Thursday, July 5, 2012

In Theaters: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012)

(US - 2012)

Directed by Marc Webb.  Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves.  Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Sally Field, Martin Sheen, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Irrfan Khan, C. Thomas Howell. (PG-13, 137 mins)

Rebooting the SPIDER-MAN franchise just ten years after it began and five years after the last installment, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN exists only so Sony could hold on to the rights and not lose them to Marvel's deal with Disney. To its credit, the film has some good elements and is not overtly cynical in its execution, but really, it only exists as a contractual clause obligation.  Director Marc Webb (500 DAYS OF SUMMER, and music videos by No Doubt, Green Day, and 3 Doors Down) and screenwriters James Vanderbilt (ZODIAC), Alvin Sargent (SPIDER-MAN 2, SPIDER-MAN 3), and Steve Kloves (several HARRY POTTER screenplays) hit all the expected building blocks of Spidey's origins, often glossing over them in a way that suggests even they know how familiar we are with the whole thing, because really, we just saw it, and it's still on TV all the time.  To put it another way, as I've gotten older, I've seen a number of films from my childhood remade, but a kid who saw Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN in theaters when he was five still isn't old enough to drive to the theater to see the reboot.  And we also need to retire the term "reboot," since it's no longer relevant.  BATMAN BEGINS was a reboot.  CASINO ROYALE was a reboot.  THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is a $215 million legal document.

Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man
Having said that, it has a lot of positives.  Fashioning a Spidey for Generation Skinny Jeans, Andrew Garfield (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) turns in a believable, natural performance as outcast Peter Parker.  There's a bit more of a focus on the disappearance of Peter's parents (Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz) and his being raised by Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), but after that, Webb and the screenwriters are just running down a checklist:  Peter getting into Oscorp to meet his dad's old colleague, the one-armed Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans); being bitten by a radioactive spider; discovering and controlling his superhero powers; falling for classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who's an intern at Oscorp;  Peter inadvertantly causing Uncle Ben to get killed in the wrong place at the wrong time, etc.  Dr. Connors is experimenting with a reptilian regeneration hormone for those with missing limbs, and suffers tragic consequences when he tests the drug on himself, bringing out his dark side and transforming him into the rampaging Lizard.

Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy
Garfield, despite playing a high-school student at 28, is a good Peter/Spidey, but once the mayhem starts, it's all CGI and video-gamey set pieces.  When Sheen's Uncle Ben exits the film, so does the warmth and humanity, especially since you don't see much of Field's Aunt May afterwards (Sheen and Field are both superb here).  Through no fault of Ifans, Connors/The Lizard is a dull, one-dimensional villain that's just a retread of Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin from SPIDER-MAN and Alfred Molina's Doc Ock from SPIDER-MAN 2.  Even the always-charming Stone is rendered somewhat inert here.  She doesn't even seem shocked by Peter's revelation that he's Spider-Man.  There's also supporting performances by Denis Leary as Gwen's police captain father, Irrfan Khan (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE), and even a rare big-screen C. Thomas Howell sighting (in addition to the usual Stan Lee cameo), but actors aren't really even important in films like this.  There's a few impressively-done action sequences and some nice bits of humor, but some of it falls flat, especially Spidey's Ratso Rizzo-ish "I'm swingin' here!" and his taunting "Somebody's been a bad lizard!"

Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Connors, soon to become The Lizard

Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May

It basically boils down to there being no reason beyond rights necessities for THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN to exist.  It's reasonably entertaining and nothing about it is bad, but nothing's particularly great, either.  It's big, loud, colorful, and generally fast (even if it overstays its welcome a tad at a bloated 137 minutes), and hits as much as it misses.  It'll make a ton of money and there'll be two sequels, and in 2022, another "reboot," if we're still using that term by then.  It's OK, it's watchable, but you've seen it all before and there's just nothing here to really get excited about it.  The biggest achievement of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is that it took me to previously unforeseen levels of complete and utter ambivalence.  (2D version seen)

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