Review: The Amazing Spider-Man
PLOT: A new take on Spider-Man's (Andrew Garfield) origins, pitting him against scientist Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who turns himself into a deadly mutant lizard after ingesting a formula that's supposed to regenerate DNA. Meanwhile, Peter Parker falls head-over-heels in love with his high-school classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), whose father (Dennis Leary) just happens to be the cop tasked with putting Spider-Man behind bars.
REVIEW: I know- a SPIDER-MAN reboot only ten years after the original film made $800 million dollars, and only five years since the last instalment of the original franchise seemed like an obvious cash-grab, and yeah, I'm sure Sony's going to make a mint off this new rebooted version of the franchise. But wonder of wonders, director Marc Webb's THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is actually a good film.
Scratch that. Actually, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is a DAMN good film, and- all due respect to Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire, quite a bit better than any of the other films, and yes that includes the beloved part 2. Before checking this out, I re-reviewed all the SPIDER-MAN films, and with the massive exception of the third film, they're good. But, it can't be denied, Webb's film improves on the original trilogy in every way possible.
Firstly, Andrew Garfield is an incredible Spider-Man. Rather than pull-off a Tobey Maguire impression, he totally reinvents the part, with Peter Parker, pre-bite, no longer being a cartoonish caricature of what Hollywood thinks a geek is, but rather a darker, more brooding outcast. Imagine Spider-Man by way of James Dean, and that's what you get here. It's totally a departure from the other films, but it works beautifully. Best of all, Parker finally has a love interest that's worthy of him. I always hated Mary-Jane's vacuousness in the other films (ok- she's hot, I get it- but why does Parker love her?), but here, in the hands of the personable Emma Stone- Stacy's already crazy about Peter before he ever gets bitten. The chemistry between Stone and Garfield is absolutely white-hot, and the make an incredibly appealing couple.
Granted, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN does cover a few of the same beats as the first film, namely Parker's relationship with Uncle Ben, and his sad demise, but Sheen's interpretation of the part, like Garfield's, is edgier, and more down-to-earth, making his death even sadder than it was in the first film. And Sally Field's Aunt May no longer feels like a caricature, but rather a down-to-earth, relatable mother.
Still, while it covers a lot of the same ground, the way it's done is different enough that, unlike the first film, you won't be counting the minutes before Peter finally dons his Spidey-suit. In fact, I was having a good enough time watching Garfield in some of the cool, parkour-inspired chases and fights, that I honestly stopped caring about when he'd suit up (kinda like BATMAN BEGINS, right?). And once he does, Webb takes a far different tact than Raimi, in that the action is used a lot more sparingly. Sure- there's spectacle, and CGI- but there's less of it than you'd think, which is actually a positive for me. My reasoning is this: by spending more time on character building, when the action hits, it had much more impact, and this is a lesson Webb seems to have picked up. It all builds to a climax that has more of an emotional effect than any superhero movie since THE DARK KNIGHT, and I can't imagine anyone walking out of this not craving a sequel (speaking of which- stay for the end credits).
Now I know putting the guy who directed 500 DAYS OF SUMMER in charge of a SPIDER-MAN film may not have seemed the obvious choice, but that works to the film's advantage. Working with ace cinematographer John Schwartzman, he's made a film that's visually impressive, both with 3D and without. The POV web-slinging shots everyone was worried about are used sparingly, and when they happen, they're effective- making the 3D seem worthwhile, although once again, I'm sure it's just as good in 2D. I love the cool, quasi-futuristic look Schwartzman and Webb give to the film, and this a far more confidently grand film than I would have expected (ignore the inevitable 500 DAYS OF SPIDER-MAN jokes). Also worth mentioning is that, thanks to James Horner, we finally have a superhero film outside the BATMAN franchise that has a kick-ass musical score- although we do get the requisite, Pitchfork-approved selection of indie rock tracks (sorry Chad Kroger, Pitchfork does not approve).
For the hardcore SPIDER-MAN fans that have been complaining about the reboot, I strongly suggest you give this a chance as this is really as good a reboot as we could have gotten. Garfield and Stone are absolutely perfect, the film is well directed and tightly paced (I couldn't believe this was 136 minutes, as it felt shorter), and an intriguing direction for future instalments is laid out, although this means a few unresolved plot threads that some critics are already complaining about (be patient). I know the Raimi films are much loved, but it can't be denied that this is just...better. It's a strong, strong film, and an extremely promising start to a franchise that could really blow us all away if we give it a chance.
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