Suck it up Raimi fanboys!
Finally got around to watching The Amazing Spider-Man. Oh boy is it great! Not only is it a reboot, it’s also an update, an upgrade, both, of the Spider-Man mythos we’re mostly familiar with. The guys behind this movie definitely went the extra mile (or extra swing) to give the fans more than what was promised.
This version took no time in expanding the Spidey universe, introducing Peter Parker’s parents right in the opening scene and how Peter ended up with Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Then, it also corrected the main deviations in the first trilogy: Gwen Stacy, a much more convincing and sophisticated girl next door, as played by Emma Stone and, the mechanical web-shooters—which is part OSCORP’s product, part Peter’s invention. (Midway thru the movie, I thought OSCORP would eventually hire Spidey to endorse their product, and let the abusive J.J. Jameson, this time as an ad agency mogul, enter the story.)
There are small additions changes here and there. The enhanced spiders and webs were retconned to be made by OSCORP, and it’s also implied that Peter’s powers may have originated from the older Parker’s experiments. My only beef is that they turned Uncle Ben’s famous words into a joke, albeit unintentionally. Martin Sheen’s cool, funny uncle could have been an improvement over Cliff Robertson’s, but without that classic line, he becomes secondary.
The biggest change of them all is Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker, who’s actually a cool kid pretending to be a geek. He’s a quippy masked vigilante who’s also kind of a dick. He ditches his girlfriend in time of grief, for a promise he couldn’t keep, and then break the same promise just because “those were the best kind.” All in all, this Peter Parker is an affable jerk. (At least he got the girl this time, and is able to actually fork her brains out—for a change.)
The teen romance in the middle, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s onscreen chemistry, and the upgraded visual effects are this movie’s strongest suits. Marc Webb, director of hipster indie hit 500 Days of Summer, gets the rom-com and melodrama side down right. That cutesy hallway scene where Uncle Ben notices Gwen and that other hallway scene where Gwen embraces Peter after Uncle Ben died, and Peter’s web-shooting butt grabbing Gwen-spinning move, I’d consider among the highlights. It also helps that this origin story is set in a present that’s more recognizably “now” than in the somewhat anachronistic Sam Raimi films. The technological advancements doesn’t seem too jarring, the emotional scenes don’t feel too soapy, and the main CGI villain looks as bad-ass as Doomsday in BVS and as menacing as the Hulk in the Ang Lee film.
In terms of action scenes, Webb is just as competent as most directors in the MCU—outside of Joss Whedon, James Gunn, Chad Stahelski, and David Leitch. Which is great, considering that the VFX team gets to flex their collective muscles not just in making believable special effects but also in conceptualizing Garfield’s realistic web-swinging, hyper fast web-shooting (only when the plot needs them), and the movie’s very dramatic and climactic final third (I couldn’t help but tear up the first time I saw it).
And that’s probably the reason why in terms of story direction, some of the choices don’t always make sense. Like when that inattentive cop shoots Spidey in the leg that causes him to forget that he can conveniently swing between buildings. Or when Spider-Man forgets that he can stick to mostly any surface only so Dr. Connors could redeem himself by saving him. But that’s okay. Line up the cranes! I’m all for dramatic and climactic endings. And, unless you really think about it, these are all welcome improvements.
The biggest improvement of all, however, is how this movie unravels Peter Parker’s “untold story”. Taking its cue from Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, this version of the web-head’s origin is told in the most realistic way, while still able to mimic the world-building set-ups of Sony’s biggest rival, the Marvel Studios. And by realistic, I mean having the main character bounce off between tragic and light situations seemingly without really building up to a specific end, somewhat un-cinematic, like everyday life happening in random. Which is to say, this one’s obviously darker (dimmer?) than the previous big screen adaptations, more self-serious, but not without fun moments, both unintentional and not.
Around the time the Lizard comes out, I wondered why they brought up Peter’s parents for and then left their story hanging. Maybe only so Peter could meet Dr. Connors and help him create the movie’s villain. (Though you may ask why was Peter suddenly so interested about his father’s formula and Dr. Connor’s works, much more than finding about his parents.) That they’ve included Uncle Ben’s tragic end and downplay its significance in Peter becoming the Spider-Man, was also a bit puzzling. But that’s OK because the writers were able to “phone it in” by the movie’s end.
Capt. Spacey, coming in late in the first half, is another variable in the equation. I kind of feel he’s supposed to complicate Peter’s crime-fighting (though up to that point, he isn’t actually fighting crime yet, he’s only looking for Uncle Ben’s killer) as well as his relationship with Gwen. But the movie couldn’t explore that any further and had to hastily resolved that because it’s already time to have the hero fight the villain.
Still, it’s a perfectly fine movie. Didn’t I say it’s great? Definitely. Like Michael Bolton’s Greatest Hits-great—if you’re into those kind of things.
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