Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Parkscope Review: The Amazing Spider-Man


The Amazing Spider-Man has completely blown me away, and has me saying, "Tobey Maguire who?"

Many were questioning Sony's decision to reboot Spider-man merely 5 years after the release of the much maligned Spider-Man 3 instead of keeping with that continuity and continuing on to part 4.

But for me, I'm sold on the plan. Gone are the overly bright colors and campy feel of the Raimi movies, replaced with a slick and stylish view from director Marc Webb. (*Insert obligatory "web" pun here*) Webb injects a sense of youth and sex appeal into the franchise, and the film is shot incredibly well throughout. Webb is clearly more comfortable directing the personal moments between characters than the action, however. Not that the action is bad. A battle between Lizard and Spidey in Peter's high school sparkles, but none of the sequences live up to the terrific train battle from Spider-Man 2. With that being said, Webb gets everything and more from his cast.

And what a cast it is. Sally Field is a great Aunt May, showing the grief and burden of trying to care for a teenager that has turned seemingly, into a wanderer. Though unfortunately, she is underused. Martin Sheen depicts Uncle Ben, and the relationship between Peter and him is at show much better here than the Raimi films. Denis Leary has the steely fire and hard-nosed attitude to play Gwen Stacy's father and Police Captain George Stacy. He does a great job filling in for Spidey's regular "normal guy enemy" J Jonah Jameson, who I hope will appear in the next one.

Rhys Ifans plays Doctor Curt Connors, the man destined to become the villainous Lizard. Ifans, not known for big fare like this, throws his all into the  role, though I feel a few edits hampered the Lizard's overall arc. The villain isn't as strong as those in Spider-man 1 and 2, but he's as strong as any of the villains we've seen in the other Marvel films. His performance is strong, and nuanced, but he definitely could have used a bit more screen time.

Which brings us to dear little Gwen, played to perfection here by the captivating Emma Stone. Stone has always been one of my favorites, and I dare anyone not to fall in love with her in this movie. Gwen is less the whiny damsel in distress we got with Mary Jane in the first trilogy, and more of a take charge counter part that isn't afraid to give Spidey a piece of her mind. She's smart, resourceful, and playful. Everything a super hero's girlfriend needs to be in today's day and age. I don't need Spider-man's girlfriend to be captured again. I want her to be racing in to help him.

And finally, I can't say enough about Andrew Garfield's performance. Garfield joins Robert Downey Jr. as the only two men to perfectly and wholly represent their respective super heroes in the modern generation. Garfield was born to play Parker, and his fandom shines through in his performance. His lanky awkwardness and almost paralyzing shyness makes him instantly relate-able, and the minute he begins his career as Spider-man, his wise-cracking nature makes him the Spider-man I've always wanted to see. "The mask will make you strong", indeed. His movements in the suit are much more fluid, and spider-like than Maguire, and his Parker is much more likeable.

And the relationship displayed between Gwen and Peter in the film? It's electric. You can tell these characters were meant for each other as they were in the comics. The animal magnetism between them is palpable, and you'll believe these are two high schoolers in the throngs of their first love. The moment when Peter tries to ask Gwen out without really uttering a complete sentence took me straight back to high school...except, you know, she says yes. The film creates a more believable romance in one movie than the others did in three, and by the end we're rooting for these two more than any comic book screen couple. And guys, tell your girlfriends, they might really want to see this super hero movie with you!

The relationships are the driving force in this film, whether it's father-son, boy-girl, or father-daughter. And this is why the film is such a successful Spider-man film. Spidey has always been about the responsibilities and pitfalls of life as much as super heroics, and this film does a better job with this than the Raimi films. On top of that, it does a better job of showing, not telling. ASM shows Peter is a genius, rather than just insinuating it. It shows us time and time again why Peter does what he does instead of just telling us why. And it shows us why Gwen loves this young man, and why he loves her.

But as much as I loved the movie, it's not a perfect film. The film's editing could be better, and a plot thread is dropped before it gets resolution. The score is also fairly weak, a problem that plagues too many of the Marvel films. And as I said, Aunt May and Connors could have used more screen time to develop their characters, but Aunt May has plenty of time for that in the sequel. Which the movie spends a bit too much time trying to setup. The "Peter's parents" storyline seems to be a much bigger idea than the story for just this film, and the constant reminders of a character who is absent here also detracts a bit.

But overall, The Amazing Spider-Man is a step up from the Spider-man films of old. It's a more mature, nuance, if not flawed, experience, but sets up its universe just as strongly as films like Batman Begins and Iron Man did. Let's just hope the film takes The Dark Knight road in its sequel instead of Iron Man 2 so the whole world can join me in asking, "Toby Maguire who?"

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