Friday, July 6, 2012

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

As Super-Hero Summer 2012 continues after the release of Marvel's biggest blockbuster ever: The Avengers and in anticipation of The Dark Knight Rises; comic book fanboys like myself can wet their appetites with The Amazing Spider-Man! Barely ten years ago director Sam Raimi's trilogy starring Tobey Maguire as the (not-so young) web-slinging, crime fighter gave us Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004) and the disappointing Spider-Man 3 (2007). Now we have to ask ourselves: "Do we really need another Spider-Man trilogy?" Not to mention after last year's laughable and highly accident-prone Broadway musical, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark", it seemed as though the Spider-Man craze had died off. But since the announcement of Sony/Columbia's reboot of the Spider-Man franchise back in 2010 under director Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer (2009)) and starring Andrew Garfield (The Social Network (2010)) as the newest wall-crawler; fans and movie-goers were at odds with this latest reboot released so soon after the originals. Despite the hype and the outcries of fanboys everywhere, The Amazing Spider-Man is the beginning of a whole new trilogy!
After his parents mysterious disappearance, a young Peter Parker is left with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), who raise him like their own son. Still left with questions Peter soon finds his father's briefcase which leads to seek OSCORP's leading scientist in cross-species genetics: Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). With the help of intern and fellow student Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), he searches for answers on what his father was working on and the cause of his parents disappearance. Meanwhile, Peter is bitten by a genetically engineered spider which gains him super-powers like the ability to crawl walls and super-human reflexes becoming Spider-Man!
Gwen Stacy
Like anyone who has seen the previous movies or who has ever read a Spider-Man comic book in the last 50 years, we all know this story! It's hard to write a review of this movie without citing the previous movies, while this isn't a sequel or a prequel it is only fair that it be measured so. As a reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man really brings nothing new to the origin of the friendly-neighborhood Spider-Man we all know and love! Everybody knows how Spider-Man came to be. The main difference being the return to a younger version of the character more akin to the early Spider-Man comics. As we return to Peter Parker's high school life, which the 2002 movie barely focused on, we get to see him more as a teenager. True, while Andrew Garfield, 29, is no younger than Tobey Maguire, who was 27 at the time of the first Spider-Man movie. But with his youthful, thin physique, he is just as appealing as Tobey's boyish looks which convinced audiences that a young, twenty-something man could still play a 17-year-old (just look at Luke Perry!). While Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker was more of the shy/nerdy teenager, Andrew Garfield's portrayal is more of an "emo" outcast. While he demonstrates an ingenious level of intelligence, he appears more like the stereotypical hoodie-wearing, skateboard-riding teenager! While this Spider-Man is also much more playful and wise-cracking at times like in the comics, at other times he is very dull. Another difference is that the new Spider-Man deals with his parents which the others never even mentioned. There is one aspect of the new Spider-Man that hearkens back to the original comics in that of Spider-Man's mechanical web-shooters. While the 2002 Spider-Man has organic web-shooters like the Ultimate Spider-Man version. While the new Peter Parker is creative enough to make his own web-shooters, the material he uses is however OSCORP's creation and not his own. One of the biggest differences in the 2002 and 2012 versions is, of course, the love interest: instead of Mary Jane Watson, as played by Kirsten Dunst in the first movies, we get Gwen Stacy, who had appeared previously (however briefly and rather blandly) in Spider-Man 3 (2007) played by Bryce Dallas Howard (26 years-old at the time). Now Emma Stone (Zombieland (2009)), age 24, is the newer, younger Gwen Stacy. As most Spider-Man fans know, Gwen Stacy was Peter Parker's first crush in the comic books. While Emma Stone certainly looks the part, her character is completely changed making her a science geek too, even going so far as to make her an intern at OSCORP while she's still in high school! Captain Stacy also has a more prominent role in this movie, whereas James Cromwell played Capt. Stacey in only a few scenes in Spider-Man 3, Denis Leary plays the police captain in the new movie. Which seems a very fitting part since he recently played a firefighter in the FX TV show Rescue Me (2004-2011).
The Lizard: Comic To Screen
While Spider-Man's rogues gallery is comprised of many bizarre and colorful villains, and as how the original trilogy had already introduced both Green Goblins (Norman and harry Osborn), Dr. Octopus, The Sandman and Venom, the next most logical villain to appear was of course: The Lizard! Being one of Spider-Man's earliest and most ferocious villains (and my personal favorite!), there of course is some major changes to his origin. Making Dr. Connors an employee of Oscorp for one, makes for some huge ramifications in the story. While the movie mentions Norman Osborn (who must inevitably become The Green Goblin) on several occasions, he is never actually seen! (SPOILER: be sure to stay a little longer for the credits, you just might be surprised, or confused!) As Dr. Connor's researches various reptiles' ability to regrow limbs, as he suffered from the loss of his right arm, (although it is never mentioned how, either from birth or by injury) yearns to regrow his own and others afflicted with lost limbs. In developing a serum derived from reptile DNA, he is able to regrow his arm but with the side-effect of turning him into The Lizard! It is interesting to note that many of Spider-Man's villains in both comic and film are most often some form of mad scientist from Green Goblin to Doc Ock and Dr. Connors and there is always a tragic aspect to their experiments. It is also interesting that in the new movie, the vile of green liquid/gas which turns Dr. Connors into the Lizard is very reminiscent of the concoction used to turn Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) into the Green Goblin in the 2002 movie, they both have the OSCORP logo on them too! As The Lizard goes insane (talking to himself too, sound familiar?) he seeks to turn humanity into reptiles as well. While the movie version of The Lizard looks very similar to the comic book version, even in wearing the tattered lab-coat at times, his face remains very humanoid-like, keeping the facial features of the actor visible. While the CGI Lizard is impressive, I can't help but notice a very strong resemblance (particularly in toy form) to a Goomba from the horrible 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie! My biggest picky about this movie comes from an effects standpoint whereas the rest of the movie is chock-full of CGI goodness, it is when Peter Parker happens upon a "batch" of genetically engineered spiders who are kept in this black-light room, which makes the spiders glow-in-the-dark like some cheap carnival haunted house prop!
While many may wonder why Hollywood and Marvel Studios insisted on rebooting the Spider-Man franchise, the super-hero/comic book movie shows no signs of slowing down. The Avengers showed that super-hero movies are still popular, even more-so, and especially profitable in earning almost $600 Million and The Amazing Spider-Man itself pulled in $75 Million in it's opening weekend! Essentially it all comes down to money and keeping the property and franchise alive. While The Amazing Spider-Man is entertaining I would have been just as happy if they simply continued from the original trilogy or even made it a prequel of sorts. It wouldn't be that hard to continue the story with another actor, Marvel movies have done it before with three different actors playing Hulk and also two Punishers. Yes, I enjoyed the 2002 Spider-Man much more than The Amazing Spider-Man, but they are very similar movies in many ways. The originals were fun, and even a little campy thanks to Sam Raimi but Spider-Man has never been as dark as Batman, as this new one tries to make him. Spider-Man has enough character flaws already than to just make him into another "Emo" teenager. Take a lesson from Uncle Ben, Hollywood: "With great power, comes great responsibility." Just because you have the money and ambition to reboot a franchise, doesn't mean that you should. I've accepted the new X-Men with X-Men: First Class and I can't stop singing the praises of The Avengers, but we shall see what this new Spider-Man franchise will hold. Only time and box-office returns will tell...

LINKS: The Official Amazing Spider-Man Website