Movie Reviews

The Amazing Spider-Man

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Rating: 8 out of 10
Movie Details: View here

Cast:
Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man / Peter Parker
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy
Rhys Ifans as The Lizard / Dr. Curt Connors
Denis Leary as Captain Stacy
Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben
Sally Field as Aunt May
Irrfan Khan as Rajit Ratha
Campbell Scott as Richard Parker
Embeth Davidtz as Mary Parker
Chris Zylka as Flash Thompson
Max Charles as Peter Parker (Age 4)
C. Thomas Howell as Jack's Father
Jake Keiffer as Jack
Kari Coleman as Helen Stacy

Directed by Marc Webb

Summary:
"The Amazing Spider-Man" features an interesting real world approach, fantastic 3D, and a great performance by Andrew Garfield. Despite pacing issues and a mishandled villain, it's worth checking out on the big screen.

Story:
"The Amazing Spider-Man" is a reboot of the movie franchise based on the Marvel comic.

After Peter Parker's mother and father leave him with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, they mysteriously disappear and never return. Over time, Peter grows up into an awkward teenager. He's bullied at school, he can't talk to girls, and he's a loner. Still, he's a good kid at heart.

Peter's world changes when he finds some old documents that once belonged to his father. They lead him to discover that his father was once a scientist for Oscorp and that he was once colleagues with Dr. Curt Connors. When Peter goes to try and meet Connors, two life changing events occur. He runs into fellow classmate Gwen Stacy, who is an intern at Oscorp. He also is accidentally bitten by a radioactive spider that gives him superpowers.

As Peter begins to learn more about his powers and develop the persona of Spider-Man, he also begins working with Connors in Oscorp's lab. He's eager to continue his father's work as well as figure out what is happening to him, but as he soon discovers, mad science isn't all it's cracked up to be.

"The Amazing Spider-Man" is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence.

What Worked:
As far as reboots go, this is a pretty successful one in my opinion. "The Amazing Spider-Man" is by no means perfect, but the good outweighs the not-so-good enough to make this an overall win in my book. While Sam Raimi's films looked to the early Spider-Man comics by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko for inspiration, this reboot looks more towards the Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley "Ultimate Spider-Man" books as a reference. You have more of a focus on the high school setting here. The spotlight is more on the teenager Peter Parker. Aunt May is younger. The science drama with Peter's father is much more at the center of things. There's a heavy emphasis on character and dialogue over action. It's pretty clear James Vanderbilt, Steve Kloves, and Alvin Sargent had lots of Bendis' comics lying around when writing this screenplay. So if you like the "Ultimate Spider-Man" comics, I think you're going to enjoy this film. In the same way that the Ultimate comics tweaked the very familiar origin, this film does so in a way that keeps you engaged.

A big part of the success of "The Amazing Spider-Man" is due to Andrew Garfield. He had a lot of pressure on him to carry this movie and I think he did so perfectly. He's actually my favorite Peter Parker/Spider-Man now. That's not a knock against Tobey Maguire, though. They have two completely different interpretations of the character. While Sam Raimi's films were a touch more surreal and, dare I say it, 'comic bookish', Garfield's performance reflects the more 'real world' approach of this movie. Garfield's Parker is more of a realistic teenager. If you go into any high school in the US, you'll find a dozen kids just like him. But his Spider-Man is a bit more fun because hes more smart-alecky. He teases the criminals, he talks back to the cops, and he jokes around during battles with The Lizard. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of him like this in the movie. But overall, he did an 'amazing' job (see what I did there?).

It helps that Garfield is surrounded by a strong supporting cast. Emma Stone makes a great Gwen Stacy. She has some good chemistry with Garfield and she's believable as the smartest girl in school as well as the love-smitten girl. I also think fans will like her because she falls for Peter Parker first, not Spider-Man. And when everything hits the fan, she jumps in and helps in the battle in a believable way. I only wish she had more comedic lines than she does in the film. She feels really restrained here and we know from movies like "Zombieland" that she's capable of more. I also thought Sally Field was a good choice for Aunt May. She's not straight out of the comics, but she still embodies the character well. Martin Sheen is also excellent as Uncle Ben and I would have liked to have seen more of Denis Leary as Captain Stacy.

While I'm still annoyed that Marvel doesn't have a memorable musical theme for any of their characters, I think the music in "The Amazing Spider-Man" is some of the best of their movies. Early in the film there's less of an emphasis on orchestral score and more pop music, but that fits well in the high school scenes. The music reflects Peter's emotions and it makes everything feel more contemporary. Eventually as Spider-Man appears, the orchestral score arrives. The first time Spider-Man is seen in full costume, there's a musical bit that was EXACTLY out of the soundtrack for "The Rocketeer." In another part of the movie, the music sounded like it came from "Titanic." So as the credits rolled, I was both surprised and not surprised to see that James Horner was responsible for the score. I think he did a solid job, but as my second favorite movie composer after John Williams, I wish he could have done something more memorable and more original.

The 3D in "The Amazing Spider-Man" is excellent. When we see Spidey web-slinging around the city, it looks fantastic. They also give you a first person view as he jumps between buildings and climbs walls, so you briefly get a feeling that you are Spider-Man yourself. It's a great use of the effect and worth a few extra bucks in the theater.

While it seems like a short time since 2007's "Spider-Man 3" and awfully little time to initiate a full reboot, this is going to be entirely new for a lot of kids. I showed my three children the original Spider-Man movies... and they've already forgotten that they'd seen them. So it was exciting for me as a Spider-Man fan and a parent to reintroduce them to the character all over again with this movie. And while it may seem unnecessary to many adults to retread the origin all over again, they actually needed to see it to fully grasp the story. The way Marc Webb and company did it with a mix of both old and new worked really well.

What Didn't Work:
As enjoyable as "The Amazing Spider-Man" is, it did have a number of flaws. First off is the pacing. This is due in large part to the character moments which are, ironically, some of its greatest strengths. Long scenes of two characters talking can be interesting, but there are a lot of them and the movie is over two hours long. You will probably find yourself saying, "I'm ready to get back to the web-slinging now" more than once. This will especially be the case if you're taking anyone 10 or younger to the film.

The other big problem is how Dr. Connors and The Lizard are handled. In the comics he was a bit of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He had good intentions, but the formula transformed him into a monster and warped his mind. Connors also had a wife and child that threw an extra dimension of drama into everything. Spider-Man's efforts to save Connors were also an effort to keep their family intact. He was basically a good guy that you wanted Spider-Man to save. In this story, Connors seems a lot less like a good guy. In fact, they hint that he was involved in the death of Peter's parents. In this film, Connors doesn't have a family, so there's less at stake in stopping him. In fact, Spider-Man stopping The Lizard is more about him erasing a mistake he made than about saving a good man. Matters aren't helped by the fact that The Lizard's bigger plans for New York seem a little... Hollywood. In the end I just wish they had spent as much time on the character of Connors as they did Peter Parker.

"The Amazing Spider-Man" is also filled with a number of moments where you say, "Well that was weird." For some reason, every lizard in New York City is attracted to The Lizard. They follow him like the Pied Piper which made for some odd visual moments. There was also a moment while Spider-Man was rescuing a child where they had what felt like a strange Danny Elfman musical cue. It didn't fit with anything else in the movie. But another major problem was where Marc Webb took a cue from Sam Raimi and showed the citizens of New York City helping Spider-Man save the day. While it was a nice moment in a comic-booky, post-9/11 world, it felt way too convenient and out of place in an otherwise real-world inspired film. Some of those citizens are even seen standing in front of an American flag just in case the message wasn't clear. It was simply one of several poor choices. Fortunately none of them were fatal to the overall film.

Despite the over two-hour running time, it feels like there are a number of cut scenes that would have helped explain the plot better. The disappearance of Peter's parents is not satisfactorily covered (though the bonus scene in the credits hints that it will be explained more in a sequel). Aunt May is largely pushed to the sidelines for the second half of the film and you get the feeling that there was a lot of her performance left on the cutting room floor. Irrfan Khan as Oscorp executive Rajit Ratha has a major presence early in the film and later completely disappears from the story. Maybe these plot holes will be filled in with the Blu-ray or the sequels, but as it stands it feels like something is missing.

Finally, I don't think anybody conveyed one of the big criticisms of "Spider-Man 2" to these fimmakers too many people see Spidey with his mask off. He takes his mask off while saving a kid. He reveals his identity to several main characters. His mask is off in front of a number of cops and TV cameras on a busy street. His face is seen by a number of criminals. If you had a drinking game where you took a shot every time someone saw Spidey without his mask, you'd die of alcohol poisoning. And what's ironic is that the one character that, storywise, should have been able to figure out that Peter is Spidey ultimately doesn't. Anybody that knows the "Ultimate Spider-Man" books will know who I'm talking about.

The Bottom Line:
While not a slam dunk, I think "The Amazing Spider-Man" is a good reboot and very much worth checking out in theaters. Andrew Garfield really deserves a lot of recognition and I'd certainly love to see him in an "Avengers" movie teamed with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Hey Disney, Fox, and Sony lawyers, make it happen!

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