Let's just say, without sounding the slightest bit objective, that the Amazing Spider-Man looks amazing. Photographed on the RED video digital cinema system it retains the contrast and color of the very best of Kodak or Fuji film. In fact the movie is a bit more closer to film noir in that most of it takes place in the city, at night, and deals with a duality of personalities in both hero and villain. All of that is reflected in the moody pools of light and dark from cinematographer John Schwartzman. The other fairly amazing, or should I say surprising, piece is director Mark Webb. This is only his second feature film—his first being 2008’s (500) Days of Summer. Baffling me though is the reboot, or remake; we saw all of this before in director Sam Raimi’s very successful version from 2002. That film, simply titled Spider-Man (and I’m talking like it was turn of the century not ten years ago) held the record for biggest weekend opening at the box office , $114 million, until it was replaced by Alice In Wonderland (2010). Today it’s lucky 13 on the all-time single movie weekend grosses…with The Avengers sitting at number one. For Marvel, this version of Spider-Man won’t hurt them. But don’t you think ten years is just a little too soon to remake what was then a successful film both critically and commercially? What’s the point? Unless you do it creatively, and differently of course.
The Story: Socially awkward teenager (see normal) Peter Parker, played here by The Social Network’s Andrew Garfield, is bit by a genetically modified spider while touring the biotech company Oscorp where his father used to work. Parker soon finds himself gluingly sticking to things and developing extraordinary dexterity and balance until he realizes his “super” strengths can be used to his advantage, i.e. finding bad guys; and ghosts from his past.
The Goods: It’s essentially just like the 2002 version except there’s a bit more at work here in developing Parker’s family history, what it was like to be with his parents, then without them, then living with Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) and longing for that relationship with his parents that he never experienced. While not necessarily a popular kid at school Peter also deals with conflicts at his high school: that he likes the prettiest girl in school, Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone), and that he’s not the most social of kids what with his skateboard, moppy hair and nerdy tendencies. Add quivering, stuttering speech patterns when provoked and those bottled feelings and we get quite the teen angst.
All of these emotions in Peter boil to a head. He struggles with at first but then puts to good use against a villain. Granted there are several villains in a Spider-Man story, Parker himself being one of them, then the person who poses a threat to his family and friends, then the big baddie—Green Goblin in 2002, Dr. Octopus in 2004, and The Sandman and Venom in 2007. In this version it’s again an Oscorp employee Dr. Curt Connors played by Anonymous (2011) star, Notting Hill (1999) roommate and “The Let” from The Replacements (2000), Ryhs Ifans. Connors like Norman Osborne (Willem Defoe) from Spider-Man injects himself with experimental bio-juice that isn’t quite up to snuff. The result is more reptilian than goblin though the results are the same. A dichotomy of personalities develops, and…well, you know the rest.
I’m saying these are good things only because they build to quite a good conclusion in the film’s crescendo, one that is full of emotion and sympathy for our hero. Probably more so than how we felt about Tobey McGuire’s Spider-Man/Peter Parker in the first three films.
The real stars however are the crew who put this thing together. Casting Oscar winner Sally Field is an excellent choice for the silence and choice words Aunt May gets to deliver. Martin Sheen is essentially The West Wing TV President playing Uncle Ben…his story is short, one note and brief; his exit pales in comparison to the original…but I like seeing this Ben get involved in Peter’s life. Sheen makes that connection somehow more real, and will provide longevity to franchise stories down the line, mostly because of his memorable voice characteristics.
Like I said, these are talented filmmakers. The cinematography is brilliantly contrasty--not nearly as bright as the other Spider-Man films, yet bright enough to see what's going on and to do so with clarity that preserves the noir feel of parker's dual personalities in an urban setting. Director of Photography Schwartzman also shot some of Michael Bay’s earlier films—Armageddon (1998), The Rock (1996), Pearl Harbor (2001)—in addition to Disney’s The Rookie (2002), the Richard Donner film Conspiracy Theory (1997), and last year’s The Green Hornet (2011). Original music and score by James Horner is probably just as good as the cinematography. It’s the glue that binds the old, the new, the used, the confused—composer of over 140 feature films, Titanic (1996), A Beautiful Mind (2001), Ransom (1996), The Missing (2003), Courage Under Fire (1996), Apollo 13 (1995), Braveheart (1995), Jumanji (1995), Field of Dreams (1989), Aliens (1986), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982), The Name of The Rose (1986), Patriot Games (1992), Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)…all films that find life from a moving, subtextual underscore.
These are veterans who instead of fading away with the best of the 80's and 90's have persevered Hollywood to date, and who look to have been invigorated by a young director and cast. I say this because it comes through in the music and images.
And lastly, hair, make-up and costume for Emma Stone…she looks ten years younger. Her eyes in times of great emotion are huge windows unto the soul; her accessories—hats, shoes, stockings—are youthful and full of teenage dreams; her bangs—something simple that clues us into a possible other side she hides, more than just an imperfect confidence level teens and others exude, which continues a theme in this film as well as the other Spider-Man films.
The Flaws: I’m guessing they spent a little more time with relationships and drama to a) placate to Twilight fans and b) try to appeal to a wider audience, as in your parents and possibly your grandparents. The original through-line from the Stan Lee and Steve Ditko comic books did the same but it weighed heavier on the action side. The Amazing Spider-Man gets really good in the last forty minutes but it takes forever to get there; and worse, we have to sit through a plot that is virtually identical to the 2002 film. It’s way too familiar and redundant and therefore boring as hell. Not to mention the time we spend in high-school is reminiscent of every young male film from The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) to Teen Wolf (1985) to Back to The Future (1985) and the films they borrowed from. There’s no doubt one could see the young Kurt Russell or Michael J. Fox as Peter Parker, and had Disney had the rights back then we would have seen them in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s versions.
There’s a crazy inconsistency with characters here, such as sudden smart-ass behavior on Spider-Man’s part, seemingly out of no-where. While the comic books were chock-full of Spidey witticisms you at least had a sense Parker had that personality trait too. And there’s no hint that the spider bite is causing this…it’s inconsistent too, almost a quick hit and not developed thoroughly. As for Gwen Stacey well she’s just not developed at all. That doesn’t mean she’s not likable, there just not much there other than a love interest for Peter. She’s more like Bella Swan than Mary Jane Watson.
But how Parker becomes Spider-Man and why and how he hunts down his first criminal, how he discovers his costume…it all needs to be redone...needs a re-do from the re-do. Why the re-boot? Why the re-do of major plot points? There are better ways to do this and more creative ways to write a script to cover the origins story but I think they made a big mistake here. I get the sense that since Disney now owns the rights that they wanted to do it their way and milk the franchise the Disney way. So if rides are developed at the amusement parks, well now they structure them based on this version and no one gets sued. In the meantime you’ll find yourself comparing the whole time which has no entertainment value and is nothing more than distraction. Nevertheless, I think kids seeing the story for the first time will be somewhat bored by this length of the emotional set-up.
Comparisons abound and are both a distraction and an expectation let-down. You have us, play with our expectations. We know what happens...why not twist these moments? Be creative. I get a strong sense from some of the teen romance and unwillingness to take risks with expectations and creativity that producers and studio wanted something a little more tepid and wide reaching in terms of audience. The film's target audience is everyone, not just marvel or comic book fans; a goal they aimed for and marketed to first instead of letting that wide audience discover The Amazing Spider-Man later.
I mark key plot changes in story by writing down the elapsed time. This is a good way to track the story or character progression—I was literally marking time. By 1 hour and 25 minutes nothing really significant, or should I say new occurs when compared to the previous Spider-Man film, the first one. Also, superhero and villain at times seem overtly animated, especially when they move across buildings; their physical body motions look cheap. Aren't we further along with technology in Hollywood now? I mean look at Transformers 3 (2011).
The Call: It’s a tough one. I say spend the ten to see what the future of digital cinematography will bring. But hold off on the 3-D. Expect to be bored the first hour or so, that is if you’ve seen the prior Spider-Man films. They make a huge mistake in redoing the origins almost exactly as the first film and spending so much time on back story for a character we all know so well. It’s only in the last thirty to forty minutes where we discover where the fun is at.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence. Running time is 2 hours and 16 minutes. Which is very long. Also stars Denis Leary, Campbell Scott and 80’s teen star C. Thomas Howell (The Outsiders (1982), Red Dawn (1984), Secret Admirer (1985), The Hitcher (1986)).
NOTE: While Disney owns Marvel they do not own the movie rights to Spider-Man. That distinction remains with Sony. Tobey McGuire’s last name is spelled Maguire; Rhys Ifans’ character was “The Leg” not “The Let” in The Replacements; and the chemical company from the first Spider-Man film was the Osborn Chemical Company not Oscorp though the two are indistinguishable. This blog post is as redundant as the story. All speculation and points made remains the same.
Return to: Jon Lamoreaux's Movie Blog Blog