Monday, May 12, 2014
Sony Pictures has ignored the old adage: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Five years ago, Sony canceled the fourth installment in the Toby Maguire "Spider-man" franchise with original director Sam Raimi at the helm. The studio cited escalating production costs as justification for abandoning the series. Now, not only has Sony rebooted it with a different director and a different pair of leads, but also the studio has retooled it with a darker screenplay. You could call it "The Dark Spider Arises" because the filmmakers are channeling "Batman" in this entry. Unfortunately, "The Amazing Spider-man" isn't as amazing as the original "Spider-man," but it is still worth seeing despite its flaws. "(5oo) Days of Summer" director Marc Webb struggles with two problems: a lackluster villain straight out of a bad B-movie chiller and a drawn-out running time. Essentially, "The Losers" scenarist James Vanderbilt, original "Spider-man 2" scribe Alvin Sargent, and "Harry Potter" penman 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, the confrontation with obnoxious Flash, and the splendid web-slinging training sequences. Webb and his writers have put into effect some interesting changes. Ostensibly, except for a single close-up on a stack of newspapers, they have omitted the Daily Bugle newspaper. This time around they depict Uncle Ben's murder in graphic detail, an event that occurred off-screen in the Sam Raimi original. Further, they have made the heroic Peter Parker more of a nerd than he was in Toby Maguire's incarnation. The last thirty-five minutes make it worth watching despite its occasional tedium. Don’t skip the added scene isolated in the end credits.
Along the way Webb and company have forged a few surprises, particularly with Peter's other romantic interest; Gwen Stacy has replaced Mary Jane Watson. Peter contends with new antagonists both natural and supernatural. The most prominent villain is Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans of “Notting Hill”), while the second is Gwen's father, New York Police Department Captain Stacy (sneery Denis Leary of “Two If My Sea”) who abhors vigilante interlopers and has nothing but contempt for Spidey. The scene at the supper table when Peter meets Captain Stacy sets these two characters at odds with each other. Stacy is a hidebound law and order man. Later, when Peter tries to warn him about the threat that Dr. Connors poses, Stacy reminds him that he is referring to his daughter’s mentor. Only during the grand finale do Spider-Man and Captain Stacy resolve their conflicts and unite. Stacy amounts to an alternative to newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson who help Spider-Man in similar contempt. Unfortunately, the film stretches itself perilously thin in the final quarter hour into a 136 minute running time. Actor Rhys Ifans' maimed scientist villain is seamlessly mutated into a giant green lizard, but he lacks half of the ferocity that Maguire's adversaries provided him with in director Sam Raimi’s trilogy. The Green Goblin was a lively, audacious adversary, but The Lizard is rather dreary. The special effects are terrific as is the cinematography. Although he is 28 years old, British actor Andrew Garfield looks more believable as a skinny teenager than Toby Maguire. Indeed, he would be fantastic as Norman Bates if Hollywood ever reboots the Hitchcock classic.
Several scenes distinguish “The Amazing Spider-Man” as an above-average epic. The scene on the Williamsburg Bridge when Connors mutates into the Lizard stands out, with the nimble Spidey driven to save multiple characters. The most memorable is a little boy stuck in an SUV hanging over the East River. What makes this instance so significant is that our hero identifies himself as Spider-Man to a grateful father (C. Thomas Howell) after he has rescued his son. Later, the grateful father repays Spidey when the injured champion has to websling his way to Oscorp building from the other side of town. . The scene where Spidey tests his new found abilities to leap and lung is reminiscent of Kevin Bacon’s dance antics in the original “Footloose.” The final confrontation between The Lizard and Spider-Man is truly impressive stuff, more so because the early disparaging Stacy now works for Spidey.
Martin Sheen is good as Peter’s uncle, but he cannot eclipse Cliff Robertson in the Tobey Maguire origin. Gwen learns about Peter’s alter-ego Spider-Man when he shows up battered at her room in a New York high-rise apartment. The chief difference here between the Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man” and Garfield’s is that Gwen and he don’t kiss with our hero dangling upside-down. One of my chief complaints about this slick reboot is the scene between Peter Parker and Flash. After Peter acquires his mysterious powers at Oscorp, he humiliates Flash on the basketball court and is summoned to the principal’s office. Later, Uncle Ben reprimands our hero for wanting a little payback. Stan Lee shows up for his usual cameo. This time around he is in the high school library wearing head phones while the Lizard and Spidey tangle with each other.
Although the special visual effects in “The Amazing Spider-Man” are stupendous, it doesn’t seem real when Spidey puts on the mask and performs his acrobatic feats because we know that he is a visual effect.
Although it surpasses its predecessor, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (*** OUT OF ****) suffers from too many villains. Meantime, audiences should prepare themselves for more narrative tweaking on the part of “(500) Days of Summer” director Marc Webb, “Star Trek” writers Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci, and “Fringe” scribe Jeff Pinkner to the classic Marvel Comics characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko back in August 1962. Initially, “Evil Dead” director Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” trilogy coupled Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker with Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson, while the Andrew Garfield reboot pairs Peter with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy. Technically, in the comics, Gwen was Peter Parker’s first love. Clearly, Webb’s reboot shows more fidelity to the comics than the original Raimi trilogy. Peter and Gwen were dating before our hero met Mary Jane. Comparably, Superman has two comic book love interests: Lois Lane and Lana Lang. Mind you, Lois has dominated the movies. This time around the tweaking involves a villain that Tobey Maguire tangled with in his first web-crawling chronicle. Of course, people don’t watch “Spider-man” movies, or any superhero saga, to agonize over the fate of the invincible entity. We show up for the latest outlandish villain, their origin story, the inevitable showdown with Spider-Man, and pyrotechnical constellation of special effects.
Imitating the Warner Brothers’ Batman franchise, Webb and company pit Spidey against three villains to keep him busy throughout this occasionally tedious two hour and twenty minute plus pandemonium. Judged by this criterion, “Amazing Spider-Man 2” trumps its one-adversary predecessor with a triple threat treat. Happily, Jamie Fox’s glowering Electro, Dane DeHaan’s bizarre Green Goblin, and Paul Giamatti’s obstreperous Rhino are far livelier than Rhys Ifans’ dreary Lizard. Electro puts up the fiercest fight. Green Goblin doesn’t match Electro in terms of actual combat, but he contributes to the worst thing that happens in the third act. Indeed, the allure then is not just for the adversaries but also for the hero’s closest friends. Apart from Sally Fields’ indestructible Aunt May, Gwen Stacy is the only other hold-over from the 2012 original. Webb and his writers add a wrinkle that raises the romance above its usual peripheral subplot status. Everything that Spider-Man does has consequences for Gwen. Naturally, a superhero spends his life negotiating an obstacle course, and the love interest complicates matters. Spider-Man worries about Gwen not so much because he loves her. We’re reminded Spider-Man swore an oath to her gruff father, the late Captain Stacy, that he would stay out of her life. Every time he turns around, Spider-Man sees the specter of Captain Stacy frowning at him and this haunts him.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” opens about the same time as its predecessor, with a juvenile Peter in his parents’ house. All we know from the original is that Richard Parker (Campbell Scott of “Dying Young”) and his wife deposited Peter at the house of his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. In the sequel, we see what else happened after they left Peter and boarded a private jet to Switzerland. This scene reminded me of the opening scene aboard a plane in the James Bond movie “Moonraker.” Anyway, as far as we know, the Parkers perished in a plane crash, but anything—you know—can happen in a cinematic superhero franchise. The action resumes with Spider-Man arriving in the nick of time to pick up his diploma at his high school graduation after thwarting a fanatical Russian criminal, Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti of “Rock of Ages”), from stealing plutonium vials during a runaway chase through Times Square. This exhilarating demolition derby with Aleksei careening through downtown Manhatten traffic in a tow-truck hauling an armored car gets everything on off on the right foot. During this mayhem, Spider-Man saves Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx of “Django Unchained”) from being struck by Sytsevich. Afterward, we are introduced to one of Peter’s closest friends, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan of “Lawless”), who haven’t seen Peter for a decade. Comparatively, DeHaan doesn’t eclipse James Franco from the Maguire trilogy. Oscorp executive Donald Menken (Colm Feore of “Pearl Harbor”) ushers Harry to the bed of his dying father, Norman (Chris Cooper of “Money Train”), who bears bad tidings to his son. Meantime, Max plunges accidentally into a tank at Oscorp and is bitten by genetically adapted electric eels. Eventually, Max mutates into the electrifying villain Electro who generates no end of problems for Spider-Man as well as the city electric company.
Once again, Garfield outshines Maguire as the costume-clad champion, even though it is obvious that Garfield, an Englishman in his thirties, doesn’t look like an angst-afflicted teen. The twentysomething Stone is as luminous as ever as Gwen, but she is too old to be playing a teen, too. Nevertheless, this sympathetic couple shares enough chemistry and radiates enough charisma that it is easy for us to overlook their age disparity. Meanwhile, you’ll have to suspend your disbelief because the larger-than-life antics could never occur in the real world. Indeed, Electro qualifies as an unusual villain, driven by revenge, who can materialize seemingly at will whenever and wherever he wants like a wraith. The showdown in Times Square with Spider-Man where Electro tries to electrocute everybody crackles with thrills and chills. Battling Electro alone would have been more than sufficient for “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” but Webb and his writers unleash the nefarious Green Goblin while Gwen insists on helping Spider-Man despite the consequences. You could probably shove your finger into a light socket and experience the same effect that this noisy, ambitious, vertigo-inducing, sci-fi fantasy delivers with gusto. The OMG prosthetic make-up and visual effects are nothing short of stunning. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” doesn’t know when to quit, and it leaves us breathless after a supreme tragedy to soldier on with our webslinger hero poised to battle one more adversary.