July 03, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

You can never find a seat on the subway anymore

Grade: B
Director: Marc Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen and Sally Field
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hr. 16 min.

The most emblematic moment in The Amazing Spider-Man is one of its briefest. High schooler Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), recently transformed by the bite of a genetically altered spider into the titular web-slinger, lies prone at the hub of a sub terrain web spun to snare The Lizard, aka the mutated alter-ego of one-armed scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). As Peter, his mask pulled back from the rest of his iconic costume, waits for a retiary vibration to signal the approaching reptile, he passes the time by playing a rather mundane mobile game on his cell phone.

The seemingly throwaway shot hints at the potential of this reboot, coming 10 years after Sam Raimi’s durable original. This Peter Parker is first and foremost a teenager, grappling with the angst of deceased parents but more so just plain old adolescence. Peter’s newfound powers come with great responsibility, but he’s still most at ease playing a game of Tetris.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: after the radioactive spider bite gives him extraordinary abilities, nerdy, bullied and often cocky Peter must cope with the violent death of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), along with a father figure-cum-scientist whose noble experimentation into improving the human condition backfires when he mutates himself into a dangerous, mad monster. And, oh, Peter falls in love, this time with precocious, thigh-sock wearing classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).

Amazing Spider-Man improves on its antecedent in the technical categories (save James Horner’s typically intrusive score). Technological advances over the past decade allow Spidey to soar higher, faster and with POV fluidity. Moreover, the cast is more skilled and polished, from the effortless chemistry between the versatile Garfield (yes, better than Tobey Maguire) and Stone to the byplay between Sheen and Sally Field’s Aunt May (though Field is far less engaging absent Uncle Ben). As Gwen’s NYPD police captain dad, Denis Leary channels the embarrassment of law enforcement being upstaged by a lone masked vigilante, a fount of frustration more convincing than J. Jonah Jameson’s wearisome windbag.

Plot holes contribute to a gossamer script. The uncontrolled stickiness of Peter’s spider-hands, which causes him to inadvertently tear off a woman’s blouse along with other comic relief during a subway scuffle immediately after he is bitten, is cured before he reaches home. Peter and Gwen have unbelievably unfettered access to a major scientific research corporation’s guarded Manhattan headquarters. Geneticist Rajit Ratha (Irrfan Khan), who figures prominently during the film’s first half, disappears midway through. When Lizard releases toxic gas designed to turn New Yorkers into reptiles (insert joke here…), (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb never revisits the carnage theoretically wreaked by this new band of behemoths. And why is Gwen and her family’s 20th floor apartment numbered 26D, and what 20-story building has an outdoor fire escape?

However, the film’s biggest difficulty is a matter of tone. The narrative gap between Tim Burton’s Batman and Christopher Nolan’s seminal remake was immense. There’s precious little to differentiate Amazing Spider-Man, helmed by (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb, from Raimi’s well-made original and his superior sequel—indeed, blue-collar crane operators come to Spidey’s rescue in a scene that weakly recalls the poignant end of the runaway train sequence in Spider-Man 2 (where’s Doc Ock when you need him?). The film promises a darker untold story, but it’s the same basic origin tale laced with the same clunky one-liners. The Amazing Spider-Man works as a wall-crawling primer, but it’s merely a passable redux for anyone over the age of 15.

Neil Morris

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