Weekend Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
July 19, 2012 5 Comments
I was on the fence about whether or not to go see The Amazing Spider-Man, but knew I had made the right decision as soon as the lights went down and the trailers began. You know how it can be easy to tell how bad a movie is going to be by how difficult it is for them to find choice moments for the preview? Well, the best line in the trailer for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 was the following:
DUDE: I didn’t expect you to be so — you.
Awesome sauce. I now know not to go see The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2. Seeing Spider-Man already saved me twelve bucks.
Random thoughts on Spidey — including some spoilers — after the break.
I was one of those who loved the casting of Tobey Maguire as Spiderman from the start, largely because I had been so taken by his understated performance in Wonder Boys (2000). In fact, I was more impressed with the casting than with the actual movies, although the two of those that I saw were at least decent.
Nonetheless, I was taken by Andrew Garfield’s performance. I don’t recall seeing him before, although he was apparently in two less-than-impressive episodes of Doctor Who, “Daleks in Manhattan” and “Evolution of the Daleks.” Garfield is 28, but played a fairly convincing teenager. He’s got that thoughtful angsty uncertainty thing down pat. So why is it that Emma Stone, who is five years younger than Garfield in real life, seems so much older in the movie? She looks like a high school student with her own stylist, running about with perfect make-up and stunning bangs that can’t be had at your local beauty salon. It’s not a huge believability problem, given that it’s a movie about a boy who gets bit by a lab spider, and one of the strengths of the film is the chemistry between Garfield’s Peter Paker and Stone’s Gwen Stacy.
It also made perfect sense to have Uncle Ben played by
President Bartlet Martin Sheen, and to have Aunt May played by Celeste Talbert Sally Field. I mean, aren’t they the aunt and uncle of America, by now? As with Denis Leary as Captain Stacy, it makes sense to have actors with whom we’re already comfortable, as they’re playing characters we already know, whose main purpose is to serve up the story of Peter Parker’s coming of age.
As a self-contained story, this one improved on what I recall from the Sam Raimi version, in that it ties together pretty plausibly, other than a few oddities such as a high school student serving as the head intern at a major research company. Oh, and what about the decision to have Parker’s dad involved in the research leading to the genetic mutations? That’s the sort of narrative unity that undermines the major message of Parker as a normal boy thrust into unusual circumstances. Now it’s more like Harry Potter, with a special kid born of special parents.
I’ve seen some criticism of the lack of humor in The Amazing Spider-Man, but there are some quips and smiles here and there, and Spiderman isn’t about the hijinks. This isn’t “Spidey Meets the Spoiler” as narrated by Morgan Freeman…
…it’s about the melancholy of growing up. Presumably that’s why they hired the director of the indie romance (500) Days of Summer (2009), Marc Webb. It does start to drag a bit two-thirds of the way through, but then a giant lizard invades the high school, and we’re on. I appreciated the emphasis on character rather than extended action sequences, as CGI is starting to be more of a bore than a thrill. Spiderman making his way through New York City at the end is meaningful because of the help he gets from those he has helped in the past, not because we’re wowed by the camera work.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
Like many super-hero stories, Spiderman comes along with an ethos. You know, with great power comes great responsibility, which has been re-worded.
UNCLE BEN: You owe the world your gifts.
I’m happy to have altruism promoted in our current age of “greed is good” but they hit it pretty hard, with Uncle Ben lecturing Peter about humility and helpfulness. Of course, all those lessons seem to go out the window every time he takes to the streets and causes all those car crashes, but hey, the audience has to get its fix of loud sounds somehow!
Similarly, it seems like Peter’s dad was a mad scientist, even if he called it off once he realized that powerful creations can lead to powerful misuse. I buy into the idea that the hubris devised in places like
Trump Oscorp Tower may turn us all into mutant lizard beings — not because of a single man’s desire to live forever, but because these companies will do anything for a buck. The medical research industry needs a stern talking-to from Uncle Ben.
So, how great were those seconds in the high school library with Stan Lee as the librarian? How great was that shot at the end with the umbrellas in the rain? But wasn’t it kind of creepy how Peter would suddenly appear at Gwen’s window, watching? And how unbelievable was it that he got cell phone reception in the sewers? Talk about superpowers…
Yes, it was too early for a full reboot. Yes, they only spun this movie out in order to retain the rights to the franchise. But yes, it’s also a perfectly enjoyable evening at the movies, if you’re into the superhero kind of thing. I’ll go catch the next one, so long as they keep exploring the characters alongside the villainy.
VictorsMovieReviews: “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012 – IMAX 3D) – Movie Review