Thursday, 5 July 2012

But Those Are The Best Kind: "The Amazing Spider-Man"

I think it was always a controversial decision to reboot the Spider-Man franchise. I remember how anti-climatic it felt in early 2010 when the reboot was announced. It did feel a little soon to be hitting the reset button but now 2 and half years later, there's more of a distance between the previous trilogy and the new film, The Amazing Spider-Man. I also said to myself that I would judge this movie only when I finally saw it. Now that it's out, what do I think? Well, I'm a little divided. It's a pretty solid reboot of the series with a wonderful and sexy romance at the center but I felt there were elements that could have been fleshed out and once it reaches its last act, the action and spectacle is not as thrilling as it could have been.

Essentially, the film is a retelling of Spider-Man's origin story. This film doesn't have the advantage of reboots like Batman Begins or Casino Royale, both of which had a lot of leg room to flesh out their protagonists' origin stories. In Tim Burton's Batman, Bruce Wayne had already established himself as Batman. We got flashbacks to the night his parents was murdered but we didn't see the process of him becoming Batman. I think Batman Begins did a great job of showing us what Bruce Wayne had to go through, mentally and physically, in order to become Batman. Casino Royale, based on the first James Bond novel by Ian Fleming, showed us Bond's first mission, how he earned his 00-status and how he was betrayed by the woman he loved, cementing his cavlier attitude towards women. Both films went behind the mystique of these characters, giving us greater insight than what had come before. I don't think Spider-Man has that same kind of mystique, and since Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man film already gave us pretty much all we needed to know about Spider-Man's origin, The Amazing Spider-Man can't have first dibs on the origin story. I was weary going in to this film of having to see the origin story once again. Surprisingly, despite re-telling this story, the film makes it enjoyable.

 This has to do with how the film's overall atmosphere. While Raimi's first 2 Spider-Man films allowed for plenty of humane and grounded moments, this film takes this one step further. It essentially does for Spider-Man what Christopher Nolan did for Batman- but in its own way that suits the character. While Nolan's Batman films are stripped down and gritty, they're not really grounded. "Grounded" is a word Andrew Garfield, who plays Peter Parker/Spider-Man, used when discussing the tone of the film. He said if him and the filmmakers tried to be too much like Batman, they'd fail. Fortunately the movie understands you can be grounded wtithout being overly serious and gritty.

The film is at its strongest when it's just about Peter Parker and his relationships to the people around him. The relationship that comes through strongest is probably the one between him and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Garfield and Stone are really wonderful together, really making you believe these two kids are falling in love- one of hardest things to do in film. What I liked most about their chemistry was how sexy their romance was, which sometimes is lacking in super-hero romances. As everyone probably already knows, Gwen Stacy dies in the comics. The Green Goblin throws her from a bridge and Spider-Man catches her, breaking her neck. If played pitch perfectly in the next film, it'll truly be one of the most heartbreaking and powerful moments in a superhero film. Garfield does a fine job of not overdoing the brooding young teenage rebel. He brings a lightness of touch to the role that lifts him out any possible stereotype. Stone is a lovely actress and always makes it believable that a man could fall in love with her. But Gwen's not just a delicate flower but a confident young woman who knows what she wants. Denis Leary plays her father Captain George Stacy, who feels that Spider-Man is a dangerous vigilante. Leary is convincing as a strightlaced authorial father figure and he has a nice bit with Stone in the middle. It seems

The main marketing ploy of this film involved telling audiences this was "the untold story," meaning that it would explore the mystery behind why Peter's parents left him. Early in the film Peter discovers a briefcase that belonged to his father Richard (Campbell Scott). He discovers a connection between his father and Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans), who works at Oscorp (and we all know what Oscorp is!). Conners was his father's partner, and both him and Richard were working on cross genetics within species- experiments that would have allowed Connors to grow back his rght arm. Essentially, Peter helps Connors continue he and his father's work, creating the formula that helps Connors grow back his arm. Of course, Connors is the ultimate "Side effects may include" cautionary tale. Connors, aside from growing back an arm, also grows a tale and becomes a giant lizard.

I would have liked for the film to've played up the relationship between Peter and Connors. This is a man who may have the key to Peter growing up without parents and I wish there were more scenes, even a scene, where Peter really tries to find the truth behind their disappearance. Connors being a mentor figure to Peter would've also been an a good angle to play up. In the comics and animated series Connor also has a wife and son. It would added something to Connors' arc if we saw how his transformation affected his family.

One element of Spider-Man's origin that I think should have been emphasized more is how Peter uses his powers for selfish reasons before he indirectly causes his Uncle Ben's (Martin Sheen) death. While Peter is still responsible for Ben's death, his decision to become Spider-Man seems based more revenge than on knowing "With great power comes great responsibility." I'm okay with Peter wanting revenge but I feel there should have been a moment where he acknowledges the responsibility he has to help people. be fair, he does say it's his job to stop the Lizard. Speaking of Uncle Ben, Sheen brings a good balance of warmth and sterness to the role. Sally Field is underused as Aunt May and I hope she's developed more in the next film.

This film uses more practical effects than the previous trilogy, allowing a more realistic sense of Spider-Man swinging  through the air. I have to say though, while the action sequences are well staged, I don't feel any of them actually blew my mind. That, and all the Spider-Man action seemed jammed in to the final act. The whole final act isn't as well paced as the rest of the film.

Some of the "untold story" aspect of the film seems to have been cut out of the film. I understand this mystery surrounding Peter's parents will probably be an overarching story in a supposed trilogy but I kind of wish the mystery would have been resolved. I think it would have made for a more fully rounded film. So, as I said, I'm divided. Garfield and Stone are so good and the beginnings of Peter becoming Spider-Man started to convince this was probably the best Spider-Man movie yet. And I think that's still a possibility if we get a director's cut of the film. Maybe we have to wait until The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to get that film. Ultimately, this is a solid and enjoyable film that shows potential for the return of the Spider-Man franchise.

P.S- For all the gushing about how "witty" Spider-Man was going to be in this film, he doesn't make that make any more jokes than in the original trilogy.    

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