The Amazing Spider Man - Washington Film Institute Review
First Published on WFI on July 10, 2012
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
Directed by Marc Webb
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen and Sally Field
By Matt Neufeld
July 10, 2012
It’s a sad commentary on the state of affairs in the film industry, in popular culture, and in our culture at large when the country has become so attention-deficit-prone that we need to have in the theaters a sudden re-hash re-make of a popular film that was released only ten years ago, and to also have that re-hash re-make released only five years from the third film in the initial, better trilogy!! That’s right–Sam Raimi’s excellent “Spider-Man” was only released–to great popular and critical acclaim and with entry into the zeitgeist that still remains strong today–in 2002, and “Spider-Man 3″ was just released in 2007!!
So why on earth is the world, and filmmaking, and popular culture, in need, all of a sudden, of another Spider-Man film–with a sudden new cast, new director, “new” story–which oddly varies slightly from the story from only 10 years ago, but only varies slightly–and new cast? Including, a new cast playing the same characters from–well, only five and 10 years ago. There is no reason for any of this. Only 10 years out from the original and only five years out from the third film is far too soon to suddenly plop onto screens yet another film with these characters and yet another version of the original backstory. It’s too soon because the entertaining Raimi films–starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane–remain firmly and obviously and clearly in the pop culture consciousness. They haven’t gone away, they haven’t been forgotten, and they’re talked about, viewed and discussed constantly.
So, much like scores of similar “re-boots,” (an awful, terrible term, by the way), “re-tellings,” (another terrible term), “re-imaginings,” (we’re getting worse), and re-visitings and sequels and prequels and whatever else you want to call continual entries in series that should have been retired eons ago, “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which was released July 3, 2012, fails to generate much new, much original, much interesting, and, much entertaining because, in the end, and the beginning and the middle, it’s the same old same old story, told yet again, with some minor changes and tweaks and modifications here and there, but nothing original enough to even justify its existence. Again, there’s no reason for this film–it’s simply the same old song and dance and web-spinning. “The Amazing Spider-Man” is consistently un-amazing–because it brings absolutely nothing new or original to the story, the characters and the film series.
The film and the story and the action are so familar, it’s as if the collective drone-hive of producers and writers came to the bizarre conclusion that, somehow, everyone has been so busy and distracted during the last 10 years, we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that we have completely forgotten the three previous Spider-Man films, which earned literally hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide, have been rented and sold and borrowed across the planet, have enjoyed multiple showings on cable television and elsehwere, and have prompted renewed interest in the Stan Lee- and Steve Ditko-created Marvel superhero that lasts to this very day.
There was literally zero reason to even make “The Amazing Spider-Man.” None. Which renders the entire big-budgeted exercise a waste of time and effort.
It’s tiring to even re-hash the story–once again, because it’s the same basic story as the tale previously told in the far-better, far more mature and far more intelligent “Spider-Man” from Raimi and crew. A young Peter Parker, here played by Andrew Garfield, who lacks Maguire’s depth and maturity, both in acting and for the portrayal of the character, is the familiar geeky, nerdy, science-oriented outcast picked on by the usual stereotypical bullies and macho-jocks. Parker has a huge crush on the beautiful–whoops, not Mary Jane this time around–high school classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Parker gets bitten by accident by a radioactive spider. Parker develops superhero powers equivalent to those of a spider. Parker gets mixed up with a futuristic scientific engineering and research firm pushing the boundaries of human and animal research. A mutant hybrid being that mixes creature and human features is created by a scientist gone mad, Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Parker and the creature become enemies and Parker must fight to stop or destroy the creature before all of humanity is affected by tragedy. Amid the transformations of Parker and the creature, Parker must deal with his secret life as a superhero, his complicated relationship with Mary Jane, er, Gwen, his fight with the creature, his rising fame as a superhero, and his relationship with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). And amid everything, the gentle, father-figure Uncle Ben is killed. That last plot point gives absolutely nothing away–everyone knows that Uncle Ben is killed. Later, Peter saves the day, mends his relationship with Aunt May, grows up, bullies the bullies, and strengthens his relationship with his mother-figure Aunt May.
Really–that’s the same story we saw in 2002′s “Spider-Man,” the same story that continued in 2004′s “Spider-Man 2,” and the same story that continued further in 2007′s “Spider-Man 3.”
It’s also pretty much the same story that followers of “Spider-Man” have endured for the past half-century—for “Spider-Man” was indeed created in 1962, in comic book form. Through the ensuing half-century, we’ve seen the same stories, in general, in comic books, in comic strips, on television and now in four feature-length big-budget films.
Garfield is adequate as Parker, but only really adequate. He lacks the depth and maturity and complexity that Maguire brought to the character in a manner so subtle, you barely noticed what he was doing. That’s acting. Garfield unfortunately falls into the recent, modern trap of playing a teenager with a range of afflictions, tics, socially-stunted behaviors and quirks that, although you know what the actor is trying to do, it comes across as mainly irritating and unlikeable. Maguire made Parker likeable–and lovable. Garfield makes you feel for the picked-on kid, but it’s just not as likeable as Maguire’s portrayal. Emma Stone, it must be said, is stunningly beautiful, and she shines and glimmers and glows on the screen–she oozes presence, beauty and intelligence. But she tends to follow Garfield’s lead and leaves out, again, the maturity, depth and assurance that Dunst also slyly and easily brought to her Mary Jane.
Ifans, with his suave British accent and easygoing, fatherly manner, and with his indications intelligence early on with his glasses and science background and integrity and white lab coat and his mentoring of Gwen and Peter, is indeed likeable and assuring–in the early scenes. But as he loses his job and slowly loses his mind and his confidence, his evil side is mostly shown through a thoroughly ugly, scaly reptilian creature that resembles a cross between a deranged Hulk, a lizard, an iguana and a Kimono dragon by way of “The Fly” and David Cronenberg. The creature is somewhat scary, but it’s every step, every breath and every punch is delivered with such maddening, deafening thunderous sounds, the result is more headache-prompting than the creation of real tension, terror and suspense. Once again, an over-reliance on special effects, numbing sound and head-banging direction focused on fights, fists and explosions and things breaking and cracking and falling and destroying, overpowers any deep, subtle characterization or storytelling.
Through all of this unoriginal rehashing and retelling, two simple aspects of the film stand out from everything else, and those aspects are named Martin Sheen and Sally Field. The joys of watching stalwart, tried-and-true, time- and experience-proven vets such as Sheen and Field break through the middling and the average to display real acting chops are too brief, though, during the film. Aunt May and Uncle Ben are pivotal to the story and the film, but the characters, unfortunately, are not the leads and they just don’t appear enough on-screen to the save the movie. Sheen and Field actually manage to–somewhat–recall the truly remarkable (and, still, even better) Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris from the Raimi films. Uncle Ben is at once a father-figure, educator, disciplinarian and mentor to Parker, and Aunt May is the same, except she is a mother-figure, and Sheen and Field, with their presence, diction, style and acting, are likeable, are lovable, and they do indeed display real depth and maturity.
But for some strange reason, the writers tinkered with aspects of the story in small ways, tweaking this, changing that, moving this around here–and, once more, none of it is better, none of it is that much more original, and none of it improves the storytelling or the film or the characters in any unique, special way.
As for the special effects, yet again, audiences are forced to sit through a film wearing uncomfortable, bulky, irritating plastic glasses for next to nothing–there are long stretches where there is literally nothing interesting 3-D-wise, and nothing especially mind-blowing to warrant having to endure these horrible glasses. The computer-generated effects—once again, it should be noted, the work of hundreds of computer-affects artists from several computer affects shops–are indeed impressive and dazzling, but guess what? The bloated, tiring genre of comic book and superhero films is at the point now where we’ve seen it all before–and in this case, we saw it all before in the first three films. Did I mention that? It’s worth mentioning again.
The thought of the piles of money wasted on these overwrought, overly loud, over-done and unoriginal remakes that litter Hollywood’s thoughtless landscape in these times, during a time of recession and lost jobs and foreclosed homes and high unemployment, is distressing–although some of these fims do make money and result in a living for thousands of people–which is good, of course. However, there’s just as many that lose piles of money, which has a negative long-term adverse affect on the industry. And on film industry jobs. It’s fine to keep making movies and keep people employed in the film industry—but the suits still need to learn that they need to be making more intelligent, thoughtful, unique, original–and new–stories that do not have to rely on revisiting, rebooting, retelling, rehashing and reanimating the same old, same old, over and over and over again.
To see that actually occur in Hollywood–the release of unique and original and fresh stories, characters and films–now that would be something truly amazing.
Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years. He was previously a daily local news reporter and features writer for The Washington Times and The Frederick News-Post, and he was the media relations publicist for The Washington Performing Arts Society. Matt is currently the News Editor for Carroll Publishing in Bethesda.
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