Thursday, July 5, 2012

"Tangled In A Web" - The Amazing Spider-Man review

Spider-Man is one of the most pivotal cultural icons of the modern world. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn't know who Spider-Man is. He's all over comic books, films, television shows, cereal boxes, music, and anything else imaginable. To say Spider-Man is one of the most important superheroes in history is an understatement.

It's safe to say that without Spider-Man we wouldn't have groundbreaking blockbusters like The Avengers and The Dark Knight. It was Sam Raimi's Spider-Man that began the reign of super-hero movies at the box office. Raimi's Spider-Man movies (sans the third one) are probably some of the best examples of superhero films. So, when Columbia Pictures decided to reboot the Spider-Man franchise there was no doubt that what would be produced had big shoes to fill, so to speak.

To reboot the Spider-Man movies, especially after the big successes of the previous films, was a tall (and ballsy) order. In a perfect world (one where I am supreme ruler of the universe), when faced with having to reboot Spider-Man, I wouldn't have redone the origin story. The reasoning behind this is the fact that EVERYBODY knows the origins of Spider-Man. Thus, there is no reason to return to the very beginning.

However, I was willing to give The Amazing Spider-Man the benefit of the doubt because they teased us with hints about the so called "secret" behind the origins of Spider-Man.  It offered something new besides the usual "power and responsibility" origins everyone is familiar with. Trailers hinted at the possibility that Peter Parker's parents, who left him with his aunt and uncle when he was young, were somehow linked to Peter becoming Spider-Man. However, trailers lie, and while there is plenty in The Amazing Spider-Man that does hint at an underlying connection between Peter's parents and how he became Spider-Man nothing truly comes of it. Which is something that truly disappoints me.

Instead, what is presented is pretty much what you saw with Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, just without the oodles of trademark Raimi cheese and more polished effects. While I still have my hangups about how this reboot seems to have popped up too soon after the last Spider-Man movie, having watched the first two movies recently I can admit that they have definitely aged with time, and not in a good way. However, while The Amazing Spider-Man is definitely much more serious in tone it is more erratic in story telling than its predecessors. It may be much less campy and more "dark and gritty" but it still feels as carefree and light hearted as the first Spider-Man. The fact of the matter is that The Amazing Spider-Man is just that: a remake of the first Spider-Man movie, with different aspects built upon a painfully similar story.

That isn't to say this is a terrible movie, not by a long shot. There is a lot to like about this new Spider-Man such as the performances in the film. Andrew Garfield, the new Peter Parker, is fantastic and manages to convey not just the angsty teen side of Parker but the brilliant scientist, and the snarky superhero. I'd even go so far as to say he is better than Tobey Maguire. Emma Stone is adorable as Peter's first love Gwen Stacy. Her best scenes are with Garfield as the two really pull off the cutesy teen romance really well. You also have Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben who I think could've been utilized much better in this film (I just like the fact I could make Illusive Man jokes in the theater). Denis Leary stars as Captain Stacy, Gwen's father, and almost steals the show. He's got some of the best lines in the movie and kicks some major ass. Then you have Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curtis Connors/The Lizard. If anything Ifans does manage to pull off the mad scientist role, however, I never really felt sympathetic to the character which really is a let down because that sympathy is what made The Lizard an interesting character in the comics. Really, Ifans never managed to make me feel sorry for Connors.

Another positive aspect of this film is the fact that it does bring forth plenty of new and interesting ideas, however, these ideas don't coalesce well enough to fit into a streamlined story. How they characterized Peter's transformation and how he changed as spider DNA intermingled with his was rather interesting. Him catching a fly and licking his lips like he was about to eat it was interesting. Indeed, Garfield's portrayal does have a lot of spider-like mannerisms in it. It definitely would have been an interesting take on the character had it been explored more. It would make sense for some of the instincts, not just the abilities, to cross over into Peter.

Another positive aspect of this film is that there are some truly creative scenes. My favorite being a scene where Spider-Man is searching for The Lizard in the sewers. He sets up a network of webs throughout the tunnels and then sits and waits until he gets a vibration from one of them, just like a real spider catching its prey. It was also great to have Spidey reclining back on his web to play a game on his phone while he waited because, if spiders could, they'd pass the time doing the same thing.

However, for every fun and interesting idea this film has there are also very questionable ones. While I enjoyed Garfield's portrayal of Parker I didn't like how this film turned him into more of a punkish skater. While it makes sense that he shouldn't necessarily be a stereotypical nerd, as he was depicted initially in the comics, because in real life nerds come in all shapes and sizes like everything else. It just didn't feel right to have him skating around. While it's merely a nit-picky part on my end there are also more troubling decisions made in this film. The largest one being how Uncle Ben's death is executed in this film.

 To be clear here, Uncle Ben's death is the most pivotal moment in the Spider-Man lore. It is what made Peter Parker realize that with great power comes great responsibility and what drove him to become Spider-Man. This is something that is, regardless of how many retconns and deals with the devil Spidey makes, that remains a solid fact. However, in The Amazing Spider-Man, Uncle Ben's death is pretty much pointless here. Sure, it plays out fairly similarly here. Peter lets a criminal go despite having super powers and it results in the criminal killing Uncle Ben. However, this film drags out a portion of this story, the part where Peter goes on a path of revenge to find his uncle's killer, and it results in a string of vigilante attacks as Spidey tries to hunt the guy down. That's all he does for the first half of the movie as Spider-Man he tries to catch the guy responsible. He doesn't even decide to do some actual super-heroing until he saves a child from a burning car. And with that, the main crux of the Spider-Man lore is rent asunder. Because Uncle Ben's death doesn't teach Peter to become Spider-Man, a man who uses his power responsibly, some kid in a burning car does.

I know it may sound like I'm just nerd raging here, and I'll even admit that it may be the case, however this was a story told so many times that people who know about Spider-Man just in passing know about the importance of Uncle Ben and his death. So, I ask you, how is it you can screw up something literally EVERYBODY knows about? I'd love to know, because the writers of this film obviously managed to do so.

The films also likes to jump from set-piece to set-piece without little or not background or establishment in place. People were doing things in places and I didn't know why they were doing what they were doing or where they were doing it. The Lizard spontaneously attacks a street during the movie even though everything had been pointing out the fact that he was actually supposed to be heading to a destination. Why did he make a pit stop to gas a city block? Then, after being told that The Lizard has launched a biological attack on New York, Captain Stacey doesn't reassess his pursuit of Spider-Man--whose crimes so far have been vigilantism, resisting arrest, and making the sides of buildings sticky--and divert his forces to stop the Lizard. Instead, he continues hunting down Spider-Man. Why? Because having a scene where Stacey pulls Peter's mask off in front of a bunch of cops would be awesome and dramatic  Sure, it looked cool, but in the end it was just an empty action set-piece. That's why I call this movie an incoherent mess. It had a ton of cool ideas for scenes but didn't seem to have a story to stitch those ideas together.

Now, I may be making this movie look like crap but I assure you it isn't. It's just not a great movie. Maybe I expected too much from this movie, but damn it I did expect more than what I got. However, that doesn't make it a crappy movie (like the movie(s) that were shown in the trailers preceding it...*cough*). I wasn't mad or angry when I left the theater. I was disappointed, because I expected more than what I got from it. It's, at face value, a solid super-hero flick. Most will enjoy it, I will just shrug at it.

Do I recommend you see it? Sure, you can. Though if you're a die hard fan of Spidey or are interested in seeing the so called "secret origins" of Spider-Man, you will be disappointed.

I give, The Amazing Spider-Man, 3 webshooters out of 5.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review Tom. This movie definitely had plenty of fun and exciting moments and characters that we could feel something for. For some reason though, I just kept on thinking about the Sam Raimi original movies and yes, I know they aren't masterpieces by any means, but I still loved them and it just seemed like this whole film was unnecessary, but fun.