The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) directed by Mark Webb
Did the Spider-Man franchise really need a reboot? Like all great stories in our culture, it is quite common to bring out new versions. Think of Robin Hood or Sherlock Holmes or Batman or Hamlet or Ebenezer Scrooge or any number of popular characters who have been played by great and not so great actors in many different formats (radio/audio dramas, TV, movies). These stories resonate with us which is why we keep listening again and again. Spider-Man is no different. The story of a young man who has to come to grips with new-found powers and his own looming adulthood mirrors a situation we have all faced or will face. A fantastical element is added to heighten the drama and to draw out ideas and themes in higher relief. A new take on an old story is always possible, if not always well-advised or well-executed.
So is this new Spider-Man movie well-advised or well-executed? The second question is the easiest to answer. Though the story does have some stumbling blocks, it is well told with a suprisingly leisurely pace for a summer blockbuster. Peter Parker's origin story is expanded from what was seen in Raimi's film and has more details and unresolved bits than is typical for a summer blockbuster (though they do hint at future explanations, i.e. sequels). His parents' disappearance is revealed though not fully explained. The story is different enough that it makes for an intriguing retelling.
The effects are quite well done, though I have begun to see certain scenes in 2D movies that are clearly designed to be seen in 3D. Of course Spider-Man slinging his way through Manhattan should be a delightful 3D spectacle. In other scenes they just throw things at the audience or some object/person hangs in the air a bit longer than they should, which might be a treat in 3D but stands out in a bad way when seen in 2D. Or maybe that's just me noticing.
One of the poor parts of the execution is the villain. Scientist Curt Connors works for Oscorp on gene therapies that combine various animals' attributes. Helping the weak and uniting the outcast are his noble aims, as well as curing his own amputated right arm. But both the writing and the performance by Rhys Ifans lacks the luster of other big screen villains. In a fantastical story like this, a larger performance is needed. The CG Lizard that he eventually turn into is convincing but not outstanding. Most of the fight scenes aren't as well done as they could have been. So the new movie is sort of well-executed.
The question remains: Were they well-advised to have a new take on the Spider-Man story? The movie downplays Peter's economic woes and the role of the Daily Bugle (it's only seen once and J. Jonah Jameson is nowhere to be found). The focus is shifted to his home life with Uncle Ben and Aunt May, ably played by Martin Sheen and Sally Field. The personal story is well-grounded. Also, his growing relationship with Gwen Stacy (played by Emma Stone) is interesting and they have good chemistry together (even if they don't look like high school students). Some bits of their relationship aren't quite convincing, so it wasn't as touching as Toby Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in Spider-Man 2. The new take is interesting, but is full of strengths and weaknesses.
Taken as a whole, I found this film entertaining. It has certain flaws but has enough originality to justify itself as more than just a cheap grab for more cash from a summer blockbuster franchise. I enjoyed the film and look forward to where they will go with the story.
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