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The Amazing Spider-Man Uplifts A Disappointing Summer

The Amazing Spider-Man
Directed by Marc Webb
Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Sony, 2012

In one of the most curious moves ever made, Sony took Spider-Man 3 as a sign that the highly successful Spider-Man franchise already needed a reboot, one movie removed from the most critically-acclaimed of the series.  Usually, when a franchise’s latest entry makes over $300 million domestic and nearly a billion worldwide, that’s a sign for the studio to keep making more without any changes deemed necessary.  Take a look at Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean.

But from the very start, a reboot of Spider-Man felt wrong.  The first one came out in 2002, it’s fresh in our minds.  For awhile there, the original and the stellar sequel sat in the top 10 domestic box office chart.  Spider-Man 3 was definitely awful, and Sony knew it.  And they knew that making a 4th film like the 3rd one didn’t happen probably wasn’t going to work, at least as well as they hoped.  There was also the matter of Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire, and Kirsten Dunst possibly moving on.  The whole threat of that, I believe, is what gets studios to start cramming a feature with a ton of untapped villains and sidekicks, and what led to the mess.  Still…still…a whole entire reboot?  We couldn’t just go with a different director and different actors and just call it the 4th one?  I don’t envy Sony’s decision here, either way they would have explaining to do and marketing to make it look good.

The Amazing Spider-Man kicks off with Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) and Mary Parker (Embeth Davidtz) having to leave home with their son Peter because someone is trying to steal Richard’s work on DNA splicing.  They know they’re in danger, and Richard drops Peter off at Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May’s (Sally Field) home before disappearing, never to be seen again.  The next time we see Peter (Andrew Garfield), he’s in high school, and he’s constantly getting bullied.  And he has a super mad crush on the girl everyone in the world has a crush on right now–Emma Stone, playing Gwen Stacy.

Peter discovers an old briefcase of his father’s that contains some vital information, and he goes and sees Richard’s old partner at Oscorp, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a man who has lost his right arm and who is struggling to resume the work Richard did, using lizards because they can regenerate limbs.  He is under tremendous pressure from Rajit Ratha (Iffran Khan), who wants to revive a mysterious figure in a Veterans Hospital with any kind of serum Connors can find.   Failure means funding would be pulled, and Oscorp goes under.  Also, Gwen works as an intern at Oscorp, so Peter can kill two birds with one Emma Stone…ha ha ha ha ha…

Peter stumbles into a lab where genetically-enhanced spiders are being studied, gets bit, and later starts finding out he’s way stronger and nimbler.  A lot of what he does, finding himself in various troubles, comes by pure accident and just-found instinct.  Then he decides he’s going to hone those skills, and help others.  But his newfound powers take up all his time, and he’s becoming an unreliable person–leading to some familiar scenes involving Uncle Ben and talk about responsibility, and Uncle Ben’s inevitable demise–this time not seeming so completely random as it did in the first film.  Peter now wants to use his powers for revenge, but the search for a killer using his powers has attracted the attention of the police, namely the police captain, Gwen’s dad (Denis Leary).  Kind of funny that the Uncle Ben scene isn’t a billion-to-one shot anymore, but all the relationships are.

With the threat of Oscorp losing its funding, Connors decides to use the serum he has as one last ditch effort to prove himself.  And, of course, it goes horribly wrong.  He turns into the murderous Lizard, and he starts believing humans are weak, and all need to be lizards.  You know, supervillain stuff.

While the familiar scenes play a lot like how it feels when you see an American version of a foreign film you love, there are so many reasons why this movie is worth watching.  First off, Andrew Garfield is a better Peter Parker/Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire.  And I like Tobey and all, but he’s got a very distinct, limited acting style, and Garfield is way more expressive and relatable.  And Emma Stone runs circles around Kirsten Dunst.  They aren’t playing the same character name-wise, but it doesn’t matter.  Stone is a beautifully expressive actress who, to paraphrase A Catcher in the Rye, “you want to call up afterwards,” because she’s so good you want her to know how good she is.  Even the requisite Stan Lee cameo is a lot better than most of the times he shows up, randomly, with no extra value.

The action is well done.  I liked the scenes between Spidey and Lizard as they fight: it’s tense, close-up, and never confusing.  There is a brilliant scene down in the sewers that is ridiculously smart in how it’s done.  The movie is just crammed with story, humor, and action, and despite the fact that I liked The Avengers overall, this movie is better.  It won’t make near the money, and probably most people who loved The Avengers won’t think this beats it, but it does.

Marc Webb did the excellent 500 Days of Summer 3 years ago.  This is quite the leap from that movie, but he does a great job here–like I said, the action is very well done in this flick.  The movie also benefits from writing by Harry Potter and Wonder Boys screenwriter Steve Kloves, who teams with Zodiac writer James Vanderbilt and long-time Spider-Man writer (heck, long-time anything), the 85-year-old Alvin Sargent.

A fantastic movie, and hopefully people will get over the 20-percent-or-so of sameness from the original Spider-Man and make this a hit much like Batman Begins, which started somewhat slow (because it was a reboot of a franchise that had Batman & Robin as its last entry) and ended up a huge winner in 2005.

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