The Amazing Spider-man

Captain Stacy: "Thirty-eight of New York's finest, versus one guy in a unitard."

There are a lot of problems inherent in rebooting a franchise, especially one that's been sitting on the shelf for only a few years. Most of us have already seen the previous versions of this story, so why on earth would we care about another take?

Well, for starters, that is a very movie way of thinking. In comic books, continuity is constantly being updated, revised, retconned, and dismantled every few years. When you have a book that runs for decades, you gotta come up with some new stuff once in a while. Whereas in movies, any change to the material and people practically revolt. It is often met with cutting criticism, no matter the quality.

So is The Amazing Spider-man worth your time and money? In my opinion, yes.

As a technical achievement, this movie far surpasses the original. The visuals are sleek, the presentation is well crafted and fast paced, and the effects are markedly better. The biggest issue I had was with the occasionally spotty-looking CGI creature that is the main villain Lizard. Sometimes it looked amazing, and sometimes I wondered where they spent all that money. On the flip side, all the Spider-man effects were done perfectly, he felt like how the character should move. And the big set pieces felt organic to the story instead of wedged in for cool visual appeal.

The other big thing that stood out for me was the cast. All the actors delivered strong performances, enough that they covered any flaws in the narrative for me. Leading the group was Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker/Spider-man). He brought something different to the role. Subtly brilliant, introverted, and good natured, he's the kind of kid that tries to be noble even when he isn't blessed with superpowers. His road to becoming a hero wasn't paved with good intentions, either. He spent a good chunk of the movie looking for a killer, for personal reasons, instead of helping people for the sake of helping people. It made him feel more real to me, instead of the forced everyman that the character has always been.

Martin Sheen (Uncle Ben) and Sally Field (Aunt May) were both wonderful even if they didn't get a lot of screen time. They filled the roles of adoptive parents with heart and pathos, making it obvious why Peter would want to call them mom and dad. The choices they make and the fights they got into with Peter were never disrespectful. Even when Peter is trying to cope with the changes he's going through, he obviously loves them. Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy) fills in for the love interest, and was both an immediately likeable and believable match for Garfield's Peter. It was also cool that they used this character instead of Mary Jane, because in the comic books Gwen Stacy was always the one. She is an equal for Peter in both intelligence and goodness, although she isn't explored as a character very deeply. The romance itself felt a little fast to me, but at least they didn't progress the relationship too far.

Gwen Stacy's big character detail was that she is Curt Conner's (Ryan Ifans) lab assistant, and her father is a police captain (Denis Leary). Both of them delivered good performances, especially the tortured Curt Conner. They did something kind of cool with his monster, instead of just waiting until the third act to transform him -- they did a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde approach, and at his core, the good doctor was, well, good. Mr. Hyde a.k.a. the Lizard, of course went all nuts and tried to do what all super villains do, enact a plan to take over the world, and he was an effective foil for Spider-man. Captain Stacy was also not quite as one-dimensional as I thought he was going to be. They set him up to be the obsessive police chief that relentlessly pursues Spider-man no matter how much evidence there is that he's a hero. Well, they did do that, but there was more to it.

Bits:

I loved the introduction of Peter's powers. They played it for laughs but kept an underlying sense of how power can corrupt.

There was a brief scene just after the initial wave of end credits, but don't bother waiting until the very end.

Peter's photography was used a bit of a character touch, but they brought it up just enough that it felt important to him.

Stan Lee's cameo was so far my absolute favorite among all his appearances in the Marvel movies.

There was a nice, but slightly contrived sub-plot involving someone that Spider-man saves. It was cool that there were some karmic rewards for being a hero for once. Most of the time the bystanders that the hero saves are forgotten, so it was nice to see something different.

The way they used the webs in this movie was exactly how I imagined Spider-man using his webs. For me, they were the most memorable aspect of the film.

They attempted to inject some drama into the back-story involving Peter's parents, but they didn't fully explain what was going on. I imagine that is being saved for any future installments in this new franchise.

Plot-wise, this one didn't reinvent the wheel. In fact, it kind of just retreaded some material from the original. There were some pretty big plot-holes, and some minor inconsistencies. The darker tone fit with the story they were telling, but it might put some people off.

Were those issues large enough to spoil the experience? For me, no. For some, maybe. It drew me in, and kept me captivated for the entire run. Which is a feat, because I'm not that big of a Spider-man fan. Is The Amazing Spider-man better than the original? Well, in my opinion, yes. But there is a caveat. This might be a better movie, but it doesn't have quite as much heart.

3 out of 4 Uncomfortable branzino dinners with your new girlfriend's father who's on a mission to hunt you down and arrest you.

5 comments:

Panda said...

I really liked it.

I have to disagree about it not having much heart, though. I feel like it had just as much as the originals did, only it didn't fall into the same airy-fairy ground that they did.

I'm a huge Emma Stone nut, so I'm a little biased when it comes to her, but I loved her being a part of this type of film. She fell into the role so well, and is far and away above Kirsten Dunst from the originals in terms of likability.

Great review.

J.D. Balthazar said...

Don't get me wrong, I thought it did have heart. Just not as much as the originals. Mostly because of Tobey Maguire.

I totally agree that Emma Stone was better then Kirsten Dunst, in terms of likability and accessibility. In the original's Mary Jane was the person Peter coveted, and eventually won. Here the relationship with Peter and Gwen feels natural, and not driven by plot.

CrazyCris said...

Great review! You've pretty much finished convincing me to go see it! I was a bit on the fence, but after reading some good feedback, and having the opportunity to see it in English when it hits screens this weekend (as opposed to the usual -dubbed in Spanish-), well, I'll be there!

I always liked Tobey Maguire in the original, so that's probably going to be the element that's hardest for me to adapt to... Gwen Stacy not a problem, we're used to the "guys" getting a new love interest in every other movie in most franchises...

Anyway, it's finally something to look forward to in what has been so far (for me) a rather bleak movie summer! (Only 15 days until Batman!!!)

J.D. Balthazar said...

CrazyCris, I really hope you like it. I know some reviewers really didn't. One of my favorites in fact ripped it to shreds, and I completely disagreed with him. Which is a bit of first. Either way, I think it's worth going to see.

Rishabh Sawhney said...

Great review! I just though I might add that I loved the first two movies and not the third, but I don't think this one can be even compares to those.

For starters this is a completely different Peter Parker. He is smart, yes, but he is not a helpless and cowardly nerd as Tobey McGuire's Peter was. He is in the awkward middle group of not quite one of the cool kids but not a total nerd.

Comparing the two Peter's, Tobey was shy, nervous, awkward and pretty much a coward before he got the powers. Andrew is a much more complex character. He is self assured, funny, brave and has a tendency to show-off. Ex: Tobey humiliated Flash Thompson in self defense. Andrew himself came forward to do so. Also, the way Andrew moves when he is Peter Parker is consistent with the movements of Spiderman, whereas it was very easy to tell Tobey apart from stuntmen.

As for the love interest, They did the right thing by going for Gwen, the original girlfriend, rather than MJ. The high point of this movie was the sparkling chemistry between Emma Stone and Andy Garfield, fueled by their offscreen relationship. The dialogue between them was just right. It was awkward and hesitant and felt real, like teenagers with their first crush. Way better than the melodrama we always got with Kristen and Tobey.

I also liked the way Spidey fights. He relies more on his agility and web-slinging than on his strength as he did previously. I don't think he punched the Lizard even once in the whole movie.

Also, I like what they did with the suit. The design of the suit is quite striking, and more than a little original.

The etching and fine details in the texture of the suit are truly inspired, and while the “web” pattern is significantly downplayed from previous iterations of the suit; in some ways I view this as a plus.

As with the “web” pattern, the spider emblem in the center of the chest seems more thinner, more splindly, and ultimately less impactful; a design choice that works well given that it matches the narrow frame of the actor wearing it.

But, probably my favorite design element of the suit is the unique detail put into the forearm and hand portions of it: If you look close, there’s a few neat little deviations from the norm to be found, like streaks of blue running through the top portions of the forearm area and along the thumb joints range of motion.

Also, the “web” pattern seems to fade out completely in the hands; making for a seemingly more “practical” spider suit.

This film is significantly darker and grittier than the previous ones and works with a much small cast ensemble, which I think gives more chance to develop the character of Peter Parker and his relationship with Gwen and Andrew Garfield simply steals the show.

So, all in all this was a much better movie than the original, despite having the same story, because of the attention to details and greater character development.