Amazing Spider-Man,
directed by Marc Webb
(Sony, 2012)

Where is it different? Where is it the same? Is it a decent flick? These are good questions, and the answers are a) mostly in the casting but partly in the re-imagined origin, and b) the story is faithful to the personality of its hero and the intent of his mission, and c) yes. Quality was not sacrificed in this re-imagining.

As to why a reboot was needed, the answer lies in the failure of the third installment of the franchise. It was very clear by then that the idea well had run dry. Rather than let a great idea lie fallow (and rather than allow Sony to lose control of the movie rights, reverting them back to Marvel), a new franchise was unveiled that has all the flavor of the original, and the great advantage of freshness as well. It's as strong and solid as Sam Raimi's version.

Gone is the manic, cartoony style that Raimi brought to the screen. In its place is a smart, well-thought-out, complex story that goes deeper into the origins of Peter Parker than the previous movie, though I don't think it's straying from canonical interpretation so much as adding a very interesting layer to it. This time around, the deaths of Peter's parents may have been related to his father's work at the research company OsCorp. Mary Jane Watson is replaced with Gwen Stacy (a brilliant Emma Stone). Taking care of Peter after his parents are of course his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), who manage to shine even in the small amount of screen time they are given.

The story is familiar enough that it does not bear repeating, but suffice to say that being bitten by a radioactive spider isn't as tough as navigating the social maze that is high school, which Peter doesn't handle nearly as gracefully as he does leaping off tall buildings with a single bound. That isn't a large enough problem for him, though. His father's former colleague at work, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a specialist in cross-species genetics, has taken his experiments just a bit too far and managed to turn himself into a giant lizard. And the police captain who just issued a warrant for the arrest of Spider-Man is Commissioner James Stacy, Gwen's father.

The best part of any superhero movie is going to be the theatrics surrounding the action sequences. They've had 10 years to perfect even better CGI effects than before, and while it doesn't scale the special effects mountains that The Avengers does, it delivers enough surprises to keep you interested.

There are a few places where the contrivances are a bit thick, and Stacy's character will hopefully be worked through a bit more thoroughly before the next installment, but overall, it's a lot of fun. Who could get tired of watching a geeky, awkward kid like Peter explore his new powers while battling with the idea of responsibility? And how could the idea of webbing your way like Tarzan through the canyons of the city ever get boring? It's the exhilaration factor that overrides the sense of competitiveness with the past and the feeling of been-there, done-that. That, and Andrew Garfield turning in a completely heartfelt and sincere performance as Peter Parker, make this a perfectly capable movie that does everything as well, perhaps even better, than the original.

by Mary Harvey
21 July 2012

Did the world really need a Spider-Man reboot so soon after the end of Tobey Maguire's exceptional run in the red-and-blue tights?

Well, to be honest, no. Not really. But in a profit-driven movie market, now that Marvel's lucrative character rights are being brought home to roost in Marvel's own studio, Spider-Man -- potentially the most lucrative of them all -- is a pretty hot commodity. And it's the last of the big-name Marvel heroes still on the loose, so you can't really blame Sony for capitalizing on the name once Maguire and trilogy director Sam Raimi decided to call it quits.

Comparisons are, of course, inevitable given that the previous Spider-Man series debuted only 10 years ago and made its final appearance a mere 5.

My take? It's pretty darn good.

You can line up the various attributes of the films for direct comparison, if you want. As Peter Parker, for instance, Maguire projected the "unpopular nerd" gene better than successor Andrew Garfield, who has a little too much of the edgy/hipster/skater thing going on to seem so far on the fringe. On the other hand, Garfield handles the confident, wise-cracking superhero parts better than Maguire, who rarely managed to project confidence in the role.

Emma Stone nails Gwen Stacy with ease. Kirsten Dunst was good as Mary Jane Watson in the previous films -- Mary Jane, true fans will recall, was Parker's second true love until Marvel Comics decided single characters were more fun and wrote their marriage out of existence -- but she never settled into the role the way Stone does here.

The movie begins when young Peter, age 4, loses his parents in a plane crash that might be more sinister than it appears. Flash forward to the now, and Peter is an unpopular high school geek living with his aunt and uncle. The discovery of his father's old briefcase leads him to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a former colleague, which leads inevitably to the fated spider bite.

Connors, of course, is researching lizard DNA in an attempt to regrow his missing arm. Testing the drug on himself is, as always, a bad idea. Cue Spider-Man!

Marc Webb, while lacking Raimi's directing experience, certainly turns in a polished product. There are times, however, where Webb might have wanted to rein himself in a bit. For instance, the first time Peter's powers manifest, on a New York City subway, is over the top and gratuitous. And the miracle of the cranes -- you'll know what I mean when you see it -- bypassed "over the top" and went straight into ridiculousness.

Overall, though, The Amazing Spider-Man succeeds as a next generation Spider-Man movie. It's better than the Raimi version in some ways, worse in others -- but, more to the point, it's a heckuva good time that will keep Spider-Man coming our way for the foreseeable future.

by Tom Knapp
21 July 2012