Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Review: "The Amazing Spiderman"

I've never been a huge fan of the comics (Peter talks to himself a little too much for my tastes) and I must admit that I found Toby Maguire to be a less than stellar Spiderman.  Kristen Dunst has only been good for me in two movies to date-- Interview with the Vampire and Drop Dead Gorgeous-- neither of which were particularly inspiring and one of which was only a good performance because she was 9.  So with that prejudice in mind, I figured I would probably like this re-boot of the series a little better.  That said, it's a glaring oversight not to mention that it's only been ten years since the last set started (a shocking five since the last movie was out).  So, while I was apprehensive about the idea of starting over so soon, and not particularly fussed about the characters, I found myself enjoying the hell out of this film.  Go figure.

We all know the premise: Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a dorky high schooler with a penchant for science who quietly shuffles through life trying to stay beneath the radar of the mean kids at school.  Unbeknownst to him while on a field trip (in this case of his own making) he is bitten by a radioactive spider and starts to find himself developing unusual powers.  I've read reviews that say this part of the film is clunky and much too long, and I can see how you might feel that way if you don't buy Garfield as Peter Parker.  Which surprisingly, I do.  I actually felt is was a much more effective Parker than Maguire, but he does basically smolder his way through the role in a fashion that is very against type.  In addition to which, there's very little fleshing out of his life beyond what we already know: he lives with his Aunt and Uncle, he's a loser at school (though even losers have friends and Peter seems to have none).  In fact, the only people who seem to acknowledge Garfield's existence as he pads through the halls of his high school are the main supporting characters (Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey and Chris Zylka as Flash Thompson), extras all seem to studiously ignore him in a feat of incredibly strange direction.

For her part Stone is a likeable character, if a little overly repressed.  She seems to alternate between the quirky Stone that we love and the nerdy yet seemingly popular Gwen Stacey which doesn't really work but in the moments that she is present she's a very interesting character.  One of the things I love about comics is that we often get supporting characters (often civilians) who sacrifice themselves to bolster the hero's efforts.  It's a little bit of human interest in an otherwise fantastical situation and Gwen Stacey, for her part, was able to be an instrument of success in the climax of the film.  Not only that, but at no point does she have a "damsel in distress" moment and have to be saved by a man (always a plus).  At the same time, her moment of heroism isn't ridiculously outside of what should be possible for a civilian and she even dismisses the wishes of Garfield's Peter Parker to do so.

Much has been made of the plot holes and lack of character development in this re-boot and Rhys Ifans' character is perhaps the worst example of this.  Through much of the film he is touted as a noble character, out to heal the world through genetic cross-breading of species and hampered by a large and faceless corporation, concerned only with the wellbeing of its founder.  Unfortunately after spending so much time building him up, the film takes about ten seconds to rip him down to size, and attempts to explain it away with some vague unheard voices in a subsequent seen.  Clearly, he's been driven mad by his serum, because of course that's the best possible explanation of a giant lizard man running through New York.  I would have liked to have seen Ifans' Dr. Kurt Connors have a little more struggle in him, a little bit more of the Jekyl and Hyde conundrum than was present here.  There's also a subplot involving Peter's Parents that I didn't much care for.  The idea here is that there's something special about Peter's father, something he doesn't know or realize, possibly even something about himself.  In a shadowy post-credit scene in the jail after being caught, Dr. Connor's voices demand to know whether he's "told the boy" anything to which he replies he has not.  Presumably this will be explained in more detail in future installments but for now it hangs a little limp.

The most successful part of the film by far however (plot holes and odd casting choices aside) is the action, which leans into Garfield's lankiness (always part of what I loved about Spiderman as a hero) and makes the character more of a gymnast than a powerhouse.  He is strong to be sure but it's more about finesse and balance than it is about strength.  This is made fairly obvious during one of Spidey's early, "galavanting around New York," scenes in which he is balancing on the edge of a building in a hand-stand (convincing), which then becomes a finger-stand (a little unbelievable), and finally becomes a balancing act on two fingers (ridiculous and awkward).  Other than that, the action sequences were mostly very well done and the match ups between Spidey and The Lizard seemed to have taken their strength and different methods of fighting into account.  At no point did I feel like the action was moving so quickly I couldn't follow (this has been a bug bear for me since the second installment of the Bourne Identity films) and ultimately the film was a very good time.

While I don't generally take audience reaction into account (for instance I HATED the Social Network with a passion) I have heard extreme negative responses to this film so I will bump it down a half point in my estimation as a result.

My rating: 2.5 out of 4

Bottom Line: See if half price and don't think too hard about the plot points, it's fun and inconsequential.

1 comment:

  1. I think you were slightly harsher on the film than I would have been. I think it was definitely more 3 than 2.5.

    But then again, I am a sucker for Andrew Garfield. He was great.

    And I really didn't care for Toby Maguire's Spider-Man. I don't think I ever saw the third one.