Monday, July 9, 2012

The Amazing Spider Man

Let's go ahead and get the obvious out of the way: it's a little early for a Spider Man reboot. It's only been 10 years since Tobey Maguire first swung into action with a Nickelback-featuring-Josey-Scott theme song to help with marketing, and that movie was actually pretty good. The second film in director Sam Raimi's Spider Man trilogy was even better. And then the third movie happened, apparently. I'm legally obligated to acknowledge its existence but I really don't want to. So when I heard that The Amazing Spider Man was in the works I was admittedly unmoved; it felt like too much too soon. But a few friends recommended I see it, despite my misgivings.

The plot veers almost too close to our previous outings, as we open on a series of vignettes establishing Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) as the school's nerdy loner kid. From there it's more predictable leaps from encounter with love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), to introduction of pseudo-mentor figure who will become the villain (Rhys Ifans), to Parker getting bitten by the infamous spider that derails his rather ho-hum existence. And I won't lie to you, the rest of the film unfolds about as predictably as you might imagine. But despite its cliche and apparently lack of a need to exist, The Amazing Spider Man actually...well, amazes.


First off, the characterizations in this adaptation are much stronger than I anticipated - and much stronger than those of Sam Raimi's adaptation. For one, Garfield is much more convincing as the skinny nerd than Tobey Maguire. Tobey came off as kinda goofy and hopelessly lovelorn, where his successor naturally evinces a more reserved but still awkward vibe. There's also an almost imperceptible bitterness about Garfield's portrayal, which stems from Parker's parents leaving him at a very early age without any explanation. Rhys Ifans is the stereotypical aloof scientist, a part he plays with visible ease. His subtle transformation into the Lizard is quite convincing, and tactfully subtle for a film about spider bites that lead to acrobatics. Then there's good ol' Emma Stone, who is always a joy to watch. Long-time webcrawler fans will note that Gwen Stacy was technically Parker's 'first love' from a chronological standpoint.

Which brings me to my next point: The Amazing Spider Man is truer to the original source material than Sam Raimi's trilogy. There's the aforementioned Gwen Stacy aspect, as well as the fact that Spidey's original iconic webshooters weren't part of his mutation, but rather came from wrist-mounted devices he engineered specifically for the task. The costume design also calls to mind the original designs a little more accurately than Sam Raimi's as well.

The cinematography is also worth noting, specifically during the action sequences. Rather than a hundred quick cuts back and forth with a shaky-cam for effect, the camera moves almost like Spider Man himself; weaving in and out of the chaos fluidly and precisely. Thus a single shot might last a comparably long time for an action sequence, but the camera is so smoothly kinetic that the effect is much more enjoyable. Moreover, such an approach mirrors Spider Man's movements as well so the audience feels as if they are right in on the action. And the visual effects accompanying the action sequences are spectacular. I did a little reading up and confirmed my suspicions that there's a lot more live action stunt work than I initially expected. That definitely looks like what's going on, and I was further impressed at how well the CGI and live-action elements blended in the finished product.


I'm a nerd in the negative sense of the term about a few things. By that I mean I get all flustered and bent out of shape over things that the average person doesn't even notice, let alone care about. Movie soundtracks are such a topic for me, and the soundtrack to The Amazing Spider Man would have been great...if it hadn't been ripped straight from the repertoire of the composer himself. There were a few times during the film I thought "That sounds like such-n-such track from A Beautiful Mind. I sincerely hope James Horner isn't ripping himself off again..." But alas, James Horner (who scored The Amazing Spider Man and A Beautiful Mind...and Titanic, and Braveheart, and Land Before Time...and a bunch of other movies it's ok to be a guy and cry during) was indeed ripping himself off again. So when I saw his name in the credits, my heart plummeted. I'm a huge fan of the man's music, but I've noticed he tends to lift motifs and passages directly from his other scores quite often. If you think I'm overreacting or just want to see how red in the face I can get about this, feel free to message me and I'd be happy to show you song by song what I'm talking about. I gots the proof.

Now as I said, I love Emma Stone - but she makes the least compelling blonde I've ever seen. (NOTE: See comments section for correction) I know Gwen Stacy is the blonde, and Mary Jane is the redhead. I get it, I understand why Emma's hair color was altered for the film. But it just looks...wrong. Almost like a cheesy special effect that you can't suspend disbelief over. But somehow redheads keep getting cast as Gwen Stacy (looking at you, Bryce Dallas Howard) and the makeup department has to pick up the slack. Minor annoyance, but one I just couldn't get over.


The Amazing Spider Man had a lot to make up for on my end personally. I didn't think it needed to exist given that Spider Man was only ten years old. I don't particularly care for Andrew Garfield, and I knew from the trailers that the whole Emma Stone-as-a-blonde thing would bug me; pun totally intended. But despite all of that, The Amazing Spider Man managed to be quite an enjoyable outing. It's the kind of superhero movie that doesn't really dawdle in exposition; it assumes you're familiar enough with the material to not hold your hand. I liked that approach - too much exposition would have weighed down what already was rather burdened by over-familiarity.

Growing up, Lizard was always one of my favorite Spider Man villains too, and I was glad to see him get screen time worthy of his reputation in my memory. Plus, this one has my favorite Stan Lee cameos of the Marvel films thus far; right in front of him getting mistaken for Hugh Hefner then Larry King in Iron Man and Iron Man 2, respectively.

And now that I've seen it, I understand why Marvel has decided to reboot the franchise this early. With the Avengers movies that have been steadily hitting movie theaters for the past 4 years or so, Marvel Studios has really hit a stride with their own cinematic style. In a sense, they're rebuilding their brand with these films; but that shift came a few years after Sam Raimi's adaptations and consequently those films don't fit in as neatly with the others. The Amazing Spider Man definitely works as a better tie-in to other Marvel movies - specifically the unconfirmed rumors of Spider Man's potential rendezvous with the Avengers in the near future. So while it felt like a bit of an unnecessary exercise at first, when seeing the forest for the trees it not only makes sense, but it actually works. With that in mind, it's much easier to see Raimi's body of work as totally separate from the other Marvel pieces currently in circulation and gives The Amazing Spider Man sufficient justification to both exist, and be as awesome as it turns out to be.


  1. "I understand why Emma's hair color was altered for the film. But it just looks...wrong."

    Unfortunately, it's the other movies where Emma's hair gets dyed - she's a NATURAL blonde.

    1. That's what I get for assuming! I'm still so used to seeing her with darker hair (be it as some shade of redhead or brunette) I stand by the fact that it looks wrong to me; but that's just my problem. Thanks for pointing that out, and thanks for reading! :-)