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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 6 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 27
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Latest Spider-Man doesn't spin a finished web
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

I'm torn when it comes to The Amazing Spider-Man. I wasn't a gigantic fan of Sam Raimi's initial Spider-Man adventure, but I did enjoy it for what it was. It wasn't until Spider-Man 2 that I went over the moon for the wall-crawler - that film was close to a comic-book masterpiece thanks to Alfred Molina's sublime performance as Doctor Octopus. But Spider-Man 3? Well, that was close to a disaster, and it's easy to see why. Even with promised massive paydays, Raimi, and stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, ultimately walked away from the franchise.

The funny thing is, as a stand-alone origin story, director Marc Webb's take on Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's iconic character works pretty well. Weaving in a prologue involving Peter Parker's (Andrew Garfield) missing parents (Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz) and how the teenager ended up with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), the film manages to not be a carbon copy of the 2002 version. Additionally, subbing the willful and headstrong Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) into the mix was a great way to create additional distance between that film and this one, crafting a new relationship for the blossoming superhero most (comics fans exempted) know nothing about.

But it is still an origin story, and, coming only a decade after the Raimi version, Webb's still has trouble feeling close to fresh. There's still a radioactive spider, there's still that moment where the once-timid Parker stands up to the bullies who tormented him, and there's still a crisis of conscience due to the death of a loved one that leads him to become New York's leading vigilante. Sure, the team of writers - including James Vanderbilt (Zodiac), Alvin Sargent (Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3), and Steve Kloves (The Fabulous Baker Boys, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) - have shaken things up, and not all of what transpires follows the known template. But it's still familiar, and at times it can feel humdrum and tired.

However, that's not the real problem with this picture. The real problem is the central story, which leads to a ludicrous final stretch that had me giggling under my breath. What starts out great - Peter comes into contact with Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a scientist who had once worked closely with his father - comes crashing down with a gigantic thud, the last 30 minutes a silly hodgepodge of lunatic clichés way beyond belief. It's an idiotic, overly chaotic mess.

Which is a shame, because the casting is spectacular. Garfield is a great Peter Parker - his exquisite chemistry with Stone makes me want to watch the two of them in some college-age romantic comedy. They have a dynamic that's wittily sublime, and director Webb handles their moments together with same idiosyncratic relish he brought to (500) Days of Summer. Sheen and Field are likewise close to perfection as the understanding relatives who take Peter into their home. As for Ifans, he makes the most out of a thinly scripted character, his first few scenes with Garfield hinting at a complexity absent from the rest of the picture once Dr. Connor's transformation into the Lizard begins. Also good is Dennis Leary as Captain Stacy, Gwen's father and an authority figure determined to bring Spider-Man to justice for his unchecked vigilantism - but again, the movie's handling of the character during the climactic stretch leaves much to be desired.

There is potential here - tons of it. The problem is none of it is delivered on as the dramatics come to a head. Spider-Man and the Lizard battle, Gwen finds herself in the middle of it, and all of New York finds itself in danger. But for the life of me I could never quite figure out why anything that was happening was taking place. The villain's motivations are weird at best and nonsensical at worst, and the way he goes about implementing his plan feels like something that would have been concocted by Snidely Whiplash. Throw in a last-second bit of citywide benevolence even dumber than that in Ghostbusters 2 and the result is close to hilarious. It took all my effort to keep from laughing my butt off as I sat in the theater taking it in.

Will sequels deliver what this initial film doesn't? I haven't a clue, but I am intrigued to find out. For all The Amazing Spider-Man gets wrong, the template it plays from and the actors who bring it to life are all good, and I'm curious to see what happens next.








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