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.

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