Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans (136 min.)

Sony has dipped back into the Spidey well this summer, and delivered a new, re-imagined version of the webslinger despite the fact Sam Raimi's trilogy ended merely five years ago.  Regardless of what they were hoping to do with this franchise reboot, the whole thing may never escape the "unnecessary" tag in my book.  And, even in spite of my trepidation towards starting all over, Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man works more often than not.  That isn't to say there is much fresh or new or groundbreaking here, but there is good humor, entertainment, and arguably a more interesting version of Peter Parker, who never has been the most compelling alter ego. 

We still get an extended origin story with this new version of Spider Man, where we see how Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) gets his powers and becomes the hero.  Parker is still a nerdy kid, picked on in high school by the bully, awkward with the ladies.  Although it may be a bit harder to believe with Andrew Garfield than it was with Tobey Maguire.  This time around, Peter is given more motivation to become a hero; we get a back story involving his father and mother, forced to flee and leave Peter in the care of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt Mae (Sally Field).  As a teenager, Parker discovers his father's work history, which leads him to the ominous Oscorp where he meets his father's partner, Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans).  It is here, as he snoops around, that he discovers the radioactive spiders and is bitten by one.  The rest, we know, is history.

Spider Man is basically the same this time around, aside from the fact his webs are manufactured in this version rather than organically grown from his wrists.  The costume is slick and a shade or two darker, and it looks great in the mostly night-time action scenes.  The love interest this time is not Mary Jane, but Peter's first love, Gwen Stacy, a sharp young girl played by Emma Stone.  Garfield and Stone have obvious chemistry as the two leads.  Curt Conners is our villain, the doctor at Oscorp who becomes obsessed with regeneration of limbs as he is missing his own arm.  His feverish study of reptilian regeneration leads him to inject himself with a serum which turns him into The Lizard, one of Spidey's more formidable foes.

The action in The Amazing Spider-Man is more clever and creative than in the original films.  There are a few brief first-person shots which undoubtedly point to the influence of the video game culture, but work nonetheless.  The Lizard looks good for the most part, and Ifans is effective as a villain.  Maybe Willem Dafoe's wicked snarl was more exciting, but his Green Goblin was a poor antagonist in a ridiculous costume.  I also think Garfield is an upgrade, but more of a sideways enhancement.  This Peter Parker must be more of a driven, tortured character, and Garfield's look works with that aspect of the character.  Maguire was good, but could never really handle the angst of Parker the way Garfield does here.

The Amazing Spider-Man isn't quite as amazing, but it is a far cry from the third Raimi film.  The focus is here, but so is a great deal of exposition and a prologue that feels entirely too long.  The pieces have been put into place by previous Spidey films, and another extended origin story feels more tedious now.  I realize a reboot is a reboot, a d Webb and the production team wanted a whole new slate.  But we all know the origin of Spider Man, and if the central ideas are the same then why go to so much trouble?  Maybe that's just me.