Monday, July 16, 2012

The Not Really Amazing Basically Pointless Spider-Man

     I can't imagine even the biggest super-fans of comic book film adaptations were screaming for this one: there have been three Spiderman films (before this) in the past eleven years, and those grew old faster than Tobey Maguire's whiney acting. By the time the third film of Sam Raimi's trilogy about the web-slinging hero and his love for Mary-Jane Watson hit theaters, the novelty of Spidey's story and the dated special effects left many viewers severing the silky web of love that they once held for the hero. Flash forward to the present day, and Hollywood--in its ever-greedy ways--has deemed it pertinent to reboot one of America's most famous superheros with a new director, fresher actors, but--unfortunately--essentially the same story. It's an entertaining and familiar film, and it's totally competent in every aspect of movie-making, but it feels like an old friend that (although fun to be around) you could do without.
     This is one of those origin stories that have been going around theaters faster than bedbugs spread at a Phish concert. At least Spiderman himself is played by someone a little more dangerous and exciting: Andrew Garfield, in one of his first major roles after his great turn in The Social Network, is usually likable/nerdy/sad (or some combination of the three) and has a bit more edge than Maguire's safer and cornier work. As we have learned in all of the different variations of Spiderman's universe, Peter Parker (Spiderman, obviously) comes to live with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Sally Field and Martin Sheen) after his parents disappear mysteriously. Field and Sheen play the role with just enough concern and understanding to be realistic. It's clear to Uncle Ben that Peter is in love with a blond-haired student at his high school, since Peter has her picture plastered on the background of his laptop. This girl is the love interest in this reboot, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and she is plenty more dangerous and sexy to make any viewer forget about Kirsten Dunst's stunted portrayal of Mary-Jane Watson.
    Gwen, like Peter, is a science standout. She's so good she somehow has a job at Oscorp, a huge company that deals with cutting-edge science and is led by Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans), a right-arm amputee who is looking for the technology to regenerate limbs to help himself and--especially--humankind. He was also Peter's long lost father's coworker. When pushed to the breaking point, Dr. Curt squirts a non-human-tested substance into his vein to try and regain his arm--what he becomes is The Lizard, a creature with super-human strength (and super-human anger) that wreaks havoc throughout the city. His main goal is releasing a gas cloud over the population to also turn them into scaly, slimy, lizard-things (no, not Mischa Barton).
     So begins the second half of The Amazing Spider-Man, and it's all expected, (barely) exciting enough, and entertaining. The cops, led by comedian Denis Leary, are also on the chase, and they provide some mild laughs that are about 1/100th as funny as any of Leary's great stand-up specials. There are minutes upon minutes of Spiderman swinging across skyscrapers, scaffolding and fire escapes, hooting and hollering. Most of those scenes feel like an unwanted deja vu, as we had already seen plenty of that in Raimi's trilogy.
     This new adaptation is directed by Marc Webb, and it's only his second film. His first was the sometimes-charming sometimes-eye-rolling indie romantic comedy 500 Days of Summer. It's an interesting choice, and one that pays off in many aspects of this film: mainly the quieter moments, when Peter is interacting with his aunt and uncle or realizing his first experience of love with Gwen. Webb is completely competent in the web-slinging aspects too--but athough the action set pieces are good, they lack any particular originality or excitement that would make the film rise far above other typical summer comic book blockbusters. It all has a been-there, seen-that feeling that makes one wonder why Marvel would choose to reboot the Spiderman franchise as soon as they did. Oh will make hundreds of millions of dollars based on name brand alone. Ultimately, The Amazing Spider-Man is a solid adaptation that is familiar and mostly fun, but--unlike Spidey himself--it's hard to imagine anybody finding it great enough to shoot out some sticky white stuff.     (B-) 

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