Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Sony Pictures has ignored the old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Five years ago, the studio canceled the fourth installment in the Toby Maguire “Spider-Man” franchise with original director Sam Raimi at the helm. Sony cited escalating production costs as the reason for abandoning the series. Now, not only has Sony rebooted “Spider-man” with a new director and a different pair of leads, but the studio also has retooled the action with an alternate love interest and darker screenplay. You could call this reboot “The Dark Spider Arises” because the filmmakers seem to be channeling the Christian Bale “Batman” movies with their solemn narrative elements. Unfortunately, “The Amazing Spider-Man” (*** out of ****) isn’t as amazing as the original “Spider-Man.” “500 Days of Summer” director Marc Webb struggles with a lackluster villain straight out of a cheesy B-movie chiller as well as a drawn-out running time. Chiefly, the villain sucks because he lacks the nefarious intellectual attitude that The Green Goblin" boasted in the first film.  Moreover, Green Goblin spouted better dialogue and armed himself with more weapons that the green predator in this remake/sequel. “The Amazing Spider-Man” clocks in at two hours and sixteen minutes and runs out of steam during the final quarter-hour as Webb wraps up the loose ends. If you are prone to scrambling out of your theater to beat everybody else to the exit as the end credits start to roll, you should resist the urge. Webb and his writers have attached an interesting scene between the villain and an accomplice that foreshadows the inevitable sequel. Just by the sound of the mysterious man's voice, you should be able to guess his identity.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” opens as Richard Parker (Campbell Scott of “Dying Young”) and his wife Mary (Embeth Davidtz of “Bicentennial Man”) drop their 4-year son Peter (Max Charles of “The Three Stooges”) off at Richard’s father’s house. This is the last time that young Peter will see his mom and dad alive. Later, Peter learns his parents perished in a fiery plane crash. Mind you, all we know about the Parkers’s demise comes from the newspaper story. They could be alive, but neither Peter nor we see them again on screen. Peter grows up with his congenial aunt and uncle and attends a high school where he is a whiz with a camera. One day, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone of “Easy A”) catches Peter’s eye, and he snaps her picture. At the same time, the campus bully, Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka of “Shark Night 3D”), is humiliating another defenseless student. Flash demands that Peter take a picture. Peter refuses, and Flash beats him up. Later, Gwen tells Peter that she admired what he did when Flash took advantage of a smaller student. 

One day, Uncle Ben’s freezer springs a leak in the basement. Peter helps Ben salvage the contents. Quite by chance, Peter stumbles onto an old briefcase that once belonged to his father. Our protagonist finds a secret compartment within the briefcase. He discovers that his father worked at OsCorp, a genetic engineering laboratory, and had written top-secret formulas. Later, Peter masquerades as an intern and sneaks into OsCorp where he listens to Dr.Connors. Cross-species genetics obsesses the bespectacled doctor. During that visit, a spider bites Peter on the nape of his neck. Afterward, our hero finds himself performing some incredible acrobatics. Moreover, he is astonished that his hands have acquired a Velcro like tenacity that enables him to climb buildings and cling to ceilings. As it turns out, Peter's father collaborated with Connors. Poor Dr. Connors has devoted his life to restoring the forearm and hand that he no longer has. Peter gives one of his father’s equations and to Dr. Connors. Miraculously, Connors scores a breakthrough because of Peter's contribution. He is able to grow a leg on a lizard where an appendage was missing. Not long afterward, Peter’s uncle dies in a mugging, and Peter holds himself responsible because he didn’t listen to this uncle when he reprimanded him about responsibility. In the original film, Uncle Ben said, "Remember, with great power. comes great responsibility." Martin Sheen's Uncle Ben says basically the same line except he drags it out with more words. When word of mouth spreads that a monster is roaming the Big Apple, Spider-Man feels obliged to hunt it down. One of the best scenes takes place when Spider-Man has to rescue a small child from a vehicle dangling from a New York City bridge. 

Essentially, “The Losers” scenarist James Vanderbilt, original “Spider-Man 2” scripter Alvin Sargent, and “Harry Potter” scribe Steve Kloves have kept intact most of the best parts of the original. Dare they depart from the canon? Happily, they’ve have retained the radioactive spider bite scene, Peter’s clashes with Flash, and the web-slinging training sequences. Webb and his writers have made some interesting changes. Ostensibly, except for a single close-up on a stack of newspapers, they have omitted the Daily Bugle newspaper from the narrative. In other words, Peter Parker doesn’t work as a news photographer for the Daily Bugle as he did in the first “Spider-man” opus. This time around the filmmakers depict the murder of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben in graphic detail. This tragic event occurred off-screen in the Maguire original. Further, they have made the heroic Peter Parker a lot smarter. He invents the web-slinger wristbands from existing technology whereas the webs shot out of his wrists organically in the original. 

Nevertheless, Webb and his writers have conjured a few surprises, particularly with Peter’s other romantic interest; Gwen Stacy has replaced Mary Jane Watson as his girlfriend. Mind you, their romance doesn’t have the sparks that Toby Maguire and Kirsten Durst created, especially in the memorable kissing scene when Spider-man hung upside down and Mary Jane had to peel back his mask to kiss him. Meanwhile, Peter contends with new antagonists both natural and supernatural. Peter’s natural enemy is Gwen’s father, a New York Police Department captain, who abhors vigilantes and insists that Spider-man should leave law enforcement up to the authorities. The supernatural villain is Dr. Curt Connors.  Actor Rhys Ifans’ maimed scientist villain is seamlessly mutated into a giant green lizard, but he lacks half of the ferocity of Maguire’s adversaries. The Green Goblin was a lively, audacious adversary, but The Lizard is rather dull. You wind up feeling sorry for Dr. Connors rather than hating him like The Green Goblin. The special effects are terrific as is the cinematography. Although he is 28 years old, British actor Andrew Garfield of "The Social Network" appears more believable as a skinny high school student than Toby Maguire. Martin Sheen is good as Uncle Ben, but he doesn’t overshadow the strong performance that Cliff Robertson delivered as Uncle Ben the first film. Sally Field is surprisingly good as Peter’s aunt.

As literate and nimble as it is, “The Amazing Spider-Man” qualifies as a good imitation of a classic movie.