The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

7 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Two years ago, when a friend told me that he heard that the “Spider-Man” movie franchise was being “rebooted,” I didn’t believe him. But two years later, here it is—ten years since the original film, and five years since its latest film. I was aware that 2007’s “Spider-Man 3” failed to satisfy audiences with its many plot developments, but I had a feeling that the franchise would redeem itself with a fourth entry. But no—Columbia Pictures apparently wants to start from scratch, even with the same producer of the other films (Laura Ziskin).

Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised by this reboot of the Marvel Comics-based half-arachnid/half-human superhero. We all knew the origin story of Spider-Man/Peter Parker, but that doesn’t mean the story isn’t told as effectively as before. There are many twists and turns in the storytelling of this retelling of Spider-Man, all executed wonderfully.

My guess is that they made this reboot was because they didn’t know where to take the story from “Spider-Man 3” to a “Spider-Man 4.” But I am disappointed that they didn’t at least try—even Paramount’s “Star Trek” movies have gotten their way out of similar messes. So they better get it right this time with the inevitable sequels.

“The Amazing Spider-Man,” of course, retells the story of how high school geek Peter Parker became Spider-Man, but with different circumstances from the original film. (And no, I’m not going to go into great detail to explain the comparisons and contrasts.) It begins with Peter as a little boy playing an innocent game of hide-and-seek when he enters his scientist father’s office and discovers that it’s been ransacked. The parents, hoping for the best for their son, send Peter to live with his aunt and uncle (for reasons that will probably be explained in the sequel, but I’ll let it ride). Years later, Peter (Andrew Garfield) is seventeen, gawky, and somewhat of a loner (pretty much the last person you’d expect to become a superhero).

Peter finds an old satchel belonging to his late father and can’t help but go through it. He finds documents containing specific information about his cross-species-intersection experiment with Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who works as Oscorp Industries. Peter makes his way into the building to find out the real deal, when he is bitten by one of the experimental, radioactive spiders in Connors’ laboratory. On the way home, he experiences some intense side effects from the bite—he’s completely hyperactive (I suppose you’d call it “spider-like reflexes”), is unbelievably strong, and can even scale ceilings and walls.

These scenes in which Peter learns of his new abilities are well-handled and make for some comedic moments as well. He at first finds these powers difficult to control (he nearly destroys his own bathroom while trying to brush his teeth, he shoots a dangerous projectile of toothpaste, and also breaks the door). He does get the hang of his abilities by taking it slowly and easily, but he uses them irresponsibly, as when he humiliates the school bully on the basketball court. This causes his fatherly uncle Ben (Martin Sheen, very strong here) to tell him that just because he can do these things doesn’t mean he can perform them whenever he wants to.

Later, Uncle Ben is killed by a street thug and Peter realizes that he could use his powers to help people in need. So he dons a costume he made himself, creates man-made spider-web-slingers that cause him to swing around New York, and becomes a masked half-arachnid vigilante called Spider-Man. He protects people in need, keeps his true identity a secret, and of course the police see him as a menace.

But with every superhero, there must always be a villain for each tale. Origin stories are no exception. While most are coincided with the hero’s newly-developed powers, Peter is actually the cause of the supervillain in this movie. You see, earlier in the movie, he gave Dr. Connors his father’s secret algorithm that could make Connors’ cross-species project work. What it’s supposed to do is regrow lost limbs (three-legged mice are used as experiments). Thanks to the equation that Peter gave Connors, the experiment finally works. But later in the movie, Connors decides to use it on himself to regrow his disembodied right arm. And because some of the serum comes from lizard blood (if I remember correctly), Connors mutates into a man-size lizard that terrorizes the city.

Connors makes an intriguing villain and his plan is legitimately diabolical. His plan is to take the serum and take it to the top of the tower of Oscorp and unleash it all over the city, via a chemical cloud, so they undergo the same effects as he. He says he’s doing this to get rid of “weakness.” Connors is an interesting villain because he doesn’t do this just to be anarchic and chaotic. He’s doing it for what he thinks is for the good of mankind. (Though, let’s face it—none of us want to be transformed into giant lizards, of course.) This is a scientist who searches for further truth in his research and gets more than he bargained for. He becomes a monstrous beast as it all just toys with his own sanity. Rhys Ifans does a terrific job at making a three-dimensional villain, and the computer-effects design of his lizard form is gruesomely impressive as well.

The effects are first-rate. Sure, most of it is CGI, but it really did look like Spider-Man was flying around the city on those spider webs. And they, along with the camerawork, make the action sequences effectively intense and a lot of fun to watch. I can think of many final action climaxes where I feel worn out, just waiting for them to end. But there were enough turns in this film’s climax to keep me invested.

And I should also mention the change of tone this movie has, compared to the other three “Spider-Man” movies. The previous three were lighthearted, energetic romps. In this reboot, the attitude is suitably more dark and dramatic with a smoother look, although that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for comic relief (such as how Spider-Man, in a teenage boy fashion, mocks a car thief while thwarting him). Also, I have to give credit to the screenwriters (including Steve Kloves, who wrote all but one of the Harry Potter movies) for giving better reasons for Peter to become Spider-Man.

Andrew Garfield has been in movies like “The Social Network,” “Never Let Me Go,” and “Red Riding: 1974.” I can say that this actor can either be very likeable or very stiff. In some of his work, he seems to walk that line in between, seeming uncertain about a few things his characters go through. But as Peter, he’s pretty good here. He’s very convincing and just so likeable, and makes for a nice hero to root for. But I have to admit, the updated Spider-Man costume looks a little silly…or sillier.

And don’t think I forgot about Peter’s relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), the pretty girl in the class. Every superhero story, as far as I’m concerned, has a girlfriend to support the hero, and “The Amazing Spider-Man” is no exception. Now, I have to admit that I didn’t really care much for Gwen in the first half of the story, nor was I interested in hers and Peter’s relationship. It was pretty awkward and they didn’t share much chemistry, mainly because Gwen wasn’t given much of a personality…until midway through the movie, when these two started to have realistic conversations and I actually started to care. Or maybe things just get more complicated when the police chief (Denis Leary, very good), seeking to arrest Spider-Man (who is actually Peter), is Gwen’s father.

And here’s what really made me care about Gwen—she’s smart. She’s not the typical damsel-in-distress you see in most superhero movies; she’s no Mary Jane Watson (from the original film). And there are many scenes that show that she is smart and can fend for herself. For example, there’s one scene in which she’s hiding from the Lizard in a locker in a laboratory, and you would think this would be predictable. You would think that she would be captured and Spider-Man would have to save her. But nope. She fights back; she sets the monstrosity on fire!

“The Amazing Spider-Man” is a welcome retelling of the Spider-Man origin story—darker, more complex, entertaining, and very amusing when it needs to be. I’d even put this is in a class with “Batman Begins” (which told Batman’s origin story) and that’s a very high class for me indeed. I loved this movie, and I look forward to its predestined sequel.

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