Monday, June 25, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

For F*** Magazine, Singapore

Movie Review                                                                                                             25/6/11


Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary
Directed by: Marc Webb

            After Spider-Man 3 became something of a critical and commercial letdown and plans for a sequel fell through, the folks at Marvel Entertainment and Columbia Pictures developed a case of itchy reboot button syndrome and immediately put The Amazing Spider-Man into production to swing in and save the franchise. Many fans rolled their collective eyes and the web (heh) was abuzz with fiery opinions – it was as if those in charge wished they had the memory-erasing neuralyser from another blockbuster franchise to make us forget that it hasn’t been very long since the last Spidey flick. Early looks and promotional materials seemed generally underwhelming, and the film quickly became buried by bigger releases such as The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus. However, this red and blue spider has become something of a dark horse and has somehow risen to greet detractors with a shot of webbing to the face.

            The film’s basic plot should be familiar to most who are fans of the comic book and/or Sam Raimi’s trilogy, with several tweaks. The prologue shows a four-year-old Peter Parker (Max Charles) being handed over amidst panic and secrecy from his parents Richard (Campbell Scott) and Mary (Embeth Davidtz) to his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). In the present, Peter (Garfield) is an awkward but likable high-schooler who stumbles across information hidden by his father, which leads Peter to Dr Curt Connors (Ifans), a one-armed scientist in the employ of Oscorp working to develop a regenerative serum to re-grow his amputated arm.

Then, the fateful incident when Peter sneaks into a secret lab in the Oscorp building and gets bitten by a genetically-enhanced spider happens. As Peter comes to terms with his newfound superhuman abilities, he also nurses a crush on classmate and Oscorp intern Gwen Stacy (Stone). A tragic personal event serves as the catalyst for Parker taking on the guise of the vigilante Spider-Man, fighting street thugs with the help of high-tech web-shooting gadgets and a slick homemade costume, in addition to his powers. However, Gwen’s dad Captain George Stacy of the NYPD isn’t a big fan of Spidey – and in the meantime, Dr Curt Connors’ flawed treatment turns him into the monstrous Lizard who has biological warfare on his mind.

In spite of the poor first impressions left by the news of an almost-instant reboot and sneak peeks at the movie, one would be hard-pressed not to admit that The Amazing Spider-Man is actually a competently-made, enjoyable flick. The approach that the aptly-named director Marc Webb of (500) Days of Summer fame took brings to mind last year’s surprise hit Marvel flick X-Men: First Class, in that in combines the youthful appeal of teen drama with relatively large-scale super heroics and action sequences. This film does not repeat the mistakes of Spider-Man 3 – instead, we have character development and interaction and clear and easy-to-follow plot progression. Peter’s job at the Daily Bugle, his boss J Jonah Jameson and a few other elements have been wisely left for later, and one won’t notice them missing.

Spider-Man has always been a hero all readers could relate to, with his transition from outcast to hero and his various personal, real-world struggles. Andrew Garfield, sexy nerd incarnate, is an ace casting choice. The actor has said that playing Spider-Man has been his dream since he was a young boy and the role went to the right guy. Garfield has an effortless, genuine charm and his slightly lanky proportions do seem very reminiscent of the Peter Parker of the comics, particularly the Ultimate version. For all the strengths of Tobey Maguire’s interpretation of the character, Garfield’s somehow rings more true. Whether he’s being a smart-mouthed do-gooder, a teen sorting out his issues with his well-meaning aunt and uncle or a young lover unsure of how to go about a relationship with his dream gal, Garfield is in great form.

Speaking of his dream gal, Emma Stone does a similarly good job of playing Gwen Stacy. Many were confused after Stone was cast and then announced as playing a different character from Kirsten Dunst’s. Gwen did pop up in Spider-Man 3 played by Bryce Dallas-Howard, and is touted as Parker’s first love. In an interview, Stone states that “Mary Jane fell in love with Spider-Man, but Gwen Stacy fell in love with Peter Parker”. Gwen is smart, kind and funny, surely what every guy looks for in a girl, and her role in the story is just the right size. Sure enough, the chemistry between Stone and Garfield is among the strongest of onscreen couples in recent memory and it’s no surprise that the couple continued their romance off the set.

One has to feel bad for Dylan Baker who portrayed Dr Curt Connors in Spider-Man 2 and 3 but never got the chance to transform into the Lizard after the cancellation of a fourth entry in Raimi’s series. Rhys Ifans fills those shoes, and he marshals a tragic figure who hopes to better society and to fix his own perceived physical flaw. This definitely will push the excellent actor further into public consciousness, and he does a decent job. However, Connors’ split-second snap from rational scientist to raving mad supervillain does seem a tad rushed and the design of the Lizard, as has been stated before, is pretty goofy. Also, the relationship between Connors and Parker, while given some attention here, could have benefited from a little mo re.

The rest of the supporting cast is good too. Martin Sheen is easy to buy as the earnest, down-to-earth uncle and father figure who serves as an upstanding role model to his nephew, and so is Sally Field as his concerned, protective wife May. Casting these veteran film industry stalwarts was certainly a good move, especially since this retelling doesn’t particularly focus on the two but does convey their involvement in Peter’s life. Denis Leary is also well-cast as the Inspector Javert-type Captain Stacy, who could have been an over-the-top, “squash Spider-Man dead!” figure. Instead, Leary makes him a stern but well-meaning authority figure and gives him a good dynamic with his daughter and Peter. His resemblance to Willem Dafoe, aka Green Goblin from the first Spider-Man film, is a little distracting though.

In terms of aesthetics, the movie looks sleek and dramatic – director Webb uses his ample experience shooting music videos in the right way. While it could have been something like the horrid Catwoman movie, there is instead clever use of lighting and composition and the action sequences are kinetic yet coherently-shot. This reviewer isn’t a giant fan of the costume, produced by the people at Cirque du Soleil (really) and the afore-mentioned facial features of the Lizard. The large amounts of digital effects supplied mostly by Sony Pictures Imageworks (also responsible for last year’s Green Lantern film) are also a cut or so below expectations for a big-budget superhero movie, but these don’t significantly hurt the end result.

The film brings up the issue of Peter’s parents but never fully addresses it, with a slightly ham-fisted mid-credits sequel hook hinting at what is to come. The Amazing Spider-Man has been marketed as “the untold story”, which is rather bold given that it’s only been ten years since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and five years since Spider-Man 3. Still, it defies expectations and is thoroughly entertaining. Untold story? Not quite, but well-told story? Definitely.

SUMMARY: Put aside your misgivings and ignore your tingling “bad-reboot” senses: surprisingly, The Amazing Spider-Man mostly lives up to the adjective in the title. Who would’ve guessed?


Jedd Jong Yue


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