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Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

July 11, 2012


The Amazing Spider-Man stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, with Martin Sheen, and Sally Field. — Courtesy Photo

The Amazing Spider-Man: It is five years later. The last coat of paint by Sam Raimiis still fresh. The challenge is not making references.

To paraphrase Marvel comics’ Bard Stan Lee: "With great (financial) power, comes great (corporate) responsibility". In studio lingo, especially when comic book or other pop culture properties are fret over, this leads to one of two possible alternatives to a slightly plucky, but essentially straightforward adaptation: a) dumb it down — ala the Batman series kicked off by Tim Burton or Green Lantern; or b) grim-it-up Christopher Nolan style.

Now there's a line to flare-up your spider-senses: "the film is going to be dark, like 'Dark Knight'".

Post Mr. Nolan's ingeniously drafted adaptation, with the billion dollar box-office payday, these keywords are now terminally weeded into every puffed-up adaptation/remake right down to "Snow White and the Huntsman". Nolan's benchmark is a critical source of inspiration — it is, undeniably, in the top-tier of superhero adaptations. But as commonsense dictates, the tone primes-up counter-appeal for a character whose choice colors are red and blue, and whose last return before this reboot was just five years ago.

Doing a clean-slate wipe-out of a material whose origins are now hammered into a subliminal domiciliary state, is an open call to test public endurance; and no amount of self-deprecation can prove otherwise. However, these matters are beyond mulling over.

And so, "The Amazing Spider-Man", custom-rebooting Sam Raimi's earlier trilogy, web-swings back into cinemas worldwide –in vertiginous 3D; and – lo and behold – there's nothing we haven't seen, heard, or thought about, before.

Spider-Man's recipe is easier to make then those notorious two minute noodles: Peter, Andrew Garfield – who played the role of moral consciousness behind Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network" – is bitten by an experimental spider. He sticks to walls, regardless of distemper foiling his suit. Lets’ a small-time crook bolt, who kills his uncle, played by Martin Sheen.

You’d think it would be regular Spiderman fair. He nabs crooks and falls for a pretty girl (Emma Stone). A genetically enhanced, megalomaniacal and scientifically corrupt villain comes along, and they duke it out leaving the city in virtual ruins. Spider man wins. The bad guy loses. He kisses the girl. The End?!. Repeat and garnish with a dash of broodiness and a smidgen of grit.

"The Amazing Spider-Man", originally commissioned to writer James Vanderbilt (Spider-Man 3) as a continuation of Mr. Raimi's work featuring the Lizard, looks like a patch-up job after a nasty, school-ground brawl between kids.

In attempting a self-conscious crack at the material, which includes adding writers Steve Kloves (7 out of 8 Harry Potters) and Alvin Sargent (Robert Redford’s "Ordinary People" and "Spider-Man 3"), "Amazing" boots out a hefty big of familiar elements (the metaphorical divorce settlement mentioned earlier): Gwen Stacy replaces Mary-Jane Watson (Kristen Dunst). A single-minded formulated vendetta swaps sentimental liability. Os Corp's autocratic honcho, Norman Osborn (presumed to be at death's bed), has Irrfan Khan running the day-shift. Daily Bugle's J. Jonah Jameson and still-photography are shelved in favor of internet video and search-engine Bing's product placement.

In a puzzling bit of reveal, Peter finds his father's genetic research in a hidden briefcase. He "Bing's" the info and voila, it fits better than findings by OsCorp's detectives. The internet also helps him design his web-shooter. The webbings are thin strings of industrial-strength metal, developed by OsCorp.

The world-wide-web also leads him to Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans, top notch, picking up Dylan Baker's role). Conners with an amputated arm, is Peter’s father's partner at OsCorp who still has to crack the code of an inter-species genetic breakthrough they were working on. The formula later turns him into the Lizard — a meta-human sized off — spring of Godzilla. An off-set of the experiment renovates Peter’s DNA with a spider’s skill-set (I don't know about the boy's inquisitiveness, but I'd avoid illegal entry into password protected lab that houses a clearly-radioactive area housing multiple free-roaming spiders).

Andrew Garfields' Peter's transformation is more sterile than Toby Maguire's. The sly metaphor about sticky puberty is discarded for basic strength augmentation — he breaks off taps, squirts toothpaste out with the barest of pushes and he clings to a subway-train's ceiling on instinct.

Peter's instinct, even with the addition of a spider’s proportionate strength, is juvenile. He decks Flash Thompson, his high-school nemesis, at basketball practice. Alienates his aunt and uncle (May Parker is played by Sally Field in a role with less screen-time than Rosemary Harris) and hunts baddies with a one-dimensional agenda (his search is for one criminal matching physicality of Ben Parker’s killer).

At one point, right after one of the film's very few punch-lines, he harasses and terrorizes a lowly car-napper. When Peter defends Spider-Man's heroics at an awkward dinner date with Gwen's family, her father, Capt. George Stacy (Dennis Leary, a replacement for J. Jonah's aggression, sans humor and arrogance), quickly levels the misguided lad.

As "Amazing" enters its third-act (Lizard's birth), the film suffers from "mid-movie amnesia syndrome", a sickness often infecting blockbusters that a need an Dues Ex Machina-like exit strategy, without the Dues Ex Machina. Loose plot threads hang around like old-cobwebs, better dusted off in the impending sequel.

But it’s not all bad.

Peter's web-swinging practice session with loose cables in an abandoned warehouse is a fresher exercise than Toby Maguire's "woo-hooing" hops across buildings in the first Spider-Man. A middle-school brawl with the Lizard highlights Spider-Man's nimble-footedness and action chops. A brief bit when he lays his webbing inside the sewers is a neat little trick Raimi didn't think about. And finally by the climax, there’s film's cherry-on-top sequence — a dizzying city-wide swing for OsCorp (in grand 3D) withNew York's construction crew assistance.

Garfieldis fine in his rudimentary play as Peter. He wears the garb of an unripe adolescent with smarts. The other lead, Stone, is a darling of film critic David Edelstein  for a good reason. Like Kristen Dunst, she has a subdued sparkle primed for maturity — and maybe impending death in the sequel or the three-quel, if this Spider-Man wants to be in cannon with the Marvel universe.

Garfield and Stone share a picture perfect screen presence together that's fail-safe for drawing the female audience. In a scene together early in the movie we see them both shy, innocent, swiveling on their heels.There’s a soft love story in midst of looming low-key brooding conflict, and even with all of Spider-Man's amazingness, if this romance didn’t sell tickets, I don't know what will.