Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Amazing Spider-Man Review


Does The Amazing Spider-Man usher in an exciting new chapter in the franchise or signal yet another reboot?  Warning: major plot spoilers ahead.

The Amazing Spider-Man
I have joined millions of moviegoers in condemning the horrid Spider-Man 3, a film that put the once-proud franchise into a coma with a single dance scene.  But there were more issues to that film than just the sidestepping: the product felt tired and bereft of imagination, as if our hero needed a partner or a major shakeup.  Throwing too many substandard enemies at one hero never solved anything, but that's exactly what we got.  Something needed to change, but was a reboot really necessary?  That was Sony's call; and so five years after Tobey Maguire and company were shown the door, the lights dim for The Amazing Spider-Man.  Does Sony make it up to fans with a new high-flying adventure, or should we expect yet another reboot in about five years?
Sadly, The Amazing Spider-Man is too drawn out, uninspiring, and downright boring.  Its disappointment is so profound that it's a far cry from Spider-Man 1 & 2 and the worst superhero movie since Green Lantern.  You all know the story: Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, The Social Network) is bitten by a genetically-enhanced spider and wakes up with enhanced abilities.  Yet, this is where the similarities between Sam Raimi's films and the current one end: webbing emanates from a man-made source, Mary Jane has been replaced by Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, The Help), and even Parker's biological parents are Oscorp doctors who pass off young Peter to Aunt May (Sally Field, Norma Rae) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen,The West Wing) before meeting an untimely end.  Fast forward several years, and both Parker and Stacy are high school classmates, not twenty-somethings as were portrayed in the Raimi films.  Stacy has inexplicably landed a cushy internship with Oscorp and its chief researcher Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans, Five Year Engagement), who is seeking to reconstruct severed human limbs (including his own) in an effort to prolong human life.  Connors worked with Parker's father (Campbell Scott, Roger Dodger) on the same recipe, only to see his work stifled with a missing formula that Peter discovers in dad's old briefcase. And just like the comics, Connors tests the newly-completed serum on himself, turning into the superhuman monster The Lizard.  Rattled by the death of Uncle Ben and the news of Connor's transformation, Peter must balance his new powers with the realization that everyone close to him is at risk of the same violent ends if he remains Spider-Man.  

On the surface, it seems many of these resets would signal a new-found respect by Sony to remain faithful to the Marvel universe.  But, consider this blasphemous alteration: almost everyone in the city knows Spider-Man's true identity, from a young boy stuck in a burning van to the police captain running the manhunt for the webslinger (Dennis Leary, The Thomas Crown Affair).  There's even a suggestion that Aunt May herself has put two and two together after seeing Peter return home bruised and battered near the movie's ending.  Why screenwriter James Vanderbilt (The Losers) would at first show such respect for canon then throw grenades like this into the middle of his script is beyond me.  Either he assumes we're not fully vested with the character to begin with, or we're just ignorant moviegoers who consume and forget when the lights kick on.   Either way, this insult doesn't help indie Director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer), who tries his best to paint pretty action scenes (such as several first-person views of Spider-Man slinging his way through the city) but fails to achieve anything new or exciting.  And while our promising cast does its best with Vanderbilt's sub-par scriptbad screenplays always trump good acting, a fact which is demonstrated in some of the cheesiest dialogue I've heard from the franchise ("I've been bitten - so have I," says our leads as Parker shares all).  While capable actors, Garfield and Stone have little chemistry together and seem like an odd pairing from the start.  Moreover, the story takes too long to develop, forcing audiences to wait 45 minutes before seeing any real action, none of which is satisfying or even inventive even in 3D.  In fact, many of them feel like retreads of Raimi's efforts, demonstrating the incredible command he had of the character.

This Peter Parker/Spider-Man appears less impervious to vicious hits, but our hero is no better for the experiences.   The Lizard is no more lethal than the Chitauri, The Destroyer, or even Red Skull: Maguire's Spider-Man would have taken our villain out with relative ease.  If creating a lesser version of Spider-Man was the intent, one who must empty an entire clip of webbing before using complex scientific terms to solve his problems, then mission accomplished.  In the end, all we learn is that Peter is good with memorizing stuff and manufacturing things but seems better suited to defeat common criminals than first-class enemies.

Anyone who tells you this film is exciting or even a well-drawn character-driven story has obviously not seen The Avengers.  Had The Amazing Spider-Man debuted sometime in the spring, perhaps my reaction would have been different.  Once again that was Sony's call to make, and their product is so much the worse for it.  Why they decided it was time to reboot, rather than reload, will confound moviegoers until one considers the contract, which requires the studio to produce a film every so many years, or lose the rights to Marvel.  Therefore, The Amazing Spider-man is essentially a contract extension, doomed by a boring and plodding script and a post-credits scene that felt incomplete and largely ineffective.  Let's hope Marvel can someday wrestle Spider-Man away from Sony, because very little about this version is inspiring or even worth the time.  The Amazing Spider-Man is rated PG13 and has a runtime of 136 minutes.

5 comments:

  1. I'm kind of amazed at how different our opinions on this one are, Matt.

    I loved this movie. I thought it was the best Spider-Man movie yet. Garfield made a MUCH better Peter Parker than Maguire did, and I thought the story and characters overall were much more true to the spirit of the comics. Yeah a handful of people found out his identity (I didn't get the impression that Aunt May did, but that's just me), but at the end, one of those people is dead, the other is his girlfriend, and the other is an imprisoned villain (I think this is the only one that poses a danger). Oh, and there was the little boy that he saved that saw him unmasked, but I don't think Pete has to worry about that. The boy didn't even learn his name.

    I liked that the movie really played up the awkward teenage science nerd aspect of Parker's character and still worked in his snarky sense of humor. And the fact that his web shooters were his own invention, and not some contrived organic super power like in the Raimi trilogy.

    Parts of the movie were slow, I agree with you there, but that's because it was a reboot, so they're doing the whole origin story all over again. Honestly that didn't bug me too much. We got some good character development out of it. If it were all non-stop action, I would've left feeling unfulfilled.

    I think Marvel Studios could have done an absolutely better job, but that's because they're Marvel. They're going to treat their properties better than another studio that's just in it for the money would. But barring Marvel getting the rights back, I think Sony has outdone their previous efforts and has put something out that is at least in the same ballpark of quality as some of the individual Marvel Studios character movies. No, it doesn't even begin to compare with The Avengers, but I didn't expect it to. That would be a terribly unrealistic expectation. But this movie did entertain me and remind me of a lot of the aspects I love best about the Spider-Man character, and that's more than I went in expecting from it, so it's a win in my book.

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  2. If you always do what you've always done, then you'll always get what you've always gotten. Remember that quote when it comes to setting expectations about anything. We shouldn't lower ours when a superhero movie comes out by a company that hasn't demonstrated a lot of acumen in that arena. If you think about it, what action sequences proved unique in The Amazing Spider-man? Did it break new ground, in terms of dialogue (no), action (no), music (no), or character development (umm...no)? True, they did go back to the comics for inspiration, and that's appreciated. However, it's the execution that bugs the hell out of me. It would be no different than well-meaning fans on YouTube producing terrible handheld superhero movies (no parodies here), all because they 'love the genre.' Look at that horrid end-credits sequence: Webb has already had to come out to explain what that POS meant.

    I'm going to make a bold suggestion, one that every fan who wants Spider-man back under Marvel's wing should consider: stop watching superhero films made by Sony. By packing the theatres and extolling the film's virtues, we are unknowingly sending the message that we actually want them to keep producing these films. Sony will only give up the rights to Spider-man and Wolverine when the numbers no longer pencil out. We know Marvel would create a kick-ass Spider-man, so why do we celebrate the work of an inferior company like Sony Pictures/Columbia?

    It's like we've been trained to appreciate crap, and then we wonder why Marvel can't wrestle this franchise away.

    Thanks for your reply, Zak - at least someone reads the crap I post on here :-)

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  3. True, it didn't really break a ton of new ground, but I don't know how much new ground there could be broken after the Raimi trilogy. Spidey fights a certain way, and web-slings a certain way, so a lot of the action is going to be similar. They did do some new things, though. I did like that they had him use the webbing in more creative ways than the Raimi trilogy. He shot web balls to trap and gag people, which I don't remember there being much, if any, of in the Raimi trilogy. He also set that web in the sewer to monitor for movement, like real Spiders do. Maguire never did that in any of the Raimi movies. And a lot of the web slinging stunts were practical, compared to Raimi's CGI approach. The first person perspective of the web slinging was cool, too. So there was some new ground covered.

    As for dialogue, Garfield gave Peter a completely different attitude than Maguire, and he had some good sarcastic quips, which we never really got to see in the Raimi trilogy. That's a key component of Parker's character. You could tell Garfield's Parker was from Queens. Maguire's Parker never conveyed that. This is one of the biggest pieces that I think makes this movie more true to the comics. Andrew Garfield WAS Peter Parker in this movie. Toby Maguire was only ever a nerd dressed in a Spider-Man costume.

    I thought the character development was about on par with the first two Raimi movies. We see Peter develop his sense of "with great power comes great responsibility", and for an origin story, and I think that's the most important piece of character development that should be there. It's not ground breaking, because it was done already in the first Raimi movie, but again, this is a reboot, so the re-tread is a necessary evil.

    The score I thought was really good in places, but forgettable in others.

    I didn't go into this movie with lowered expectations, I went in with no expectations at all, other than the expectation to be entertained. And I was. I don't think it's fair to compare this movie to The Avengers. It's apples and oranges. The Avengers was an ensemble film with a lot of big name stars playing big name characters that had been built up for five years to create an incredibly epic story. The Amazing Spider-Man had none of that build up, and it wasn't trying to tell nearly as epic of a tale. Not every super hero movie needs to be the most epic ever, and I'm fine with that. Part of Spider-Man's character is that he looks up to all these other big, epic, larger-than-life heroes around him, and sees the epic adventures they go on, and thinks "wow, if only I could ever live up to that". Spider-Man isn't the hero that saves the world. He's the hero that saves individual people, or maybe the city of New York once in a while. He's the blue-collar super hero that still struggles to get by, metaphorically and literally. And I think this movie conveyed that perfectly.

    As for your suggestion, I'd be all for Marvel Studios getting the rights to Spidey back, but I am really curious to see where Webb goes with this franchise next. And Fox holds the rights to Wolverine and the X-Men characters, not Sony. And yes, I also wish Marvel would get those rights back, though I admit that Fox's latest effort (X-Men First Class) was good.

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    1. Point taken on Wolverine - I keep getting that weird association mixed up...why Fox would own anything related to Marvel is beyond me. Thanks for the clarification.

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  4. Wow, point taken from both of U. Yes this is a so so movie (since I believe that what makes a heroes interesting is the villain & Lizard is so so) but actually I enjoyed this move way better than Sam Raimi.

    Guess I believe that for now this is the best Spidey movie yet

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