What You’ll Like:
- More mature and realistic tone and plot elements
- Well paced and intriguing story
- Great all around cast
What You May Not:
- Mostly average villain
- Significantly less cutesy than previous Spider Man films
- Environmental scope and supporting cast is mostly obsolete
- Ultimately not as charming as Toby Maguire’s performances
What You’ll Remember:
- Emma Stone’s and Andrew Garfield’s relational chemistry
Just when you thought director Sam Raimi had completed a Marvel franchise for many generations to come, along came director Marc Webb and Sony pictures to retell the Spider story all over again with an all new trilogy, for a next generation “not alive in 2002” as said by one of the producers in the extra features (as much of a stretch as that is). For such a classic comic hero who has seen various retellings throughout his graphic medium beginning back in 1962, it really shouldn’t be such a departure that the story should take a second perspective so soon after Toby Maguire’s fun, if ever cute and hokey showcasing of the vigilante web-slinger ending back in 2007; a perspective that ultimately works in mostly technical function despite its subtraction of certain key elements of Maguire’s Spidey that made the former trilogy so charming.
Spiderman stars mostly unknown young American (with British lineage and accent) actor Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker as well as the title role, who some may remember from his supporting role opposite Jessie Eisenberg in 2010’s ‘The Social Network.’ In Spider-man, we are introduced to Parker after being forcefully dropped off by his parents to live with his aunt and uncle after some mysterious circumstances as a little kid; and fast forward to several years later as we meet Parker once again who plays less like the Maguire’esque shy wimp nerd and more the near savant intelligent social outcast. Attending a New York city science school, Garfield immediately displays his unique take on the young student simply by how he interacts with a local and stereotypically Hollywood school bully; it is also here that we meet up with the acquaintance/potential love interest Gwen Stacy, played intriguingly as always by the gorgeous Emma Stone. For the unknowest, the producers decided against Mary Jane Watson for the female supporting lead as another plot element change from the original trilogy, to I guess keep things fresh. Initially, fans may find that Garfield’s portrayal has some missing elements that made Maguire so likable beforehand, a shy quirkiness that helped the former Parker seem all the more… relatable, and human really. While this is a presumption that does tend to stick throughout the film, it feels less and less like a negative as Spider-man goes on, considering that eventually one comes to appreciate that this more serious and mostly realistic tone does in time feel less like a cartoon and something that can be viewed as more culturally relevant than the previous trilogy (yes, even though it’s only been 5 years). Garfield does eventually become likable in his own way.
Nearby in a science lab we meet Dr. Curt Connors, played by Rhys Ifans, an armless man who for years has been doing research on cures for various diseases, taking as a template the phenomena of how some cold-blooded creatures can regenerate limbs by will if they happen to be severed, and just like the general predictability of where that plot element goes, the film as a whole follows suit, not offering many surprises at all. Parker eventually meets up with the doctor after infiltrating the facility during a school field trip, led by Gwen Stacy as a tour guide (how a 17 year old girl can work at such a sophisticated and classified place of research is perhaps something you can explain to me). It is here that Parker begins to find the first pieces of the puzzle that may help him solve the mystery of his missing parents. Somewhat akin to the way Maguire’s Parker got accidentally bit by a genetically mutated spider, here Garfield’s Parker discovers that mutating spiders as a path to experimental research are actually being bred in the hundreds, and being bitten by one opens the film to its first of a few differences in what makes this iteration more down to earth, that is that the bite simply gives Parker superhuman strength, but no ability to genetically spew webbing. For that, he eventually crafts small mechanisms attached at his wrists. Sure it’s a small change, but one that fits the less far-fetched tonality of the film’s intentions. Afterwards, due to some differences of opinion of Dr. Connor and his superior in regards to the research’s plans, he decides to accelerate the schedule of testing on humans and uses the genetics-enhancing formula on himself, thus turning him into the film’s sole villain, simply known as the Lizard; a creature who with good if misguided foresight sees it fit to create a more enhanced human race, superior to the one that has failed him in his own life.
An unfortunate setback as to the Dr. Connor Lizard is not necessarily his character’s story arc or intentions, or even to how well Ifans plays him, but to how little the film actually utilizes him as a threat to a city he only really attacks one time; an attack that doesn’t seem too big a deal for Spidey to handle, where really only one city patron seems threatened. The scope of the city itself seems way too ignored as well. In the original Spider-man, New York City became its own character, and Maguire’s residence in it was a relationship all in itself aside from the one with Mary Jane Watson. We met patrons, workers, and saw it during daylight and night hours. We even got some pretty in-depth and comedic characters in Peter Parker’s place of work, whereas in this film the entire photography element is eliminated entirely. In short, the environment in those films had a determined and dominant presence, and it added lots of personality in appropriate accordance to the Spider-man comic lore; an allie of sorts; a Robin to Spidey’s Batman, if you will. Yet here, New York City works simply as a place the characters just happen to live in, because well, they have to live somewhere. The scope of the general public is also so small in fact that at times it really feels the film should perhaps have just been called “Parker and Stacy,” because the establishment of this relationship, although done well, is the prime focus here, yet it is a shame that it had to come at the price of a more relatable atmosphere. While the more serious tone of the film is an overall positive, it seems almost necessary that we do not get to feel one with New York City as we used to; but maybe some more script revisions could have alleviated that.
As the film goes on we meet only a few other cast members, including Dennis Leary as Gwen’s Police chief father, Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Parker’s legal guardians. All supporting cast members do put on decent performances, if never really standing out as anything too special. Even in more emotional scenes between Parker and his uncle Ben, Sheen seems to really encompass the role of a disciplinarian more than a father figure, only spritzing in bits of obligatory compassion, which tends to be the trend of decreased charm the whole of the cast. Despite Garfield’s Parker and Stone’s Gwen having good chemistry throughout the film, most especially during their more romantic forays (which are way too few), there exists still a certain distance from these characters the audience may feel; that even though Webb’s directing does good in offering fast pacing, well directed action and fight scenes, as well as a story that has all these characters on a good balance in their interactions, the entertainment factor in the film feels more functional than memorably fulfilling. Even soon after Parker is bitten the discovery of his new powers come off as somewhat awkward and silly, where the film tries to interject comedy without actually knowing how to do it that well, which is perhaps why the comedic element is mostly non-existant throughout the film. Garfield’s transition is a portion that exists more because it has to and not really because it wants to; Webb seems more accustomed to getting the job done rather than doing it memorably, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he does it badly. The script to its merit is a good take on the franchise, and though it doesn’t immediately feel as good as the previous original 2002 film, it’s most likely to the reasoning that though perceived flaws like those mentioned do exist, they may perhaps be due to how well we still recall Toby Maguire and Raimi, and what their film’s accomplished; a charming and incredibly fun trilogy that is even arguably superior to how well 1989’s Batman film detonated a new superhero to the silver screen to such sweeping, inspirational, memorable, and epic status (yes, I’m even counting the overkill exaggerations on the quality of 2007’s Spiderman 3). This one factor may be the biggest setback in creating a reboot so soon. Still, Webb’s Spiderman outing must be appreciated and respected from the perspective that it is being told at, but constant comparisons are still going to happen, and really for good reason.
This review is based on the 3D package version of the film, and along with it is an entire separate blu-ray disc of special features that the non-3D package version may not have. Therefore, a separate blu-ray disc means a heck of a lot of special features, and it begins with a set of behind-the-scenes featurettes lasting 1 hour and 50 minutes total, taking the viewer to the various locales the film was shot in, from Los Angelas to Sony studios to New York City itself, packed with plenty of interviews with the cast and crew. While interesting and well produced, there really is nothing here entirely necessary or incredibly interesting in regards to the actors themselves; a by-the-books affair all around. What does stand out though is one featurette in the set that goes into some significant detail in comparing the older Sam Raimi films and the reasoning and plans with this new iteration, so it’s a comfort getting to know why a reboot was done so soon. Aside from this, there are pre-visualization reels, which are mini-movies of storyboard scene presentations set to some pretty good piano music; some of them being drawn and others computer animated, all lasting about a half hour. We then get a short of stunt rehearsals without commentary at about 15 minutes. To round things off, there are some galleries displaying conceptual art of the Spiderman, Lizard and environments, as well as a 3 minute feature on the making of the Amazing Spiderman video game. On the actual film disc itself there is your standard commentary track as well as Sony second screen app for download, to get more info on your tablet while watching the film. Overall a nice set of extras for the more hardcore fan, casuals though can do without it.
Graphics and Sound:
There are no real complaints with this Spidey flick. While the featurettes require some color adjusting to your HD set due to some scenes of distortion, the film itself runs clean all the way through, if nothing incredibly groundbreaking. Blacks are deep, colors are vibrant enough without suffering from any visible oversaturation, and not once did yours grinch truly have to touch the TV color and picture options to make things look clearer. There is a mostly mild layer of distortion that is near invisible during faster action sequences, but can still be seen in darker scenes. A very small setback but does keep the transfer from having that wow-factor some may expect. On the sound side of things, there are no big complaints either. Dialogue has its moments where lower voices cannot be made out as easily and do sound a bit distorted if the volume is up too high. Moreover, the film’s overall volume must be turned up a few notches from your standard cable volume for comfortable listening. Action scenes are well balanced as well as the soundtrack, so you’ll never be missing anything here; things also never become too loud with more intense scenes as compared to quiet ones. Therefore, the sound easily trumps the visual transfer here.
The Amazing Spider-man is a rebooted take on a series that already told a very fulfilling and grandly entertaining take on this classic comic hero. Unlike the old Batman films as compared to the newer Christopher Nolan versions, there was a dire need for the hero to be saved as his 90s run ended to such a dismal disappointing failure. There was also over a time span of almost 2 full decades between the two film series. With Spider-man, the necessity just wasn’t there, and though it doesn’t show in the film’s script, it does stick out like a sore thumb in its overall charm factor. The key here is just how culturally relevant both series were: Raimi’s vision came at a time when America seriously needed an inspirational fictional hero to lift spirits in being so soon after the catastrophic events of 9/11 that came just a year prior, and the first 2 films at least were able to walk the perfect balance of far-fetched almost cartoonish tongue-in-cheek fantasy and granting New York City a strengthening realistic and hopeful presence. Considering Webb’s Spider-man severely lacks the scope of the city that should accompany it really does very little to make this film’s interest level going beyond the Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy romance (which really needed more depth and screentime) and some good action scenes that naturally have greatly improved visual effects over the previous trilogy. So while Spider-man is at its core a very entertaining and at times gripping action/adventure superhero film, it does so mostly at a technical level of sheer functionality, but ultimately lacks enough magic and zazz that made Toby Maguire’s take so much more relatable. There is no question audiences will be entertained here, even if years down the line perhaps showing their children the Raimi films way before showing them this one. I’d give it a wink at 3 blonde Gwens out of 4.