Monday, July 2, 2012
Review of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012)
- Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence.
- Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Campbell Scott, C. Thomas Howell
- Story by James Vanderbilt; Screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves.
- Directed by Marc Webb
- Running time: 2hrs 15min.
Most reviews of this movie so far have really compared it (probably unfairly) to Sam Raimi's Spiderman films from the past 10 years. I'll get my opinions of those out of the way right now. I loved the first 2, and I think they're easily among the best superhero films ever made. The third one had it's moments, but it suffers from trying to do too many things. Now, this movie is completely different. It's not a sequel or a prequel or anything like that. It's just a different take on a familiar tale. Some people have expressed that it's too soon to start over again, and that may be, but you know what? The movie is here, it's a new beginning, and that's that. Deal with it!
The story is basically the same as Peter Parker (Garfield) gets bitten by a spider and gets super powers. But the specifics are different. Parker is now a bit darker because he's haunted by his parents disappearance when he was a young boy. He still gets picked on by the school bully Flash, but he doesn't seem to care about it as much. I would say Parker is more confident than ever before, especially when he starts to use his powers. He's almost cocky. Instead of Mary Jane, there is Gwen Stacy (Stone), who is more intelligent but just as beautiful. They're both science nerds and they bond together that way. Her dad (Leary) is also the chief of police and is after Spiderman, who he thinks is a vigilante menace. There is also Dr. Connors (Ifans), who knew Peter's father. So there's a good deal of scenes with Parker trying to find out more about what happened to his dad by spending time with Connors. But the Doctor discovers some kind of chemical that turns him into a lizard and becomes obsessed with turning the people of New York into reptiles. All the while, Peter is struggling to find his identity and dealing with being a superhero. Unlike any other film adaptations, Parker tells Gwen about his alias right away, adding a great deal of tension and complexity into their relationship.
The first half almost mirrors what we have seen before, especially with Uncle Ben's death. The second half deals with more of the Lizard stuff, and that's not anything new either. Not that it's bad. If handled right, it could've been a fun popcorn movie. There are some pretty spectacular action scenes, and the CG effects of Spidey swinging through the city look the best they ever have due to advances in technology. But there isn't too much action. In fact, I would say nothing really exciting happens until about 45 minutes into it. And those are just short bursts of action. The best action scene was probably one that had The Lizard and Spidey fighting underwater, and in Peter's High School.
Obviously, the approach was to make something a little more mature and grown up. It didn't want to be an action spectacle. Which is fine in my book. Setting up all the characters in the first half brings a certain complexity to everyone. My favorite story arc was with Gwen's policeman father. And Denis Leary does a great job here as a man who is trying to protect the city, and is not sure what Spidey is up to. Is he a threat? Is he an Ally? He doesn't seem to know. The relationship between Gwen and Peter is very intense and will draw a lot of teeny boppers into it. It's not unlike TWILIGHT since everyone is all filled with angst, but it's not as grating as it was in those films. Emma Stone is fine as Gwen, but I've seen better from her.
But the real question is, how does Andrew Garfield hold up as Peter Parker? Now, I'm a big fan of Garfield. He was great in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but his performance in BOY A is phenomenal. It was the best performance by any actor that year and I felt he was completely robbed by the Academy by not getting nominated. So I was really looking forward to his take on the role. I understand a lot of critics are digging him as Peter Parker, but I just couldn't get into him. I thought his Peter Parker was all wrong. Now, he doesn't give a bad performance, just the wrong one in my opinion. Others will like him, but it didn't work for me.
Why? Well, when I think of Peter Parker from the comics, I think of someone innocent, naive, and wide-eyed. Here, Garfield plays him with a hint of manic depression, autism, and a hint of tourette syndrome. Seriously! Garfield does not stop moving his head from jerking one direction to the other every time he speaks. And when he's not moving his head all over the place, his eyes are constantly shifting. It was very distracting. I kept on thinking that Parker should take a Xanax or Ritilin or something to calm him down. Like I said, some people won't mind this approach and may actually prefer it to Maguire's Parker, but for me his constant fidgeting and stammering was annoying. Also, Parker is too cocky at times. I understand that Parker made lots of wisecracks during the comics, but I found him to be too condescending during some scenes when he's dispatching the bad guys. A little too mean-spirited, and that's NOT Peter Parker. At least in my eyes.
The direction is pretty smooth, but I could've done without the POV Spidey cam. That looked too much like a video game. But Marc Webb (who's 500 DAYS OF SUMMER was terrific) handles most of the action quite well with the exception of one scene. And that's the moment when Peter first uses his powers on some innocent people on the Subway. There were too many jump cuts, making the scene irritatingly self-conscious. Webb handles most of the dramatic scenes very well, but the tone doesn't seem one of a comic book movie. It almost seemed like they were trying to go for a kind of DARK KNIGHT-vibe, but guess what? Spider-man is Spider-man! NOT Batman. I don't think adding realism to every superhero story is the right way to go. It worked for THE DARK KNIGHT, but just because that was successful doesn't mean you need to do that for every character from a comic book. It seemed like the movie was searching for it's own identity during it's 135 minute running length, and in my opinion, never found it.
There were some stand out moments during some of the action scenes. My favorite was probably when Spidey had to save a boy from a car about to drop in the Ocean. Seeing him take off his mask and giving it to the kid to give him confidence to climb into his arms was one of the more inspired moments in the film. Martin Sheen makes a fine Uncle Ben. I guess I haven't talked about Rhys Ifans yet as the Lizard. He's an interesting actor and puts in some decent work here, but his character could have been written better.
That's probably the main problem with the film here. I felt like the writers were really trying to tell the story with a unique voice, but didn't really get there. There were a couple of embarrassing moments written in too. I probably could've done without Spiderman shouting "I'm swingin' here! I'm swingin' here!" as he makes his way through the busy New York streets. Nice MIDNIGHT COWBOY reference I guess?
Now, I'm sure there will be tons of fanboys that will love this movie, and you know what? That's fine! I love it when someone finds something to love out of a movie I didn't really care for. My goal isn't to convince you that something is good or bad. I just like to let everyone know where I'm coming from, and based on what I say, you can determine whether you want to see it or not. No big deal.
Unfortunately, I didn't like it. I really wanted to. My 8 year old daughter liked it enough to want to see it again (though she said she had problems with Garfield too). My problems stemmed with Garfield. He makes some bold acting choices, but I felt they were the wrong ones for the character of Peter Parker. Marc Webb created some cool action sequences and the special effects look better than ever, but it just didn't feel like a Spider-Man movie to me. Maybe over the years this will hold up better, especially when you can separate it a little more from Raimi's films. But for now, I don't like it. It's a superhero film trying something new, but I don't think everyone was on the same page for them to achieve success.
** (out of ****)