Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"The Amazing Spider-Man"

 3.5 / 5 

Other than trying to breathe new life into an aging "franchise," there was no terribly compelling reason for The Amazing Spider-Man to be be made, and that redundancy is a big liability that the movie struggles heroically to overcome, and does so only fitfully.  Though it's better than The Avengers, it's still not the year's best super-hero movie -- that would be the micro-budgeted Chronicle.

What that small-but-mighty film showed so memorably is that no matter the special-effects budget, what really makes a super-hero movie work is what makes any film work: a strong story, believable characters and an honest heart.  More often than not, The Amazing Spider-Man gets those things right, and it doesn't always feel like a carefully packaged marketing exercise, which, under the circumstances, is pretty high praise.  But, still, haven't we seen this all before?

It sure feels that way.  Rather than following the tradition of James Bond movies and replacing the actor but continuing the story, it's once again all played out -- orphaned high-schooler Peter Parker (now the charming, stammering Andrew Garfield) is sent to live with his aunt and uncle, visits a lab, gets bitten by a mutant spider, gains spider-like super powers, falls in love (this time with Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone), becomes a crime-fighter and protects New York against a crazed mad scientist.

So, as Hollywood and movie audiences have learned, with great budgets comes great familiarity.  It is good news, then, that The Amazing Spider-Man is quite often a lot of fun, and manages to avoid the trap of so many recent super-hero films by taking itself way too seriously.  This movie shares some DNA with the classic Superman: The Movie in its tone and spirit; it knows that there is some inherent silliness in the story, along with some inherent grandeur.

Its very best moments have nothing to do with digital wizardry or the arch-villain or even the web-slinging, but are found in the interaction between the characters.  The love story between Peter and Gwen comes across as a sweet, awkward teen romance (though they are the most impossibly good-looking and well-coiffed kids in the school).  The interaction between Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Peter is particularly touching this time around.  Even the villain, Dr. Curtis Collins, aka The Lizard (Rhys Ifans), feels like a fully fleshed-out character, at least in a comic-book sort of way.

But at more than 2 hours, 15 minutes, The Amazing Spider-Man sometimes feels like it's never going to end, especially during a completely superfluous fight on the high-school campus between Spidey, Gwen and The Lizard.  On the other hand, the climactic duel is a rarity for a modern big-budget action film: there's some real suspense, and the stakes feel higher because the characters have been so well-drawn.

Watching The Amazing Spider-Man is a little like seeing a revival of a classic Broadway musical; you can be captivated and find something new and worthwhile in the staging and performances, you can even really love it -- but that doesn't change the fact that you've seen it all before.

Viewed July 4, 2012 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks

1 comment:

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