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Animadversion: The (not so) amazing Spider-Man

July 14, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man reboots the franchise for anyone who has missed the last three movies (that’s almost no one, if you count television and DVD) — only this time with a brooding tone.

When the film opens the young (and cute-as-a-button) Peter Parker is left with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Sally Field and Martin Sheen) in a hurry by his scientist father and mother, who die in a plane crash soon after. Cut to years later, where Peter (Andrew Garfield) is a normal, lanky, awkward and geeky teen, who keeps a low profile in school (naturally he gets bullied by arch nemesis —the jock Flash Thompson) and has eyes for his crush Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).

After finding a name — Dr. Curt Connors — in his father’s old bag stashed in the basement, Peter goes on an internet search spree which leads him to OsCorp (yes, the one owned by Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, who is only here in reference) where Connors works. Connors with an amputated arm was a friend of Peter’s dad. Both were working on a way to incorporate animal DNA to help the general human population.

Looking for answers, Peter sneaks into OsCorp, and like a dimwit walks right into an experimental spider lab and gets bitten by a one of the genetically-mutated insects. Unlike Toby Maguire’s transformation, the effect isn’t designed as a reference to puberty. Here his DNA is quick to adapt the spider’s toxins and in a prompt reaction he jumps and sticks to the ceiling of a subway train in a jolt of surprise.

In the next humorous scene, we see him desperately trying to control his strength (a clock is smashed, a bathroom tap is torn off and toothpaste is splattered all over his bathroom mirror). He’s also without organic web (which the last Spider-Man had), so this Peter builds himself a web shooter like the classic Spider-Man (only this time, the fluid is actually inorganic).

Then there’s a relative’s death and a witch hunt for the killer and very soon everything — including his vendetta against the killer and his parent’s search — is forgotten when the romance between the lead progresses and the Lizard (the villain for this reboot — makes an entry.

The Amazing Spider-Man has me on the fence. It’s genuinely likable actors and director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) has kept it well away from being a bad movie. The special effects are coherent and clear, while Webb keeps a good blend of live action and CGI in fight sequences. But it’s far from the comic book ambiance of Sam Raimi’s picture which had a brighter colour palette and enjoyable banter from Daily Bugle’s J. Jonah Jameson (there’s no one here by that name this time). Even if the first and the last parts of Raimi’s films were lacking in visual coherence and subtlety, the second installment was an absolute gem in the category of comic book-turned-cinema.

This one is not a gem nor is it awful. It just wants to be somewhere between the Dark Knight and the earlier Spider-Man entries, and that’s never a good idea. To reboot a franchise when it hasn’t even gotten out of our system is never a good idea either.

The Amazing Spider-Man is rated PG-13. There is also Irfaan Khan is in small role and as well as the traditional Stan Lee cameo.

Teddy most foul

There’s an odd sense of comedy in seeing a man getting whammed senseless around a motel room by a two-foot fluffy teddy bear. The man is Mark Wahlberg, an underachiever with a pretty girlfriend and an ungenerous salary. The teddy is a wish he made when he was eight years old that came true — and now he packs a mean left hook.

The unoriginally named Ted is voiced by writer-director Seth MacFarlane, and it’s more or less a copy-paste job of his Family Guy persona. Ted, as cuddly as he is, has an obnoxious rapid fire mouth and a character that is unapologetic for its sense of misogyny, homophobia and his drive for adolescent recklessness.

Wahlberg, who plays John, is a milder version. And like Ted (or MacFarlane, or vice versa), he’s still stuck in fan-boy mode: one that may be alienating to people who never saw Flash Gordon or only know Star Wars through DVD, video games or its often-parodied explosion on the internet.

MacFarlane’s script (co-written by Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild) is stereotypical and derivative — Wahlberg has to grow up and choose between his very-much-alive teddy bear or his girlfriend of four years, Lori (Mila Kunis), who is constantly hounded by her boss (Joel McHale) for a date. There’s also the necessary creep (Giovanni Ribbisi) and his pudgy, mean-spirited son (Aedin Mincks) who as a boy had seen Ted on TV and now wants him for keeps (Ted was once a celebrity, whose miraculous story had a good run on television).

The bulk of Ted’s running time is padded with gags that star perverseness, flatulence, cheap shots at celebrities (Flash Gordon’s Sam J. Jones makes an extended cameo in the movie as himself) or a fusillade of pop-cultural references — all of which, inexplicably, make Ted a softer, wispier, comedy that works — almost despite itself.

Ted is rated R. Parents strongly cautioned — there’s no nudity, but the perverseness of a teddy bear is something that should be kept out of reach from children. It won’t give them nightmares, but it may ruin their sense of imagination. — Mohammad Kamran Jawaid