Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

Sony had quite an uphill battle on its hands when it came to getting people to accept a reboot to the Spider-Man franchise. Spider-Man 3 was a wreck. The public seemed to be way more excited about this summer's other superhero movies, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. On top of that, doing a reboot meant retelling Spider-Man's origin story, essentially remaking portions of the original Spider-Man, which is just ten years old.

I'm going to apologize in advance for the fact that this review is mainly a comparison between Amazing Spider-Man and the original Spider-Man, but considering that there's not even a significant generation gap between the two movies, it's safe to say that the comparison is one most viewers are going to make anyways.

Lets be honest, Sam Rami's Spider-Man was a landmark film, whether or not you personally liked it. Not only was it filled with iconic moments, such as that upside down kiss between Spider-Man and Mary Jane, but it was the first superhero movie to really develop the characters, rather than just get them from one action sequence to another. It essentially set the standard of what we now expect from superhero movies. Before Spider-Man, you just had a movie with Batman fighting the Joker. After Spider-Man, we get Batman and the Joker engaged in a battle for the morality of Gotham City.

The rebooted version, Amazing Spider-Man, manages to meet the standard of deep character development set by the original film, approaching it in a different way. Amazing Spider-Man is this franchise's equivalent of Batman Begins. Just as Batman Begins envisioned a more realistic portrayal of Batman over the more cartoonish Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher movies, this new version of Spider-Man is a grittier and more human hero than Sam Rami's version. 

Director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) manages to steer his version of Spider-Man through the same origin story as Rami did but makes his version feel new and different. It's faithful to the comic's origin story in the way that it needs to be, while at the same time putting a more realistic spin on things. Webb's Spider-Man never takes up professional wrestling, and he's initially motivated entirely by trying to hunt for Uncle Ben's killer, instead of being driven to do good by his uncle's words of wisdom. In fact, that memorable phrase, "With great power, comes great responsibly," is never actually said in this version, but the sentiment is heavily implied. 

The Social Network's Andrew Garfield portrays his version of Peter Parker as a teenager troubled by the loss of his parents. He's nerdy, but instead of being an archetypal nerd as Tobey Maguire played him, Andrew Garfield's Parker is an outsider. It's not that he can't fit in with his classmates, he just doesn't want to. When he takes on the identity of Spider-Man, he still feels like a high school student in the suit. He's vulnerable, both physically and emotionally. Amazing Spider-Man makes more of a point on dwelling on the loss of Parker's family than the original film did.

One detail I really appreciated about Webb's version of Spider-Man is that he takes some pretty serious injuries over the course of this movie. It's details like that which make Garfield's performance feel so much more realistic than Maguire's. Don't get me wrong. I love Tobey Maguire's version of Spider-Man, but Garfield really makes you buy into the idea that he's just a kid, with no combat training, driven by vengeance to act as a vigilante.

The same level of character depth in Andrew Garfield's performance is also present in his supporting cast. While I had no doubts about Emma Stone giving a kick-ass performance as Peter Parker's original girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, I was worried that Dennis Leary was going to be two-dimensional with his performance as Gwen's father, a police captain trying to arrest Spider-Man. Instead he comes off as gruff, but rational, acting the way you might expect a real cop to act, and not frustrating viewers by being unreasonably fixated on catching Spider-Man to the point where he can't see the real threat. The same goes for supporting characters, like Aunt May, or Flash Thompson. Sally Field's Aunt May isn't a helpless old widow, but rather is a genuinely concerned parent trying to keep peter from losing himself in tragedy. Flash evolves from being just a high school bully to a character with actual depth.

Amazing Spider-Man may not have audiences calling it the greatest superhero movie of all time, but it's a damn good action flick. The film shows great potential for how the new franchise may turn out, and hopefully it will last longer than three installments. I also think that if Webb is still in charge by the time they decide to tackle the symbiote-suit storyline that we'll actually get the edgy film we were all hoping to see in Spider-Man 3, but instead were given Peter Parker's emo dance. 

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