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The Amazing Spider-Man

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Marc Webb

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence)

Running Time: 2:16

Release Date: 7/3/12


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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 2, 2012

Comic books have been rebooting their franchises for decades. Spider-Man has been "amazing," "spectacular," "ultimate," and even just plain, old Spider-Man in different incarnations. It's not too far a stretch, then, to accept that we now have a cinematic reboot of the web-slinging superhero a mere 10 years after director Sam Raimi began his own series detailing the adventures of Peter Parker, the nerdy high school student who is bitten by a radioactive spider and develops all sorts of nifty powers that make him a hero to the city while complicating his personal life. The Amazing Spider-Man starts over from the beginning, once again showing the origin story of our friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man. It's redundant, of course, with the key difference being that, this time, he's not so friendly.

The shift is most apparent in a scene just after a spider that's part of a genetic experiment bites Peter (Andrew Garfield). He's passed out on the seat of the subway on his way home, and a practical joker balances a beer bottle on the teenager's head. The senses of his new spider-powers awakening, he leaps into action, and after trying to apologize to a woman he gets splashed with beer and unintentionally getting his newly sticky hand stuck to her shirt, he winds up having to defend himself against an entire train car full of people. The sequence is played for humor, but the physicality is transparently forced. Even if the scene weren't strained, the result of his accidental outburst leaves several people battered, bruised, and unconscious on the ground.

This isn't the wide-eyed, mousy Peter Parker—the one who feels pure, unadulterated joy when he's trying out his new powers—to whom we've become accustomed; the Peter here starts off as a blank slate—a teenager who sulks around his high school, occasionally rebelling by riding his skateboard through the halls and somewhat standing up to a bully before getting pummeled. The mandatory scene in which this Peter tests out his new powers is a montage of leaps, climbs, and flips at an abandoned warehouse; it's almost as if director Marc Webb is himself bored with the material.

The essential components are here. Peter lives with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field); he's not popular in school. He has a crush on a girl named Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who actually might like him, too. One day, on an unofficial field trip to Oscorp Industries to visit his father's old partner in the study of genetic hybridization Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a spider bites Peter, and he quickly develops abilities such as a heightened awareness to danger, superhuman agility and strength, and hands and feet that cling to surfaces (His web-shooting comes from a pair of devices on his wrists).

Peter's reason for becoming Spider-Man—a family tragedy—is still the same, though the backdrop is different (a convenience store robbery instead of one at a wrestling match). Going from a mask to the full red-and-blue suit, Peter sets out to find a killer by going after any criminal who looks like the man he's hunting. A police captain (Denis Leary), who happens to be Gwen's father, thinks the masked man is a vigilante out for revenge; Peter argues with him over dinner that the masked assailant is out for the same thing as the police: justice. It's a useless debate, really, and, either way, Spider-Man is, as they kids would say, a bit of a dick, taunting and teasing criminals just because he can.

There could be something to this characterization, especially seeing as how Spider-Man eventually becomes a legitimate hero during an episode on a bridge during which he must save the life of a young boy in a car (The sequence keeps upping the stakes: First the car is hanging from the bridge; then it catches on fire). There's a lesson for Peter to learn (summed up so succinctly in the 2002 film), and his growth could be worth witnessing.

The screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves doesn't care much for that angle and takes the easy and tiresome path. Yes, soon enough, Spider-Man has a super-villain with a dastardly plan to tackle: Connors, the victim of his own experimentation, as a giant man-lizard hybrid who wants to transform everyone else into the same thing. Anything about Peter as a character is thrown out the window for a series of fights with the awkwardly designed (a flat, oval head with a large, grinning jaw) and even more poorly executed digital creation. Undermining some of Spider-Man's dizzying web-slinging, Webb and cinematographer John Schwartzman turn New York City into a neon-infused kaleidoscope of visual noise (The 3-D, by the way, is practically non-existent for long stretches).

The Amazing Spider-Man has nothing new to say about superheroes generally or Spider-Man specifically. Even if it were not a superfluous retelling, the movie would still be a lazy and far-too-common exercise in redundancy.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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