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The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) Review

A movie review article by: David Fairbanks, Danny Reid

I remember around the time Spider-man 2 was released, people were confident that this was the peak of the superhero genre in film. Considering its peers at the time, you can't really blame anyone for holding this opinion, but now that Hollywood seems to view every funnybook as a potential pitch, the standards have climbed quite a bit. I don't think anyone envisioned films like The Dark Knight or Scott Pilgrim vs. The World or even Iron Man when Spider-man 2 was earning its fame.

It was only a matter of time before Sony decided that maybe they could outdo themselves and create a Spider-man movie that stood alongside the new pinnacles of the genre; for the sake of optimism, let's pretend it had nothing to do with wiping the slate clean after Spider-man 3 or ensuring their continued ownership of the film rights to the character.

And thus Amazing Spider-man was born.

If you're reading this, you presumably either have not seen it or are looking for someone to validate your opinion (or to make you angry by disagreeing with you). That's where we come in!

David Fairbanks

Rating:

I was pretty hesitant when a reboot of the Spider-man franchise was announced; most fans were content with the first two of Sam Raimi's films and were even more content to pretend that there were only two of them. The thing is, Tobey Maguire was a painfully mediocre Peter Parker and a generally abysmal Spider-man, something most people were pretty happy to ignore when damn near everything else in Raimi's films got it right.

Andrew Garfield's Peter reminds me of just about every one of the science-whiz types I have ever met: he's awkward but intelligent and driven by his curiosity. And his Spider-man is funny, in addition to doing all of the things a spider can. It's not just a joke here or there, either; Spidey quips about as much as he does in the comics, to the point that he feigns cowering in fear at a criminal just to mock him.

Garfield shows us that Spider-man is where Peter Parker can go when he needs to feel like he's not the awkward science nerd who asks out a girl by stammering awkwardly and making the vaguest plans possible. It's almost as if Spider-man is some kind of escapist fantasy or something.

And this is why I have a new favorite Spider-man film. Characters like Batman or The Flash are frequently defined by their rogues gallery, and while Spider-man has some very iconic rogues, at the end of the day, Spider-man's appeal comes from the Peter/Spider-man duality more than anywhere else.

Emma Stone's Gwen is believable as Peter's intellectual rival, she mocks his awkwardness in a way that shows she thinks it's cute, rather than creepy and she is familiar with his commitment to justice, even if she may not be happy about it. She's made the character her own and given the character a depth I don't remember seeing in the classic stories.

There are other characters in Amazing Spider-man, and while they and their actors deserve praise, you're kidding yourself if you think this is anything other than a story about Peter and Gwen. Mark Webb's only previous big screen work was on the indie romance (500) Days of Summer, and it feels pretty obvious that he was chosen for Amazing because of his skill delivering believable relationships to the audience. I feel as if the scenes with Stone and Garfield overshadow the rest and I think this is where you'll see a divergence in the fanbase: the romantic life of Peter Parker is oftentimes more important than the superheroics, but that doesn't always make for the most exciting movies.

Which is why we have a villain and probably my only real complaint about Amazing: Doctor Curt Connors, The Lizard, is severely underutilized. Granted, the character has had much more time to grow and develop in the comics, but in the film they stripped him down to the bare bones. The only bits of sympathy we get from him stem from exposition, mostly about the man he used to be. It wouldn't have been difficult to humanize him, play up the Jekyll and Hyde aspect of the character, considering that Connors has an ex-wife and son that were left out of the film entirely. Instead we just get a big dose of Hyde.

When Ifans is allowed a chance for humanity, he nails the role of the scientist frustrated by the conflict of progress and ethics, but he was very much a villain rather than an antagonist. It wouldn't surprise me if this stemmed from the need to keep most superhero fare around the two hour mark; giving your villain another dimension is probably one of the first things on the chopping block when you're looking to save time.

Denis Leary's Captain Stacy is pretty much everything the character should have been, if it were filtered through Denis Leary. Which means he feels like a bit more of an asshole than I'd like him to be, but you never doubt that he is both an excellent police officer and an excellent father. Martin Sheen and Sally Field feel much more like the Uncle Ben and Aunt May from Ultimate Spider-man, more like surrogate parents than surrogate grandparents.

With all this talk of the cast, I feel that I should acknowledge the brilliance of not attempting to recast J. Jonah Jameson. J.K. Simmons' portrayal was beyond perfect, and waiting to introduce the character later took that piece of criticism off the table.

The action scenes feel like much of what we got in the last three films, but with a bit of an update in graphics and a much more believably agile Spidey.

And yeah, Amazing is an origin story, but it uses the origin to kickstart the overall plot and manages to differentiate itself from the traditional origin at least a little bit (because, really, how are you going to try to compete with Spider-man vs Randy Savage?). Having his origin tied to Oscorp means it will actually have relevance too and wasn't just an unnecessary retelling of an origin that everyone already knows.

I walked out of Amazing Spider-man with the feeling I had after leaving Batman Begins, and I think the comparison of the franchises is pretty appropriate. I can only hope The Spectacular Spider-man (or whatever they're going to call the sequel) does for the franchise what The Dark Knight did for Batman.


David Fairbanks doesn't get many things right the first time. He studied physics in college, loves science, music, comics, poetry, movies, books and education pertaining to all of the above. He will talk your ear off about Grant Morrison and Ben Folds, has an indie bookshelf larger than his Marvel, DC and Vertigo ones combined and if he ever actually grows up, more than anything else, he wants to still be happy as an “adult,” whatever that is.

Mostly self-indulgent ramblings can be found at @bairfanx and untilsomethingbreaks.blogspot.com.


Danny Reid, on loan from Can't Stop the Movies

Rating:

Okay, okay, there's been a lot of talk comparing today's new film, The Amazing Spider-man, to another film of similar style and substance that was released only a short while ago. I think those comparisons are unfair: The Amazing Spider-Man is not quite as aggressively awful as Green Lantern. It's bad, but has a couple of good moments; don't get confused and think that's anything close to a recommendation.

Mind you, both films have their similarities. Dial down the contrast, add in heavy doses of foreshadowing for future installments that may or may not happen, make the lead an unlikeable bourgeois prig, throw in a mighty share of questionable special effects, and knock off in time for happy hour.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't step into the theater expecting to cheer every time a swing connected with Spider-Man, but when your hero spends most of his screen time realizing that there's more to life than just beating up low grade criminals and their friends, it's hard to sympathize.

Here's a paragraph where I describe the plot: feel free to skip ahead. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) loses his parents in one mysterious incident and grows up in the care of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). He's mopey until he accidentally gets bit by a magic spider that gives him spider-like abilities, like being able to stick to walls and punch things really hard. These new attributes win him a girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and an enemy, Dr. Curt Connors AKA The Lizard (Rhys Ifans).

There's a love story here that owes more to Twilight than any previous superhero romances, as Peter relentlessly stalks Gwen and seems to creep her into submission. He puts her photo as his computer background, watches her through her window unawares, and fondles pictures of her. Especially horrifying is one scene where Parker attempts to ask out Gwen, and a quiet whispery song in the background starts going on about unlocking her magic door.

Jesus.

It's a good thing that Stone is able to pull off the darling ingenue so well, or that icky feeling that Kristen Stewart was unable to shake until the fourth entry in her franchise might have permeated this film just as badly. The focus of Amazing is heavily on the Gwen/Peter relationship, which plays heavily into the aforementioned 'bad boy' story that Twilight trafficked in with little warmth. Stone always seems to be having a bit of fun, and Garfield, juggling about a half dozen balls, is never given a chance to settle in with Peter or Spider-Man.

Parker's relationship with his nemesis, Dr. Connors, is fairly dumb in a spectacular way. Dr. Connors knows something about the death of Peter's parents. However, this is only the first movie, so he is not allowed to tell even the audience what this may be. The writers don't want to write themselves into a corner; that seems to be their entire gambit with this character. The Lizard is unremarkable, and all emotional attachment he has with Peter is stated very directly in the dialogue since the film simply doesn't have the will to connect the two in any deeper manner.

Which is a big problem for an ages old character who is filled with such rich and bizarre ideas. Director Marc Webb's visual style is a mixture between hectic and intimate that never quite works. He's more interested in the romance, while the CGI (which ranges from stunning to abysmal, often within the same scene) is given priority over the fluidity of the action, so we're treated to long, elaborate set pieces that look pretty but go nowhere and do nothing. Usually when you watch a fight in an action film, you have a winner and a loser, and these results force the characters to change their plans or make new ones. Here, they just punctuate the relationship drama that barely starts rolling its wheels as well.

And I guess that's where the biggest disappointment in The Amazing Spider-Man comes from: it does nothing new. The shots of Spider-Man swinging through the streets-- breathtaking in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man (2002)-- have been cribbed here and mechanized. Rather than giving a few seconds of exhilarating pause, we're instead treated to Spider-Man reenacting a gallery of Todd MacFarlane's improbable comic book poses, which seems to assume everyone in the audience has their checklist in hand and ready to go.

That checklist is super important, since, while Spider-Man is a beloved children's character, most of what is emphasized in the film is comic book details combined with condoning what Spider-Man does as just. Not the first film to try and justify glorifying vigilantism, it's the most recent one in memory that so cravenly caves to the idea by simply have one character state that he's against it, and much later decide that he's for it because Spider-Man is not such a bad guy after all.

That's not how that works.

Most of the reactions I've gauged from the film seem to be of one mind: it's an origin story, so whatever, it's just setting the board for a superior sequel. This isn't the first time I've seen this pop-up (hi, The Avengers), but, to me, it's a fairly lazy and scary opinion. Is that all we want from summer blockbusters? Narrative fidelity to comic book accuracy? All setup, no payoff?

Especially bad is the sequence in the middle of the credits, which teases that the next film will have, of all things, an antagonist. I never would have guessed.

The action scenes are routine. The character drama is hoary. The emotional scenes here play to a dry eyed audience. The film is muted. It feels like we're watching a pilot for a late 90's ABC TV show: it's not risking doing a damn thing new or interesting, and is content with replaying the previous version and just hoping the audience will come back each week.

Give me a film with something to say any goddamn day of the week.


Danny Reid lives in California and spent most of his adult life working in videostores and watching any movie he could get his hands on. He has had his reviews published in several different publications including TC Style Magazine and on several websites such as Retrocrush.com.

You can read Danny’s latest reviews here at Can't Stop the Movies.

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