Unfortunately, This Reboot Was Amazing
A Film Review of The Amazing Spider-Man
By: Lawrence Napoli
Make no mistake. The Spider-Man reboot is a win . . . and it completely, emphatically and unequivocally pains me to admit this for the pure and simple fact that it is a reboot of an iconic trilogy that began a mere 10 years ago that yielded immense success for all those involved, but none more so than Tobey Maguire. People knew who Tobey was before 2002’s Spider-Man because the late 90’s and early 2000’s saw the young actor’s career catch fire: Pleasantville (1998), The Cider House Rules (1999) and Wonder Boys (2000). It was a big deal to see this up-and-comer get a signature franchise for which he will forever be recognized so long as he didn’t screw it up; and he didn’t. Love him or hate him, Maguire embodied Peter Parker in the best ways as well as the worst and he breathed charisma and believability into Marvel’s single most important IP which made a lot of “important” people plenty of green.
[[wysiwyg_imageupload:2166:]]I hate the concept of reboots, and I continue to express this opinion time and time again because (by definition) it inspires those who control the means of entertainment production to revisit the past instead of looking ahead to the future. Yet Marvel still needs to make money and using Spider-Man to do it has never failed before. Suddenly, the fact that Spider-Man 3 was universally recognized as the weakest link didn’t seem as bad when it could be regarded as a convenient excuse to start over. Thus, the reboot was set in motion with no promises save for “it will be different” and “no Mary Jane” – not very convincing arguments for any audience to invest in a “new” Spider-Man when the “old” one’s last appearance was 5 years ago. As a result, this movie had to show me something more and make me feel something deeper than I did for Maguire’s rendition to allow me to acknowledge (let alone enjoy) Andrew Garfield’s attempt.
Director Marc Webb and writers James Vanderbilt and Alvin Sargent deliver a refined vision of Spider-Man that chooses to more fully explore Peter Parker’s formative, high school years, unlike its predecessor. Other aesthetic changes see Peter Parker as less of a nerdy dork and more of a grungy sk8ter boi, a dedication to the puppy love angle with his first girlfriend Gwen Stacey and making his parents actually relevant to his character’s development. Of course there are others, but these changes are by no means drastic enough to be described as stark departures from the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire trilogy. Yet, these subtle differences present Peter Parker as being genuinely troubled (beyond bullying), less of a lapdog to Aunt May and Uncle Ben and simply more interested in “doing his own thing” than being obsessed with acceptance and popularity. Envisioning Peter Parker in this way may present him as a selfish teenager at first, but it also makes the character less hokey and more in tune with reality. This sets the tone for the rest of the cast in addition to the plot that carries a much more serious tone [the pain of loss] than the happy-go-lucky sentiment that pervades the original trilogy. I never liked how every Spider-Man film seemed to go out of its way to create a sympathetic connection between Peter and every villain that wanted to eviscerate him. Thankfully, Amazing does no such thing which allows more screen time to go to his positive relationships with his aunt, uncle and girlfriend. Yes, this does contribute to a slower pace in this film’s first act, but it allows the audience a wider birth to identify with the protagonist and accept the character’s motivation for engaging[[wysiwyg_imageupload:2167:]] in a life of action, adventure and danger.
The action and effects in The Amazing Spider-Man are quite satisfying. Once again, I must note how we’ve all seen the same type spider maneuvers before, but the fact that this film almost exclusively uses CG for Spidey while in full swinging/battling mode gives this film a decided advantage over its predecessor. Normally I would shutter at neglecting practical effects like wire-work, but these never impressed me for depicting how Spider-Man would swing around, especially when getting off the ground in the first place. There’s not much hand to hand combat with the Lizard throughout, but the fully CG rendered sequences look absolutely great. I particularly enjoy the focus that was placed on Spider-Man’s webs being featured in his combat style as opposed to a simple garnish. CG continues to evolve at an exponential rate, but Spidey as a character has an advantage over other action heroes in that his body and face are fully covered by a spandex skin that computers should have no problems making appear as real as an actor in a suit. Every frame that features CG looks very sharp, but also very natural despite the fantastic scale, camera angles and visual effects that are occurring in the background.
The supporting cast of The Amazing Spider-Man features a litany of veteran actors that plays to their individual (type-casted) strengths. Denis Leary has made a career out of playing cops and firefighters so why not once again for police Captain Stacy, father of Gwen? Rhys Ifans produces an admirable villain and his rather threatening voice is ideal for the Lizard. Sally Field is not someone I would normally think about when casting for Aunt May, but she produces a most welcome performance as May that defies her decrepit portrayal in every way from the comic books. Lest we forget the Illusive Man himself, Martin Sheen. Plug him into any father/mentor/wise elder role and expect nothing less than cinematic goodness.
Emma Stone, alone, is a reason to see this film. Yes, she’s beautiful, sure she seems awfully fun, but the absolute strength of her performance is the chemistry she has with Andrew Garfield which reflects their real life romance on the big screen quite well. Not to draw yet another comparison to the original Spider trilogy, but the ever fizzling chemistry between Dunst and Maguire was the final nail in that franchise’s coffin. Emma is a very compelling actress, but it remains to be seen how professional she can remain if difficulty in life could potentially affect her work. For instance, if she and Garfield break up before this new Spider franchise wraps, it presents a very volatile situation for these two.
Real life, cute couple. Hopefully it lasts.
Naturally, the same can be said for Garfield who has an equal, personal and professional stake in the performance of this reboot. It isn’t fair to ask Andrew Garfield, still fresh off his success from The Social Network, to step into this role with the franchise’s recent history, to pull publicity stunts at conventions to prove how much he cares about Spider-Man and to make people forget about Tobey Maguire all together. That’s exactly what Sony Pictures and Marvel have asked him to do and so far, he’s doing an adequate job. Andrew’s performance as a rather fidgety Peter Parker brings a new take on the character’s introverted nature. I like how he plays up his insecurity repeating gestures and reluctance to maintain eye contact with the rest of his cast. However, when he locks into a mutual gaze, it makes those moments even more poignant which begs the audience to crawl into his character’s head and learn how he ticks. He too benefits from the chemistry he has with Emma Stone, but his connections with Martin Sheen and Sally Field resonates with the audience just as effectively.
Giving a reboot my official stamp of approval is a dangerous proposition because it gives this kind of production a free pass to remix popular IPs ad infinitum and that isn’t a good thing. Two principals are at odds for me: the one previously stated and the principal of evaluating a single film for its own merits. A reboot is not always going to be better or worse than the original, but if the studios have little regard for a cool down period between releases, we the paying audience will soon be inundated with too much of not just “the same” but exactly the same in a very brief period of time. I can only hope and pray that this reboot is a fluke and its genuine quality is an exception to the rule so that future reboots will not fail to disappoint so they can be curb-stomped at my leisure. Next on the list is Total Recall!