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To put a twist on the tagline from the movie that kicked off the cinematic obsession with superheroes more than 30 years ago: when it comes to The Amazing Spider-Man, you’ll believe a man can cry. Well, in this case, Peter Parker is still a boy but he’s learning to be a man and that’s never easy, even when you have super powers. While it leaves a lot on the table in terms of the action and special effects and humor we expect from superhero movies, this reboot of the Spider-Man franchise pushes certain emotional buttons in ways that the Sam Raimi version (and most other movies of the genre) can only dream about. It’s actually moving and, since it aims beyond the 13-year-old male id, it might find its audience outside of the group of people who normally go for these kinds of things.

Ever since Sony announced they were rebooting the character with a younger cast, I’ve been deeply skeptical not only of the cynicism behind the decision (it’s all about money and keeping the rights to the character alive), but also the need to go back to the well and tell the Spidey origin story yet another time. It turns out though that it was a necessary move since the franchise really is striking out in a fresh direction and it needs a solid foundation upon which to build. This is that foundation. The basic story is rejiggered and modernized somewhat – Peter’s dead parents are introduced and his father winds up figuring into the overall story – but it hits all of the familiar beats involving the school nerd who is given superpowers from the bite of a mutant spider and it dispenses with them fairly (and mercifully quickly).

Where the new Spider-Man differs most sharply from the Sam Raimi version is that Peter’s guardians, Uncle Ben and Aunt May, are much more well-developed and their arc carries a lot more weight. There is more honest emotion in Peter’s relationship with Ben and May than in about any superhero movie I can think of and the familiar climax (and repercussions) of their part of the story easily provides the biggest gut punch since Lois was buried alive in the first Superman.

Thanks perhaps in part to the sensitive direction of Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer), the cast is where Spider-Man really excels. Andrew Garfield is great as Peter Parker from the early scenes up through his transformation and into his difficult adjustment phase. He’s a credible high school kid and he’s got great chemistry with Martin Sheen as Ben and Sally Field as May. For their part, Sheen and Field are also terrific, helping to ground a genre that can succumb to silliness. Emma Stone meanwhile is also solid as Peter’s love interest Gwen Stacy (she’s spunky and smart and is more than capable of fending for herself) while Rhys Ifans gives a lot more nuance to his scientist/evil villain role than you normally expect to get. In short, all of the human elements of The Amazing Spider-Man are surprisingly good.

Where the film stumbles, and this is sure to be a bone of contention for people who show up expecting the usual superhero mix, is mostly in the story and the action. The thing is, Peter Parker is much more interesting without the mask on. Once he gets past his growing pains and has to save the city, the film grinds to a halt and this is just where most of these movies take off. The story is serviceable, but there’s some really silly stuff (a sequence involving a grateful crane operator comes to mind) and much of the action and special effects (especially arch-villain The Lizard) have an unappealingly rubbery CGI quality to them. They’re serviceable, but we’ve come to expect more than that from this kind of movie.

On balance though, The Amazing-Spiderman gets more right than not and the emotional chords it strikes make it easy to forgive its shortcomings. The world probably doesn’t need another Spider-Man origin story, but we have one anyway and luckily it’s pretty good and it bodes well for a fresh direction with the inevitable sequels.

8 Responses to “The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)”

  1. While I rewatched the 3 previous Spidey films last Saturday, I thought that it was good for the new Spidey film to use The Lizard since the Raimi series were briefly teasing Connors&Lizard and didn’t got the chance to use him.

    Also, Spider-Man 3 was so weak, there was almost no way to follow it up (especially with how Venom was treated). So that’s also another reason to go for the reboot. Plus, it’ll allow Sony to use the popular villains again. That happens unfortunately because the casual moviegoer won’t care for lesser known villains that most comic-book fans are already familiar with.

    BTW, how does the 3D work for the new Spidey?

    I think I’ll see this on Monday. I’m looking forward to it, but not as much as say, Skyfall, TDKR, Argo, The Master or Django Unchained.

  2. I really liked the first two Raimi films, but the 3rd was the most disappointing of that particular year for me.

    I didn’t see it in 3D, but I could see how some of the flying around scenes might take good advantage of it.

  3. Hey Craig. Good post as usual –

    I saw a screening of The Amazing Spider-Man last week. While it had some emotional depth I was disappointed.

    I don’t want to give away spoilers, so I will try to be as vague as possible.

    I wasn’t too keen on the usage, although very mild of Peter’s parents in the story. It kind of derails everything about the Spider-Man mythos. That things happened him (Peter Parker) by chance and that he learns and deals with his responsibilities from a very severe lesson.

    The way the lesson is learned in this current version seems diluted.

    In previous versions if memory serves correct, Peter’s reluctance to a situation caused him grief. In this movie too, he was reluctant, but the thing that gives the previous scenarios more weight, is that Peter was not insulted first by the character he was supposed to help. By Peter being insulted it gave his character a reason not to help out in the situation. It took away some good conflict, because as an audience member, I found myself “Saying that guy acted like a jerk to Peter.”

    in previous movies (and I have read the comics and seen the cartoons too, so my recollection could be blurred) the person Peter was supposed to help did not insult him, but asked for help and he refused. Which makes that lesson really hit it’s mark in the aftermath.

    I have not seen any of the modern style vampire movies but by seeing the trailers and commercials it seems like a genre blend of romance and horror, it seems that this is what this movie is going for by blending romance and action/sci fi.

    It had some things going for it, the usual Spider-Man humor, topical thing such as bullying (which was a part of the character Flash Thompson) but from the above that I mentioned and side things such as Oscorp and their study of spider-webs, Peter’s parents, that ridiculous scene with the crane(s) and worker amongst other just didn’t move me.

    If they could have omitted and tweaked some things I would have enjoyed it more.

  4. Wow, is that still actually from the film? It looks like a toy diorama.

  5. James, those are all good points. I guess I kind of feel like since we’ve already had that version of the story that this new one works just fine all by itself. It’s not great and I still don’t think we really needed to do this all over again, but because it’s too lucrative a property to let go of, Sony was bound and determined and this strikes me as the most reasonable way to do it.

    Having said that, I can see where this isn’t going to make everyone happy. Alas, it will make enough people happy that they keep doing them.

    Joel, I grabbed this pic from IMDB. A lot of the “official” pics of a film are actually photos taken on set rather than still frames from the film. Or maybe since they appear long before a film comes out, they’re still frames that were never properly color tweaked or something. I don’t know, but the scenes of real people don’t look as cheesy in the film as the shot above.

  6. It is pretty good indeed, and I’m not at all a fan of this genre.

    In fact I am also going with three-and-a-half stars, so I am exactly where you are with this film. The human elements were handled nicely, and luckily Peter Parker was seen outside of his superhero garb far more than he was in it. I dare say i like the gifted Andrew Garfield more than I do Toby Maguire.

    All the kids liked the film and are now spending a good part of the 4th of July holiday watching the Maguire films, even as we barbeque.

    Yes, it’s all about money, but surprisingly they’ve come in here with a most respectable re-boot. And a very nice James Horner score to boot. Ha!

  7. Regardless of whether it’s a still taken on set or a still captured from the film itself, it still looks bizarrely unrealistic to me. I google image-searched it and found this higher res version. Even zooming in, it looks plastic and unreal, like a posed toy with painted-on effects. I’m not knocking the film, just the qualities of the image you happened to select.

  8. Joel, yeah it looks like a bunch of people standing around looking at a plastic statue of Spider-Man on the street.

    Sam, I think the secret to this film is that it’s aimed at people who don’t ordinarily like superhero films. For better or for worse depending on your perspective.

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