Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man / **½ (PG-13)

Peter Parker/Spider-Man: Andrew Garfield
Gwen Stacy: Emma Stone
Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard: Rhys Ifans
Captain Stacy: Dennis Leary
Aunt May: Sally Field
Uncle Ben: Martin Sheen
Rajit Ratha: Irrfan Khan
Richard Parker: Campbell Scott

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Marc Webb. Written by James Vanderbilt and Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves. Based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Running time: 136 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence).

The job of a critic requires walking a delicate balance. As criticism, everything we write is subjective, yet in order to be a fair critic we must try to weigh a certain measure of objectivity into anything we dissect. It is impossible to write opinion without bias, but it is also important for a good critic to take into account what the filmmakers are trying to achieve and how well they do without allowing personal preference to cloud our judgment on how well they achieve their artistic goals. I make it a point to try my hardest to keep this delicate balance with every film I write about. In the case of “The Amazing Spider-Man”, I must admit that my status as a Spider-Man fan may very well overshadow my objectivity towards its subject.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” is being sold as a ‘reboot’ of the successful franchise launched in 2002 by Columbia Pictures. It’s also being called a ‘remake’. If it wasn’t a foreign film first, I don’t see why it would ever be necessary to remake a film only ten years after its original production. As far as reboots go, I thought this was something studios did to revitalize a franchise that has begun to fade in popularity. Neither of these cases applies to the “Spider-Man” franchise. “The Amazing Spider-Man” is most definitely a reboot, but its purpose seems a little muddled to the public. It probably has to do with behind the scenes differences that couldn’t be resolved. Needless to say, the purpose of rebooting this franchise at this point in its existence is questionable.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” tells the same basic story of the 2002 film, but the details are all different. There’s Peter Parker. He’s a geeky high school kid. His parents are dead. His Uncle Ben and Aunt May raised him. A spider that has been scientifically altered bites him, and he finds he’s developed super powers that are similar to a spider’s attributes. A man he could’ve stopped with his newfound powers, but doesn’t bother to because he’s angry about something, kills his uncle. He decides to use his powers for good. He gains other super powered enemies. He’s loved by the citizens of New York and hunted by the authorities as a vigilante.

That’s what’s the same. Of what is different, I can only count one detail that is totally in line with the comic book. The webs he slings as Spider-Man are not organic, as they were in the original trilogy of films. They are mechanical cartridges of Peter’s own design. Also in keeping with the comic book lore but not necessarily in the same way are these details. Peter’s first girlfriend in the comic book is the blonde haired Gwen Stacy. Her father is the police captain in charge of hunting Spidey down. And, Dr. Curt Connors is a scientist friend of Peter’s who experiments with cross-species genetics to regrow his missing arm and accidently turns himself into the monster known as The Lizard.

I like that the filmmakers take their time in building all these elements. Some might feel the movie moves a little slowly through its story elements, but there’s a lot to cover here. For some reason, the screenwriters have added the element of the mysterious disappearance and murders of Peter’s parents. This detail could’ve waited for the sequel, however, in order to make more room for Peter’s own character development. The pace works well here, though, giving the proper consideration to each of Peter’s decisions and the process that brings him to them.

Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”) takes over as Peter Parker this time. Emma Stone (“The Help”) is his romantic interest, Gwen Stacy. Their romance comes a little too easily to Peter. One of the key elements of Peter’s character is his social awkwardness. They’re romantically awkward toward each other, but this is not the Peter of the comic books. He’s too handsome. They’re both too old. However, they do a good job with what they’re given. It’s just that what they’re given is missing something.

In fact there are a lot of somethings missing in this Spider-Man. Where is the Daily Bugle? How do you have a Spider-Man without a J. Jonah Jameson, the newspaper editor determined to make Spider-Man out to be a menace? Why doesn’t Peter sell pictures of his exploits as Spider-Man to explain how he pays for his equipment? There is a scene where Peter sets up a camera to take pictures of one of his encounters with The Lizard, but nothing is ever done with this. Why is the camera detail even in there with no mention as to why he’s set up the camera? The Lizard could’ve figured out Peter’s identity many other ways. The filmmakers set up a plot element where Peter seeks out his Uncle Ben’s killer, and after a while they just drop it. What’s that about?

The truth is if I knew nothing about Spider-Man going into a screening of “The Amazing Spider-Man”, I probably wouldn’t have had many of the problems I have with this movie. The direction by Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”) is sure and confident. The special effects are the best we’ve seen in a Spider-Man movie. Although, Peter’s character is fairly well developed here, it seems as if everything comes a little too easy for him. Far too many elements that have defined the Spider-Man universe throughout the years have been omitted. Even Uncle Ben’s famous line “With great power, comes great responsibility” is never quite uttered. It’s as if the filmmakers were so concerned about not repeating past Spider-Man movies that they decided to remove those things that make Spider-Man unique. The biggest question remains that if you already have established a successful Spider-Man franchise, why start from scratch again after so few films, especially if you have to omit so many of the details you got right the first time?

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