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The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
It's tough to avoid making comparisons to Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007), or precariously citing a web of spoilers here. That's mainly because what makes The Amazing Spider-Man stand apart from what's come before it for movie buffs are the details this flick opts to pull from the same iconic Marvel Comics series' source material begun with Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962 that itself has gone through periodic and radical reboots over time: The radioactive spider that first bit Parker, giving him his wallcrawling skills and Spidey Senses in the 60s, was for a while updated to being a genetically mutated laboratory spider in the comicbooks years later. Originally orphaned by a plane crash that left Peter raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, Marvel then apparently presented alternate stories in the 90s where Parker's parents Richard and Mary were still alive yet estranged because his father was an operative or they were robots. In 2011, the comicbook universe changed again when the death of Peter Parker passed the mantle of Spider-Man to newcomer Miles Morales.
While The Amazing Spider-Man never mentions SHIELD or any hint of an upcoming cinematic smackdown that sees Iron Man, Captain America or The Hulk in the same frame as Spider-Man - expecting that to happen sometime is pretty much a box office no-brainer, frankly - James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves's screenplay does have an obvious blast reinventing this beloved hero from the various comicbook versions of the past half century for contemporary moviegoers interested in something different. Oftentimes, how this new incarnation untangles itself from its film predecessors works quite well. Other times, not so much.
Garfield's performance here is wonderfully versatile, effortlessly switching emotional gears from a teenager suddenly burdened with hyper-sensitive inhuman powers to a young man torn between the novelties of budding love and great responsibility. He's a more believable character than has been seen on the big screen. His is a quick-witted, snarky and flawed Peter Parker. More able than awkward, however. Emma Stone also brings a thoroughly welcome freshness as Parker's intellectual equal and love interest Gwen Stacy. Fans of the Maguire Spidey films will either love or hate that Parker's first love interest is Gwen Stacy - not Mary Jane Watson - and that this Spider-Man relies on homemade mechanical wristbands to sling his webbing, regardless of the fact those two details are actually from the Spider-Man comics.
What doesn't work so well is the primary antagonist. The Amazing Spider-Man #6 debuted The Lizard in 1963, a monstrous reptilian enemy of Spider-Man seemingly inspired by the 1954 film Godzilla and the title characters in Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Here, despite Rhys Ifans' best efforts to give a paying audience reasons to care that his one-armed mad scientist turned maniacle Lizard man is terrorizing Manhattan, the existence and schemes of Oscorp Dr. Curt Connors' scaly green creature simply aren't particularly compelling enough to stand as the only nemesis justifying Spider-Man's attention as a superhero. Sure, the NYPD headed by Gwen's grisled father Captain George Stacy (convincingly played by Denis Leary) are also after Spidey, but this movie's second half definitely had me imagining how the story could have benefitted from the introduction of at least one additional peripheral bad guy such as Kingpin or Kraven the Hunter or perhaps a larger external danger to beef up the intensity. You know it's a bad sign when you're sidetracked by how to make a film better while that film's still playing out infront of you. As it stands, much of the second half action ends up feeling cartoony, weak and boring, never managing to step it up enough to shake off comparisons to the previous three visually amazing Spider-Man films' uncanny and spectacular action sequences.
Check it out as a novel rental
or a cheap seat matinee for the fresh performances and interesting
twists to the familiar origin. Unfortunately, don't expect much
beyond that - even during the closing credits - to make you feel
like The Amazing Spider-Man is worth the price of admission.
Reviewed 07/12 © Stephen Bourne
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