Tis the Season for a Comic Book Crush
July 9, 2012
D: Marc Webb. DP: John Schwartzmann. W: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent & Steve Kloves (based on the Marvel comic books by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko). Starring: Andrew Garfield/Emma Stone/Rhys Ifans/Denis Leary/Martin Sheen/Sally Field/Chris Zylka/Embeth Davidtz/Campbell Scott.
Over the fourth of July holiday, movie theaters everyone got the booming cash flow they needed as The Amazing Spider-Man hit their screens. Not only has the film raked in money domestically and over-seas, but as a re-launch of a franchise it has surpassed monetary expectations. So the true question is, really…did it match our expectations of quality? (And did we even have any?)
Firstly, much must be said of lead Andrew Garfield. Inheriting the Peter Parker role from Tobey Maguire, Garfield wasn’t an obvious choice though he boasts great credits. Seen in 2010′s The Social Network and Never Let Me Go, British Garfield has proven himself as a young dramatic actor. He even worked alongside Heath Ledger in the actor’s final film, 2009′s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. Here as Peter Parker, Garfield’s genuine charisma shines through. He carries the body language of a teenager well, boosts an adorable grin, but also manages to pull you into the inner workings of a teen in search of his own identity amidst an already grief-stricken young life. Thankfully this script emphasizes Parker’s intellect and gift for science, which more logically supports his eventual understanding of his transformation into Spider-man and the gadgets he then creates.
Luckily Garfield has an excellent partner in crime in Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey. Uncharacteristically blonde, Stone is enjoyably pert and just as smart as Garfield’s Peter. Their chemistry is evident and the script is strongest here. Their scenes feel genuine, age-appropriate and lack the gloss and smooth lines some writers give high school characters. Being just as supportive are Sally Field and Martin Sheen as Parker’s aunt and uncle. Their family dynamic roots the film in a real familiar context and thankfully never feels hokey. What can feel a bit silly is Rhys Ifan’s reptilian transformation (not giving anything away as this is clearly the story in the preview.) However, how do you create creatures and monsters without them feeling a bit goofy? Especially when the creature needs to be seen in close up? And be a clear character transformation? Regardless of audiences’ temperament for the big lizard, it is great that Ifan’s character doesn’t lose his memory through this change and the script gives his actions clear purpose, conflict and topical context.
Director Marc Webb was a risky, yet thrilling choice here. His previous work consists mostly of music videos, but he waltzed into people’s radars with his directorial debut in 2009′s 500 Days of Summer. I say risky, because this is not only a high profile big budget studio film, but it is also the re-boot of an already successful franchise. The previous trio of films, all directed by Sam Raimi, were monetarily successful, but lacked a sense of darkness or depth. In a post Christopher Nolan Batman reboot world, it is easy to look back and be very critical of Raimi’s Spider-man interpretation. But we must remember that Batman Begins didn’t premiere until 2006, when Raimi’s final Spider-man was already in production for its eventual release in 2007. This is not mentioned to credit Nolan with being solely responsible with changing the way comic-book heroes and stories are interpreted. But rather it cannot be ignored that Nolan’s success with a more realistically darker approach to Batman has influenced other studio franchises to not be weary of that approach. This being said, Webb handles the Spider-man story well with the film having a consistent look, great scope of character, and far better acting than its predecessors.
Ultimately, where The Amazing Spider-Man needed work was in its story. With three writers contributing, things get a bit clunky and there are a few tangents that create gaping holes in the plot. This by no means ruins the film, but instead disrupts the balance and good components of the script. For example, the script refreshingly focuses on Parker’s identify struggle and his desire to be honest and present with Gwen. Thankfully this allows the action and inevitable final battle sequence to be secondary to the character developments it causes. However, key injuries mysteriously disappear, the 3D is barely noticeable, some point of view shots feel very gimmicky, and as mentioned whole tangents just drop off. Yet The Amazing Spider-Man is an enjoyable ride, and begs a lot of questions of Peter Parker’s identity that audiences will surely want to know more about.