Movie review: “The Amazing Spider-Man”

By Tony Wagner

The “gritty reboot” is a funny thing. It’s a failsafe for big Hollywood film franchises, a way to remedy behind-the-scenes setbacks by hitting the reset button and hoping the audiences don’t notice or care. All it takes is a fresh cast, some moral ambiguity, plenty of night scenes, a 150% increase in brooding and poof! There’s a brand new series, with all of the attendant marketing and merchandising opportunities.

If this practice sounds cynical, that’s because it is. But it’s brought us “The Amazing Spider-Man,” a reboot of the series Sam Raimi started a decade ago, ushering in a renaissance of comic book movies. After 2007’s “Spider-Man 3” flopped, Raimi’s films went into limbo. With Sony in danger of lapsing on their rights to the wall-crawler, the studio scrapped everything and prepped a brand new film helmed by “(500) Days of Summer” director Mark Webb and starring “The Social Network” breakout Andrew Garfield.

It would be easy to write off “Amazing” as a retread or a cash-in, but to do so would be to ignore a very fun film that tells a well-known story but adds enough new wrinkles to make things interesting, and gets the new series off on the right foot.

Garfield plays a Peter Parker that is both true to the character’s 50-year history and completely different from his predecessor Tobey Maguire. Garfield’s Parker is less of a nerd and more of an outcast. He is angry and confused by his parents’ mysterious disappearance, which landed him in the care of his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen).

After a spider bite gives him special abilities, Parker finds some of his father’s old research and seeks out his partner, Dr. Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans). When Connors mutates himself into the hulking reptile villain Lizard, Parker must assume his role as Spider-Man and save the city.

Garfield’s chemistry with Emma Stone, who plays love interest Gwen Stacy, is remarkable. Stacy, barely seen in the original series, is a key part of Spider-Man’s story, and her inclusion here is welcome. Stone’s charming performance keeps Spidey’s origin, which takes up more than an hour, fresh. It’s no surprise that Webb knows how to direct adorable budding romance, and the scenes with Stacy and Parker in high school don’t disappoint.

It is a surprise, however, that Webb, a music video director with just one feature under his belt, knows his way around a good action sequence. The big set pieces in “Amazing” are easy to follow and feature a fair amount of practical special effects. This is a far cry from the manic editing that clouds fight sequences in “Transformers” or “The Dark Knight” and the overuse of CGI that prematurely aged Raimi’s films.

The original series also dispatched Spider-Man’s archenemy in the first entry, and tried to pack in all of the comic book’s key elements in a scant two hours. Instead, “Amazing” takes a cue from Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” films by first using a b-list villain with ties to the hero’s origin for the first entry, promising to touch on juicier members of Spidey’s rogues gallery later in the series.

The Osborn family and the Daily Bugle are referenced, but barely seen. They—along with a few dangling plotlines—are waiting in the wings for the already-in-development sequel.

Again, this kind of franchise building seems calculating, but it actually streamlines the film by taking advantage of the groundwork laid out by previous installments.  When a sequel is inevitable, why not build a world that can be believably sustained across several films, instead of stuffing the first with exposition?

“Amazing” was shot in 3-D, instead of being converted in post-production, and the format adds a lot of pop and grand scale to the film’s many swinging sequences and shots from Spider-Man’s point of view. The 3-D is rarely gratuitous, save for the final moments of the drawn-out denouement.

Even with dazzling set pieces and interesting changes to the story, “Amazing” can’t quite shake the warmed-over feeling that comes with redoing Spider-Man’s origin. Connors is also underdeveloped, and some of Parker’s scenes with Aunt May are confusing. This seems to indicate that even with a running time over two hours, “Amazing” had to be edited down aggressively.

Ultimately, these aren’t deal-breakers. Redundancy aside, “Amazing Spider-Man” is a fun and sweet film that manages to capture the spirit of the comics without copying Raimi. Maybe the gritty reboot isn’t so bad.

Grade: B+

Read more here: http://www.mndaily.com/2012/07/03/review-amazing-spider-man
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