YEP - First of all, it is truly amazing how far computer generated special effects have come since the first Spiderman hit the big screen a decade ago. I took my youngest to see The Amazing Spiderman (basically a remake, not a sequel) at an IMAX theatre in 3-D, and the CGI was on full steroid display.
This is a bona-fide summer blockbuster from an unexpected source. Director Marc Webb has done an admirable job of breathing new life in to a relatively old story. Webb’s calling card until now was the clever heartache comedy 500 Days of Summer.
Webb proves to be up to the Marvel mania mandate.
That’s the good news.
I actually prefer the British born Andrew Garfield over the Santa Monica spawned Tobey Maguire, which is saying a lot because I enjoyed Maguire a lot in the original. He was appropriately dopey, yet surprisingly heroic.
I guess I’m just not as smitten as everyone else over this Emma Stone gal. I will admit to liking her in The Help, and she definitely brought the noise in the hilarious Zombieland. But as a romantic ingenue? Let’s just say the camera doesn’t like her all that much. No one would ever compare Kirsten Dunst to Jessica Biel, but somehow she sparkled along side Maguire, and their upside down alley smooch in the rain became the single most memorable romantic moment of the franchise.
No such luck this time around. There are several stabs at heart-warming awkward teen angst love between Garfield and Stone, and the result is not much more than a stammer fest of goo goo eyes and sheepish chivalry.
The story is basically the same. We do learn a bit more about ‘Peter Parker’ and his mysterious father (Campbell Scott, aka Patton‘s kid), a man of great scientific integrity who had arrived on a miraculous equation, the ‘0 0 (as in zero zero) Decay Rate Algorithm, a hush hush breakthrough in the area of cross species genetics, before vanishing and leaving young ‘Peter’ orphaned.
In his wake we meet his lab partner, ‘Dr. Curt Connors’ (Rhys Ifans), a one-armed mad scientist hell-bent on solving regeneration – mainly so he can be a two-armed mad scientist hell-bent on other stuff.
After the ever curious ‘Peter Parker’ sneaks into a forbidden lab and gets bitten by a pesky spider, he foolishly shares the algorithm with his dad’s old chum. Bad call.
But at least now we have a villain.
The first hour of the film focuses on a clumsy hold up scene at a scuzzy neighborhood liquor store, resulting in ‘Parker’s’ ‘Uncle Ben’ (Martin Sheen) being gunned down in the street. Clumsy and contrived.
Apparently Webb’s work directing television commercials influenced him. The stick up man bears a striking resemblance to nearly every crook/home invader/purse snatcher/car-jacker we see portrayed in tv ads. You know the type: caucasian, medium height, slight build, strawberry blonde hair, and always unshaven. The dilemma for the fledgling super hero is that – much I’m sure to Mayor Bloomberg’s chagrin – there is seemingly a mugging or rape lurking around every dark corner. Spiderman’s Manhattan makes Gotham City look like Mayberry.
Heartbroken over his loss, ‘Parker’ tries out his new super hero persona on the Manhattan thug set, tracking down every unshaven white guy in town in hopes of finding his Uncle’s slayer.
Mercifully, the filmmakers drop this thread and don’t bother returning to it once there is a giant lizard on the loose for ‘Spiderman’ to match wits with. With the help of the local teamsters.
There are many necessary similarities between the 2002 Spiderman and this new film. I must admit, though, I preferred the authenticity of ‘Peter Parker’s’ domestic life in the original. The late Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris were not only more believable as his surrogate parents, but more sympathetic. Their home felt right. Their affection felt genuine, not drenched in syrup.
Martin Sheen and Sally Field bring a lot of baggage to the screen. Both major talents with trophies galore on their mantles. But…a posh Manhattan brownstone counter-balanced by Field’s not-so-subtle “United Bridgeworkers” vintage t-shirt told me we were in a Hollywood dream world. Also doesn’t help that she is on the verge of sobbing in every scene she’s in. We already told you we like you, Sally. Enough already.
Bottom line, The Amazing Spiderman is above average entertainment chalk full of crowd-pleasing elements. Andrew Garfield was excellent in The Social Network, and his star coronation here is a success. Sorry, Tobey. I guess you’ll just have to take comfort in the fact they can’t take Pleasantville from you.