Tuesday, July 03, 2012

REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man

J. Jonah Jameson was right. That wall crawler is a thief after all.

At least, The Amazing Spider-Man is. This uninspired movie has robbed a once-stellar franchise of its goodwill. This is the biggest disappointment of the year.

Like many people, I was puzzled by Sony's decision to restart the franchise. After all, the first Spider-Man movie is only 10 years old, and doesn't everyone already know the origin? Sure, the marketing folks may say this new movie is "the untold story," but it's bait without the switch. This movie doesn't rebuild a franchise from the ground up, the way Batman Begins did. It merely slaps on a new coat of paint. There's not much imagination in this reimagining.

I wanted to give the new movie a chance. I loved the previous film by director Marc Webb, 500 Days of Summer. But showing visual flair in an indie romantic comedy is a far cry from directing a tentpole action movie. Webb pulls off a few decent action moments, but the director is clearly out of his depth, right down to the use of 3D. Even though The Amazing Spider-Man was shot in 3D, Webb barely makes use of it outside of the action scenes. I took my glasses off a few times and found the picture to be hardly blurred at all. And even in the action scenes, the editing is too choppy. Shots in 3D movies need to be allowed to linger for the effect to register. Even Michael Bay got this right in the third Transformers movie. Webb doesn't.

An even bigger problem is the slapdash script, credited to James Vanderbilt (Zodiac), Alvin Sargent (Spider-Man 2) and Steve Kloves (most of the Harry Potter films). All three writers have done much better work. Here, the screenplay huffs and puffs, trying to add layers to Peter Parker's backstory that add up to nothing, and futzing the logic with Spidey's powers, just so we can get cheap gags like computer keys coming off in his hands. The villain the Lizard (Rhys Ifans) is all unrealized potential, with half-baked attempts to make him both bad and good.

The saving grace of the film is most of the cast, especially the two leads. Andrew Garfield plays Peter Parker more as sullen outcast than geeky nerd, but the chip on his shoulder gives the role gravitas. Emma Stone is typically delightful as his paramour Gwen Stacy. I liked the two of them so much, I would rather have seen Webb direct them in a romantic comedy.

But affecting as they are, even Garfield and Stone never manage an iconic moment like Maguire and Dunst's upside-down kiss. Say what you will about the mess that was Spider-Man 3, its emotional core still came througth. I'd much rather watch it again than a perfunctory movie like The Amazing Spider-Man. Never mind what the studio says, this isn't so much a reboot as it is a refinancing of Sony Pictures' coffers.



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