sony/Columbia would reboot the Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN trilogy less than ten years after its conception. Not only that, I couldn’t process any reason why they would want to? Oh sure, the rumored SPIDER-M4N was reportedly riddled with problems (Raimi hated the script, the studio hated Vulture as a villain, the actors didn’t want to return) but these were not problems that could have been rectified with liberal application of time and money. All the studio needed to do was give those things to Raimi and the original SPIDER-MAN series (which grossed somewhere around 2.5 BILLION dollars at the worldwide box office) could’ve lived.
But that’s not what happened. Raimi, still smarting from the studio insisting Venom be included in the third film, bailed and then star Tobey Maguire, still smarting from the critical backlash he received for going all emo in the third film, bailed. With their main talent gone and the rights to Spider-Man on the verge of reverting back to Marvel if a new film didn’t start production soon, Sony/Columbia was faced with either continuing the series with a new director and star (a trick that only the Bond franchise has been ever able to successfully pull off) or starting completely from scratch. They obviously chose the latter.
A quick scan of the Adamantium Bullet archives reveals my response to this choice was to make bold declarative statements like “This is a stupid f*cking idea”, “This is a giant F*CK YOU to Sam Raimi”, “This new SPIDER-MAN is going to be a rush job rather than a love letter”, and, my personal favorite, “Spider-Man is on the verge of joining the likes of CATWOMAN and the 1990 version of CAPTAIN AMERICA in the pantheon of shitty comic movies” and then use my anonymity on the internet as a shield.
The articles following the initial attack featured me viciously dissecting the individual cast and crew announcements. I dissed Marc Webb as a “guy who made one great movie (500 DAYS OF SUMMER) and then joined the corporate ranks to pump out a soulless popular piece of garbage that the masses will no doubt gobble up”. I described Andrew Garfield (THE SOCIAL NETWORK hadn’t hit theaters at the time of his casting) as a Robert Pattinson wannabe with “emo-tastic hair” and “a head size slightly off-kilter in proportion to the rest of his body”. I dismissed Rhys Ifans’ validity as The Lizard and as a big screen villain based on his work in NOTTING HILL. And while I did acknowledge the casting of Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, and Denis Leary as good calls, I was always quick to remind readers that “I genuinely hate the fact that [Sony/Columbia] is rebooting this series less than ten years after it began”.
Well …I was wrong. Probably didn’t need to spend three paragraphs explaining why I was but I’ve already done it and can’t take that back now. I guess what I was going for was “perspective”. Needed you to know how much me liking this movie means to me. Me, me, me, me! But seriously, I dug the flick. Let’s count the ways, shall we?
Marc Webb (great name for a guy directing a Spidey flick) is not a “sell-out”. I was way off the mark with that statement. Kinda knew it when I made it. I mean, seriously, Webb helmed 500 DAYS OF SUMMER which is one of my favorite comedies of the last five years. Joseph Gordon-Levitt AND Zooey Deschanel being all hipster-y while falling in and out of love? Who doesn’t love that?
So it was a good call for Sony/Columbia to hire Webb as director. While Raimi was the studio wanted his quirky brand of humor and edgy visuals, Webb was hired for his indie charm and hipster vibe. As much as I love the Raimi films, the relationship stuff always felt weak to me. Never really bought Peter (Maguire) and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) as a couple. There were cute moments to be sure (can’t go wrong with that upside down kiss) but not nearly enough chemistry.
Not the case here. Webb exploits every one of Peter’s relationships in the film – whether it be with Gwen Stacy, Uncle Ben, Aunt May, Curt Connors, Captain Stacy, his parents, the random crane operator played by Ponyboy from THE OUTSIDERS, or even himself – as far as the first installment in a proposed trilogy will allow him. Some are 100% amazing (the Peter/Gwen stuff is so good and packed with erotic tension the movie actually suffers a little when they aren’t together), some are paid off immediately (totally dug Peter and Captain Stacy’s arc), some are established but left unresolved (I guarantee the truth behind the disappearance of Peter’s parents, played by Campbell Scott and Embeth Davitz, will be addressed in the sequels), and a few appear to have been just plain abandoned (both Uncle Ben’s killer and Irrfan Khan’s evil OsCorp flunkie disappear into thin air once the Lizard enters the picture). What’s nice is that all of these relationships, amazing, paid off, or even abandoned, are mostly three dimensional.
And that’s not some pun because the movie is in 3D. By the way, saw THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in IMAX 3D and I’m here to say the upcharge is not really worth it. Some of the scenes (mostly the action beats and POV stuff) are flashy and fit the format well but most of the film is firmly 2D. As in, you can take you glasses off and watch the film and there’s no blurriness. Trust me. I took the glasses off during most of the dialogue stuff and the film looked very non-3D.
Webb’s handling of the action sequences is pretty spot-on as well. He’s definitely no Raimi (not many are) but he's not a slouch either. The decision to give Spidey a bit of kung-fu Parkour flavor and have him constantly drop little homage poses during the heat of action (the very last shot is an almost straight up recreation of the cover of SPIDER-MAN #1) was a good one. The decision to make take advantage of Garfield’s lithe frame for a more acrobatic Spidey (Maguire was more of a brawler) was a good one. The decision to give Peter a skateboard and have him drop some wicked flips, grinds, and whatever other hip terms the kids are using these days was …well, that decision wasn’t great. Two out of three ain’t bad.
Andrew Garfield. I was wrong to compare him to the Pattinson. He’s more James Dean (or maybe James Franco) than anyone else and that’s okay by me. Making Peter secretly cool (Gwen almost immediately falls for him) and not uber-nerdy (new Peter is super smart, capable of developing his own web-shooters, and socially awkward but he’s definitely not a sweaty, pimply geek like old Peter) may seem like sacrilege but I think the change works.
Emma Stone IS Gwen Stacy. That’s all I really have to say about it. You probably already know how good Stone is (see SUPERBAD, ZOMBIELAND, THE HELP, or CRAZY STUPID LOVE as evidence of crazy mad acting skills) but I’m here to tell you that she’s operating on entirely different level here. She’s so damn perfect here that I need to warn you I’m going to weep like a big fanboy baby when Gwen (SPOILER ALERT!!!) is brutally murdered by Norman Osborne (aka Green Goblin) in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2.
That’s where this new take is heading. Go ahead and accept it. Gwen, lovely as she is, is going to die. That’s how it was in the comics and that’s how it’s going to be here. Webb has established the characters (even bully Flash Thompson is given a little arc), given the origin a proper new spin (new Peter’s reaction to the spider bite is wayyy more Cronenberg this time, a definite change-up from old Peter’s happy-go-lucky “Go web go!” reaction), introduced a big bad (I’m assuming the mysterious figure who pops up midway through the end credits is Norman), and set the pieces in motion (but leaving room for MIA characters like Harry Osborn, J. Jonah Jameson, and Mary Jane Watson) for EMPIRE-styled “Gwen dies!” cliffhanger ending for the sequel.
Or, if you prefer a more comic-y reference, AMAZING is the Spidey version of BATMAN BEGINS which means Gwen is Rachel Dawes which means (SPOILER ALERT!!!) she’ll die at the end of the first sequel. Saavy?
Rhys Ifans. Dug him as Curt Connors but didn’t dig him as The Lizard. That’s weird, right? I don’t know. Just felt like his character became a little contrived once he sprouted scales and a tail. Before that, Ifans is really good. He plays Connors as a noble(ish) guy developing a limb-generating serum to make the world a better place. That’s cool. Good guy who’ll go bad when his experiment goes wrong. Been done before but hasn’t everything?
The problem here is AMAZING loses the character of Connors once The Lizard enters the picture. Oh sure, his initial transformation (Connors tests the serum on himself rather than poor limbless veterans) and rampage (he causes a ruckus on the Brooklyn Bridge in attempt to stop an evil OsCorp employee who IS going to test the serum on poor limbless veterans) are in character but his endgame is to turn EVERYONE in NYC into raging Lizard-people is not. I mean, seriously, isn’t this the same scheme Magneto had in the first X-MEN flick?
Oh and what the hell was up with The Lizard’s face? Dude looks like one of the goombas from the 1993 live-action SUPER MARIO BROS movie. Don’t believe me? Check out this out:
The Lizard is a 200 million dollar goomba. Gotta knock a bullet off for The Lizard's dumb face and his plan being so weak. How Webb and company can get so much right but totally bungle the master plan of the villain (The Lizard gasses an entire SWAT team and turns him into lizards but NEVER actually uses them to battle Spidey) is beyond me.
Quick round-up of the supporting cast: Martin Sheen was really good as Uncle Ben. Not sure if I dug his performance because I’m a huge fan of Sheen (APOCALYPSE NOW, baby!) or because he was actually good in the role but I dug the performance and felt it was definitely on-par with Cliff Robertston in the Raimi Spidey pics. Sally Field, on the other hand, was perfect as Aunt May. Whatever doubts I may have had about her casting were wiped immediately away the second she appeared on-screen. Denis Leary did his normal schtick and I didn’t mind. Love the Leary.
I dug this flick. AngieBee and my 9-year-old nephew Seth both dug it. The audience I saw it with dug it and even clapped at the end. If that’s not enough to get you out to the theater then I don’t what will. Definitely on-par with the Raimi pics but nowhere near as good as THE AVENGERS, Marc Webb’s THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is a summer blockbuster of the highest order and a great example of how to do a reboot right.