Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man film: What Went Wrong (No spoilers here)

Image from The Amazing Spider-Man film. Garfield looks uncannily like the Peter Parker from the 1960's and 1970's comic book. At least as much as anyone can resemble a fictitious character.

The Amazing Spider-Man fails in more areas than it succeeds. The inherent problem is that the emotional foundation of the film is flimsy. While Peter Parker learns about responsiblity from the harrowing experience of rescuing innocent bystanders, he does not learn the same lesson from Uncle Ben. This is signifcant because not only are his first lessons as a masked vigiliante learned as a revenge-seeker, but because Uncle Ben, one of three paternal authority figures in the movie, does not quite have the proper impact on the teeanger.

That would be excusable if the film did not also riff on the Ultimate Spider-Man comic, slightly altering Spidey's origin, his first foray as Spider-Man, and omitting the inclusion of the Daily Bugle and the figure of J. Jonah Jameson from the picture, literally. Where the movie works is in the action sequences. This brilliantly-kinetically-depicted Spidey births classic comic imagery onscreen and looks arguably far more real than Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. Examples of iconic scenes include Parker reluctantly removing the mask and Spider-Man fighting underwater in the sewers.

To elaborate on my comment on the problem with the emotional fundament, I wasn't quite convinced that Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) would fall in love with Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield). It's a shame. Stone is a radiant actress of Zombieland and Crazy Stupid Love fame, but she has little to do here. At first she is a strong female protagonist, until she and Garfield reverse roles about halfway through Amazing and she becomes a wet nurse and errand runner. Garfield's egregious quirks and ticks become grating. Or, as my close friend exclaimed afterward - "Most introverted guys are quiet and awkward around girls; he was a four year old!" In essence, Garfield's portrayal is too frantic, which undermines any believablity in his rapport with Stone's character. Who would go for a guy who spun around and displays nervous tics every 10 seconds?

The plot is also too busy, blending several elements that, combined, taste bad - the mystery of Parker's parents desertion when he was an itsy-bitsy pre-Spider, the rise of the latest villain, the thorny relationship with Captain Stacy (Dennis Leary, not the pipe-smoking, white-haired, suit-with-the-patched-elbows Captain of the 1960s and 1970's comic). The inherent flaw here, as in Spider-Man 3, is combining too many storylines on top of - it bears repeating - a weak emotional core. The story of Parker's parents was a several-issue narrative in the comic and his romance with Stacey even longer, spanning several years, alongside the development of his friendship with the overly curious Captain Stacey. Back then, Stacey was a sort of an NYPD Sherlock Holmes in the comic and not the very funny Leary portrayal.

I really wanted to like this film, but such an unsuccssful mix made this like a friend who just goes too far. You want to be there for them, but once they perform that one imcomprehensible and illicit act, you can't.

Of course, I readily admit that I found most of the action scenes invigorating and easy to follow. Another good friend, however, took issue with the good people of New York trying to help out just a little too much -and he was bent over with laughter for the duration of that moment of the film (once again- no spoilers).

In the end, Amazing deserves a DVD rental if only for the adrenaline-stoked acrobatics of Spider-Man leaping around. I also found the charcter development of the bully character, Flash Thomspon, quite interesting. This is one of the few elements that stayed utterly true to the four-colour version of Spidery, albeit it in two hours and not over the span of several years and dozens of comics. As a closing note, Garfield as Spider-Man is far funnier, with quick-witted wisecracks and retorts, than Tobey Maguire's version, who was all business once he put on the super-hero suit. Also, director Marc Webb can, admittedly, shoot great 3-D sequences.

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