Review: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

When Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man opened in theaters in 2002, I was there opening weekend.  I watched in child-like awe as the story of Peter Parker unfolded for the first time on the big screen.  This movie definitely awoke the kid in me and I just couldn’t wait to see it again.  In fact, I would go on to pay money to watch this movie two more times.  I have already lost count of how many times I have played this DVD.  Needless, to say, I love this first adaptation of the Marvel comic book, which I followed as a kid.  Besides Superman, Spider-Man was my favorite superhero as a child.  Raimi’s movie hit all the right notes and almost perfectly captured the tone of Stan Lee’s old comic books which won my heart years before. 

Flash forward to the present, ten years following the first Spider-Man feature film, director Marc Webb and writers James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steven Kloves attempt to “reboot” the franchise with The Amazing Spider-Man.  Taking a darker, more serious and realistic approach, Webb and his writers also try to appease the more die-hard comic fans by correcting some of the liberties taken in the earlier Spider-Man films—organic web shooters, wrong first girlfriend, less cocky Spider-Man, etc. The end result, however, is a film which lacks the sense of wonderment and excitement, as well as the fun tone which, in my opinion, felt closer to that of the classic comics.

In this version of the Peter Parker origin story, Peter’s father, Richard Parker (Campbell Scott), a brilliant scientist working on some top secret projects for Oscorp, and his wife Mary (Embeth Davidtz) hurriedly pack up their things and leave Peter to stay with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) where he remains for the rest of his childhood, or at least until high school.  As a high school student, Parker (Andrew Garfield) makes excellent grades, but has trouble fitting in with his classmates.  Peter wishes to uncover the truth about his parents and when he finds his father’s old briefcase, the contents direct him towards Oscorp where he meets genius scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans).

Peter assists Connors with his experiments, but things go horribly wrong when a biological experiment attempting to regenerate limbs turns Connors into a monster.  Having been bitten by an experimental spider as well, Parker dons a costume and attempts to stop Connors before he does something which will affect the entire population of New York.

The story and script by Vanderbilt, Sargent and Kloves, expands on the origin and background of Peter Parker.  However in doing so, the movie takes much longer to get going and accomplishes much less than the origin story in Raimi’s film.  I am fine with a more detailed explanation of Peter Parker’s life and his parents which the writers of Spider-Man neglected; however, the first act of this film drags a bit.  I found the writing less interesting here and couldn’t wait for Peter to get bitten.  Once this happens, the movie does take off nicely and has some fun and hilarious moments as Peter discovers his powers and eventually becomes a crime fighter.  The rest of the film pretty much offers typical superhero action and heroics and doesn’t bring much new to the story.

Webb’s movie does look incredible.  Obviously, he has the advantage of a larger budget and improved CGI and special effects.  Because this version of the tale feels more grounded in reality, I found the more realistic look and effects suitable, whereas Raimi’s lighter take had a more cartoonish look which served it well.  My problem with the darker, more realistic take of the movie has to do with the fact that it just doesn’t fit as well with the Spider-Man mythos as it does with a character like Batman.  The Spider-Man character first appeared in a comic titled Amazing Fantasy.  I feel that the filmmakers got too caught up in making this film feel all too real and forgot about the amazing and fantastic aspects which made these characters and stories wonderful and thrilling.

As the title hero, Andrew Garfield actually makes a better web head, than Tobey Maguire does.  He owes that to the writing, though.  In the comics, Spider-Man always talked to his villains in a sarcastic, smart alecky way.  The writers of this film got this aspect down perfectly and Garfield delivers these one-liners wonderfully.  As Peter Parker, however, I just found him dull at times, and not really that likable compared to Tobey.  Tobey made Peter a more personable and a relatable kid. Garfield and the writers just didn’t give him that charismatic quality here.  As Gwen Stacy, Emma Stone performs adequately, but doesn’t really have much to do here except fall in love.  I think Stone has much more talent than that and it’s definitely wasted here.  As Dr. Connors, the man who becomes the Lizard, Rhy Ifans shines as an obsessive scientist whose obsessions get the best of him.  Martin Sheen and Sally Field offer solid performances as Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Still, Sheen lacks a certain fatherly quality that Cliff Robertson brought to the role and Sally Field, honestly, looks too young to play her character.  In the comic books, Aunt May had white hair and, frankly always looked old.  Field looks too youthful to be cast as that character.

Overall, I do like this movie.  It definitely has its moments of fun and thrills.  The effects look outstanding and the Spider-Man character himself, feels more like the hero from the comic books.  However, the tone here felt a tad too dark and the material was presented too seriously.  I left the theater looking forward to more installments in this franchise, but I just didn’t have that feeling of child-like giddiness that I had after watching Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man ten years ago.  I find it ironic that this movie has the title The Amazing Spider-Man, because to me, this one should be the one to have the basic stand alone Spider-Man title and the 2002 movie should carry the adjective amazing.  This one, while it does deliver on some levels, failed to amaze me.  I will recommend this as a matinee because it should be seen on the big screen.   I wasn’t particularly impressed with the 3D though.

 

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