Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

(Writer's note: Back from the dead. This thing has been resurrected more times than Lazarus. Had some motivation last night,and here's what came from it)

Oh, mild spoilers ahead. Read at own caution)

I think it would be an understatement to say that I am a huge Spider-Man fan.

My future. Source: Wikipedia.
He’s probably my favourite comic book hero (next to Batman). I’ve read the comics (I have reprints of Amazing Fantasy #15 and Spider-Man #50), grew up with the 90’s animated series, and saw the movies in theatres (Spider-Man 2 was a family movie night and some of the most fun I’ve had at the theatre). Heck, it’s a running gag among my family that I will end up as J. Jonah Jameson, demanding pictures of Spider-Man.

I could relate a lot to Parker in the comics. A regular guy, given powers, not sure what to do with them; He struggled to pay the rent. His social life was lacking. He didn’t get any respect from the media. But, he still soldiered on. Great message. I love Batman, but I can’t relate to Bruce Wayne. He has unlimited money, access to great equipment and a cool car. He’s wish-fulfillment, escapism.

Like most people, I watched the Sam Raimi movies and thought that Spider-Man 3 was lousy, especially coming off the greatness of Spider-Man 2. Too many plots, an unnecessary retcon, misuse of Venom and that goddamn dance scene in the middle. And Spider-Man 4 sounded worse in the planning stages (I sound biased, but early plans were to have the Vulture as the villain, and Anne Hathaway playing his daughter The Vultress. Even as a kid, I always found the Vulture a lame villain. A man in a bird suit is not a villain; it’s a mid-life crisis). Raimi and Sony butted heads over the direction of the project, and eventually Raimi left. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst followed suit. Sony then announced plans to hire a new director and reboot the series from the beginning, to keep the movie rights from reverting back to Marvel.

Reboot. One of the two dirty R words in modern day Hollywood (remake is the other one). It has become a symbol of the lack of creativity that people complain about in movies these days. Considering that this reboot would be released five years after Spider-Man 3, many people were not looking forward to it, me included. But, hey, open mind and whatnot.

Sony owns the rights to this poster.
I went to see The Amazing Spider-Man about a week ago and left the theatre impressed. Although there were flaws, I felt that it was an interesting take on the character and actually better than the original Spider-Man film released in 2002.

Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) portrays Peter Parker, raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Sally Field and Martin Sheen) after his parents mysteriously die when he was a kid.  Although intelligent, Peter is a loner at high school and a target for bullies. He harbours a crush on Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a popular student who shares a similar passion for science, working as an intern at OsCorp for Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Connors worked with Peter’s father, and it is on a trip to OsCorp to see Connors that he gets bitten by a genetically engineer spider which causes many changes to him.

The biggest flaw in the movie we have to sit through the origin story again. If you asked someone how Peter Parker became Spider-Man, they could probably tell you exactly how it happened. Have a little respect for the audience Hollywood. Also, this version brings in Peter’s parents, has them die at the beginning, but then kind of drops it halfway through the movie (though in a post-credits scene, it is brought up again). However, the movie does pick-up significantly after the spider-bite, and several of the origin points were handled better in this version, such as Uncle Ben’s death.

I liked Garfield’s take on Peter Parker, portraying him as a socially-awkward loner but with a little bit of an edge present. It’s a more realistic (as realistic as you can get with a comic book character) and modern interpretation of Spider-Man. And once he gets the costume, he moves far ahead of Tobey. As far as I’m concerned, Garfield is Spider-Man. The main reason: his wit. Tobey was humourless. Garfield actually cracked jokes in the costume like Spider-Man would in the comics.

As for other performances, Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy was a highlight of the film, portraying a strong love-interest who is not a damsel-in-distress like other comic characters. She has tremendous chemistry with Garfield, which adds to their scenes together. Ifans’ portrayal of Connors and his villainous alter-ego The Lizard was also a strong performance. He’s not a true villain, just a guy who makes the wrong choice. However, Denis Leary, in his small screen-time, nearly stole the show as Gwen’s father George, a police captain who does not approve of Spider-Man methods. It is in fact, his scene with Peter at dinner that helps set him on the path to being a hero.

The theme of responsibility is one of the key themes of Spider-Man (I think we can all recite the famous phrase from the comics) and I liked how the movie handles it with Parker. The entire movie, even before he gets his powers, builds to him accepting responsibility for his actions as both Parker and Spider-Man.

The action in the movie, performed with a lot of wire-work, was also better than the 2002 movie, which has not aged well visually. During Spider-man’s fights with the Lizard, it feels like watching one of the comics come to life with the way he moves and dodges attacks, throwing in his webs for good measure.

In addition, this movie features the best Stan Lee cameo in a Marvel movie.

The Amazing Spider-Man was a better movie than it had any right to be, considering the reasons for it being made. Despite a retelling of the origin story, the movie picks up significantly from there, with strong performances and action keeping it from becoming a cynical, mediocre cash-in, like many feared it would be. I hope that the sequel adds to the strong foundation that this movie built.

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