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Movie of the Week: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

*****

A reboot sounded like a horrible idea, didn’t it? After Sam Raimi redefined the superhero genre with his adaptation of a particular comic book superhero, Spider-Man (2002) became the standard that all comic book films had to live up to. And when he released Spider-Man 2 (2004), it seemed that the genre could not be bettered. And then came Spider-Man 3 (2007), a great disappointment to fans and critics alike. It seemed that the Godfather trilogy of superhero films had been achieved. So why would it be a good idea to reboot the story only five years later? Well, as 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man has shown us, it was not only a good idea, but a great idea.

If you are familiar with the story of Marvel’s nerdy, double-lifing arachnid hero, or if you remember the general arc of the original Spider-Man, then the general story of this new take on the hero will be very familiar.When Peter Parker was a young boy, his father and mother left him to live with his aunt and uncle, while they ran off into the unknown, all because of something related to a file that Peter’s father kept in his desk. As Peter grows up, he develops into a sort of rebellious geek, picked on by everyone at school… until one day, where a bite from a spider in a laboratory changes everything.

Like I said before, if you have seen the original, it is impossible to avoid comparison here. Indeed, there are many scenes and situations that will echo similar scenes from Spider-Man in one’s mind. But changing little details– Gwen Stacey being the love interest instead of Mary Jane Watson, Peter having to build web-slingers instead of a seemingly infinite amount of naturally occuring web– makes the general flow of the film feel fresh and different. It’s an undeniably fun film, as well, and the team which was assembled for this venture executes a faithful adaptation beautifully.

Aussie-born Andrew Garfield is born to play the punk nerd. He is absolutely terrific as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, perfectly channeling
the character we know and love from the comic books  and animated series. He plays Parker with a brooding vulnerability and inquisitive, experimental nature that makes him so easy to relate to, and has the youthful charm to make us love him. But we could not have a Spider-Man movie without a spunky,  beautiful leading woman. And there is literally no better choice than Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey. Emma Stone is wonderful once again, showing us that drive and determination expected from a kick-butt comic book girl, while also exhibiting an absolutely beautiful awkward charm in her interactions with Garfield. She’s spunky, but she’s also sweet, and never goes to extremes.

Martin Sheen had some big shoes to fill as Uncle Ben Parker, shoes previously worn by the late Cliff Robertson, who uttered the famous line, “With great power comes great responsibility.” in the original Spider-Man. Now obviously, that line isn’t repeated verbatim in the reboot, but the idea is definitely there, in Uncle Ben’s explaining to Peter that “If you have the ability to do something good for someone else, then you have a moral obligation to do that.” And Sheen plays that out very well. He gets a little worked up and angry, especially in one heated scene. But he is a good man at heart, and always makes sure to fulfill his obligations to his family, and to those who he sees in need of help. All of his good makes Ben Parker a tragic character, as you may remember from the original story… and that particular point in his story doesn’t change here. Sally Field holds her own as Peter’s Aunt May, but an actress of her caliber should be given more to do in a film like this, even if she’s a minor character.

As our villain, Dr. Curt Connors (aka The Lizard), Rhys Ifans does the best he can with what he is given, but I’m afraid that the character as a whole suffers due to a bland sense of purpose. Yes, he wants to restore some part of him that was lost. Okay, he wants to create a superior race, a plan which, of course,  Spidey has to make sure to stop. But somewhere, a bit of the passion of villains like Dr. Octopus from the first series is lost. He’s not an original villain, but that is not the problem. He’s just not that fun to watch. I mean, he is by no means boring, but he doesn’t give Spider-Man enough of a challenge, physically, emotionally, or psychologically. In a summer season where we were presented with villains like Bane of The Dark Knight Rises, the talent behind The Amazing Spider-Man left a bit to be desired.

Director Marc Webb (Ha! Get it? That can’t be a coincidence) made a critical splash with his debut feature, (500) Days of Summer, a film which I personally adored. So, when I heard that he was going to be placed at the helm of The Amazing Spider-Man, I had to wonder if he could do it. Remind me never to underestimate him again. Turns out the man can direct action. And he directs it darn well. All of the free-falling and swinging sequences in this film are tense and exhilarating, and the fights are slick, well-paced, perfectly choreographed and extremely well-shot. But what struck me most of all was how well Webb’s skill in the romantic comedy genre transposed over to the world of comic books. Namely, I am referring to the offbeat, awkwardly funny romance between Peter and Gwen. There is so much of Marc Webb’s signature stamped all over the flirtatious scenes between the two leads, with whip-smart lines that aren’t outside the bounds of believability. These two teens are people who feel like they could definitely exist in any High School, and audiences may in fact find that they see bits of the characters in their own friends, or in themselves. In the hands of a director who didn’t understand the characters, or have a clear respect for their history, the relationship could have crashed and burned. But in the able hands of Marc Webb, this Spider and his mythology are safe.

The whole film is filmed beautifully. Every shot is framed clearly and concisely, and gets across what it needs to without lingering too much. The special effects are some of the best you’ll see this year. And the new look of the Spider-Man suit is appealing to the eye, without meandering too far away from the look we know and love. It’s a nice, practical, almost natural design. And you are bound to have fun with the action sequences, each one being rip-roaring fun, but never overbearing. And, perhaps most importantly, this film doesn’t take itself too seriously. This isn’t The Dark Knight Rises. It isn’t Road to Perdition. This film knows that it inhabits a silly concept, and it has a spectacular amount of fun with the general geekiness of the plot.

I was actually surprised that the music here was composed by James Horner. While it’s not a surprise that James Horner composed a great score (Titanic, I don’t care what anyone says, I love you), the score for The Amazing Spider-Man is more upbeat  and heroic than Horner’s normal ventures, more along the lines of John Powell’s typical work. But when you actually give it a serious listen, it makes sense that it’s composed by Horner, especially in the climax of the film, where our ears are graced, and the imagery complimented, by Horner’s trademark emotional chords and a great buildup that only a veteran composer can really accomplish. It’s a fun score, and I must say that it compliments the rock/indie sound of the film’s soundtrack.

The acting and direction are top-notch.   The action sequences are perfectly paced and intense. The music is fast-moving and powerful. Do I have qualms? Yes. But not many. I mean, I’ll just say it again. This film is a boatload of rip-roaring fun, and definitely worthy of carrying on its name. The Amazing Spider-Man earns its stars, and gets four out of five.

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About Errol Teichert

A young filmmaker, a budding playwright, and a freelance critic.

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