Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Movie Review: "The Amazing Spider-Man"

We all know the story, teenager is bit by a scientifically altered spider, gets spider powers and becomes Spider-Man, what we didn't know was his past before he became the Spider-Man.  To compare The Amazing Spider-Man to the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man, is like comparing apples to oranges.  One is more character centric, where as the other is more light-hearted and melodramatic in the comic book style.  The Amazing Spider-Man is a wonderful movie because it does not feel like a retread of the Sam Raimi original.  Director Marc Webb and the rest of his crew have manufactured a Spider-Man movie that does not try to compete with what has been done before, but rather focuses on lesser known aspects of the character Peter Parker and makes the film a character piece rather than a large scale mosaic.

It's evident when we are not treated to a shot of the New York City skyline till nearly ten minutes into the movie, that this Spider-Man isn't looking to impress with scope or scale.  Rather the first thing we see is the tale of how Peter Parker's parents left him as a child with Uncle Ben and Aunt May, to never return for him.  This is the greatest and most unique aspect of the film.  The Amazing Spider-Man is up there with some of the great comic book story arcs, because it delves deeper into Peter's past than perhaps even some of the comics have done.  Actor Andrew Garfield portrays Peter as a kid with a chip on his shoulder, having been abandoned by his own father he looks for fatherly connections with everyone from Uncle Ben to Dr. Curtis Connors, all the way to his girlfriend's dad, Captain Stacy.  Garfield is the heart-and-soul of this movie, and he portrays Peter as an outcast rather than as a geek with no friends, and it works.  He understands the character, perhaps even more so than Tobey Maguire did.

While the story does retread some of the origin aspects from the Sam Raimi movie, the movie is constantly replaying them so differently, it never really crosses the mind that they are portraying some of the same events.  The strength to this lies in the great screenplay from James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sergeant, and Harry Potter-alum Steve Kloves.  The screenplay ties up Spidey's origin with Peter trying to uncover the mystery of his dad's old briefcase, which leads him to discover the source of his webbing, and his powers, but it also gives the movie a different through line than any other Spider-Man movie.

We see Peter get bit by the spider, we see him discover his powers, we even see the unfortunate tragedy that leads him to donning tights, but what we see is a more realistic approach to how these things play out.  The Raimi film is more operatic, focusing on the emotion of the moments, rather this film focuses more on how these moments work as transitioning points in the maturation of Peter Parker and coming to accept his parents' disappearance.  Everything flows and transpires with an action-reaction style.  Peter does something, which causes this to happen, or this happens affecting Peter, and this keeps the story always focused on him.

As cheesy as it sound, The Amazing Spider-Man is amazing.  The fight scenes between Spidey and his bad guy the Lizard are top notch, with some exceptional CG-camera work that creates the sense of being a fly on the wall zooming and flipping over the fight as Spidey zips around.  Emma Stone is likable as love interest Gwen Stacy, and Martin Sheen is a terrific Uncle Ben, with that exceptionally lovable twinkle in his eye.  Not to mention the film is well directed, joining the ranks of other Indie-Blockbusters over the past decade (Blockbusters with an Independent film aesthetic because they were made by an Indie director, this case Marc Webb).  There are many directorial signatures in Webb's work that can be seen in both his first film, (500) Days of Summer, and this one.  In particular the music video-like montage when Peter is messing around with his powers and skateboarding, it harks back to Webb's video roots and the multiple montage, music video-like sequences in (500) Days of Summer.  To cap it off, the musical score from James Horner is heroic and beautiful at all of the right moments, being a worthy successor to the brilliant Danny Elfman music from the original movies.

I loved this movie, it was fun, heroic, deep, and emotional.  There are so many great scenes, one of my personal favorites being when Spider-Man saves a child from a burning car hanging off a bridge, or the finale when an injured Spidey gets aid from New Yorkers themselves.  These scenes just symbolize what is so special about the character of Spider-Man.  He has wit, but he's also got a huge heart and will almost always try to do the right thing, even if it nearly kills him in the process.  The old Parker luck is with this one.

I give The Amazing Spider-Man an A+!

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