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Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) movie review

Overall verdict: 6/10

The Good: More of a character drama than superhero blockbuster, natural performances by acting leads, James Horner's emotionally subtle soundtrack, not as bad as Spiderman 3

The Bad: unfocused plot, irregular pacing, lackluster action sequences, generic hero fanfare (music), never fully develops underlying themes,  not as good as Spiderman 1 and 2. 


"Is it necessary?" seems to be the question on everyone's mind when Sony announced a reboot of the live action Spiderman movie franchise following the closure of Sam Raimi's previous movie trilogy. It was not even 10 years since the first spiderman movie, starring Tobey Mcguire, was released to critical acclaim and financial success. Despite deviating somewhat from the comic books, the movie stay true to the spirit of the source material and was lauded by both comic fans and casual movie watchers alike.  Enter THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, the first in a new trilogy of movies based on Marvel's favorite web-slinger. With a promise to adhere closer to the comic books, the film goes back to explore Spiderman's origin once again. A genetically altered Spider's bite, a death in the family, a promise made, a responsibility accepted. But once we get down to the specifics, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN becomes its own unique creature.

With an overall tone closer to a character centered teenage romance drama than a Superhero blockbuster, renaming the title "Peter Parker: Spider-man" would have been more appropriate. Teenager Peter Parker, played by Andrew Garfield, is less of Tobey Mcguire's lovable loser and more of a misunderstood social outcast; seething with angst, awkward with girls, prefers to be alone. Abandoned by his parents under mysterious circumstances, Peter was raised by his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. In high school, he grapples with finding his sense of identity and finding his first high school crush in the form of snowy haired Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). One day, Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father which leads him to Oscorp and his father's science partner Dr Curt Connors. An accident grants Peter Parker with spider-like powers but also results in a new scaly menace intent on wiping out human life. 

From the get go, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN shows itself to be a very competent human drama film. Relationships are the focus here. We get an insight into how Peter's relationships with his Uncle Ben affects his choice to become a masked vigilante. Martin Sheen completely nails the protective "tough love" yet gentle personality of Uncle Ben from the comics. It feels very natural and this makes his eventual death weigh even more on Peter's life changing decisions. Similarly the chemistry between Peter and Gwen is more nuanced than the more fairy tale like romance between Peter and Mary Jane from the Sam Raimi trilogy. Overall, the characters are definitely more grounded in reality, fully developed and easy to relate to.

However it is this move to try and ground the movie in reality that is also one of its many downfalls. Although director Marc Webb perfectly captures the emotional aspect of the movie, he seems to have trouble grappling the drama with the action. Once Spiderman dons the mask, the film splits itself into two movies: "Peter Parker: High School Romance" and "Spiderman Begins". This shift in tone can be jarring and similarities to "Batman Begins" abound: a parental figure killed in front of our protagonist, setting most of the action at night, a darker tone, even the plot thread of the authorities hunting our masked vigilante. Unlike Batman Begins, however, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN hints on themes but never develops them; a likely result of giving too much weight to Peter Parker's emotional drama. The theme about the power of anonymity behind a mask, for example, is a poignant one befitting the Internet age yet is only touched upon but never focused on.

Not surprisingly, director Marc Webb is more known for romance drama "500 Days of Summer" than any blockbuster. Like a Basketball player handed a golf club, Webb fumbles about once the Superhero plot is introduced. His lingering long shots are eschewed for fast whip cuts and close ups in fight scenes making much of the action difficult to follow if it were not for Spidey's bright hued outfit. Our villain is basically Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus redux: a well intentioned scientist driven to madness by a lab accident, developing a "Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde" personality only to come to his senses in the end. 

His strong point, the human drama, also suffers at this point where we have Peter and Gwen being the adorable awkward couple at one moment and then madly in love the next moment after a family dinner. In making Peter Parker a socially awkward skateboarding kid instead of the complete nerd drifting through a crappy life, the story of gaining great power and learning great responsibility carries less impact. He already has a rebellious nature, he already stands up to bullies, he already talks back to authority figures. That metamorphosis from zero to hero hardly takes place. Ironic that a movie with two very clashing story styles never manages to convey the dichotomous personality of the shy doormat Peter Parker and the heroically resolute Spiderman. 

The dichotomy in the movie's tone and style can be seen even in the film score by James Horner. His softer piano based tunes set during the "Peter Parker" convey the constant inner turmoil Peter has to grapple with; there is an underlying sense of somberness to the emotions. On the other hand, Horner's action cues and main hero fanfare are sadly generic. Danny Elfman composed a dramatic, subtle yet memorable score with tunes that just ooze "arachnid". Horner here gives us plain old "heroic" with a hero theme that sounds like a combination of "Batman and Robin" and Ang Lee's "Hulk". A sad turn from the composer who brought us the epic sweeping scores of Aliens and Avatar.  

If one were to compare, The Amazing Spider-man woud rate as the 3rd best among the 4 Spiderman films in existence just slightly behind Spiderman 1 but significantly better than the muddled mess of Spiderman 3. It is an emotionally touching coming-of-age movie, heavy on teenage drama and characters anyone can relate to. Sadly it is a mediocre superhero film, floundering in its schizophrenic switch of tone between drama and action instead of blending them together. 

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you want to see a more character focused origin of Spiderman on the big screen or prefer your superheros to be very easy to relate to.

Avoid it: if you have a die hard love of Sam Raimi's first 2 spiderman movies or Tobey Mcguire's awesome portrayal of the Peter Parker/Spiderman character.

Entertainment: A-

Story: B+
Acting: A

Characters: A-
Music: B-
Replay value: B
"Brains": C-

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