The Amazing Spider-Man is the story of Peter Parker (Garfield), an outcast high schooler who was abandoned by his parents as a boy, leaving him to be raised by his Uncle Ben (Sheen) and Aunt May (Field). Like most teenagers, Peter is trying to figure out who he is and how he got to be the person he is today. Peter is also finding his way with his first high school crush, Gwen Stacy (Stone), and together, they struggle with love, commitment, and secrets. As Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, he begins a quest to understand his parents' disappearance - leading him directly to Oscorp and the lab of Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans), his father's former partner. As Spider-Man is set on a collision course with Connors' alter-ego, The Lizard, Peter will make life-altering choices to use his powers and shape his destiny to become a hero
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In 2002, Sam Raimi brought the first Spider-Man film adaptation to the screen, starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, and Willem Dafoe. The film spawned two sequels, and quickly became one of the most profitable movie franchises in history. Ten years later a new re-boot of the Spider-Man legend arrives in theatres, with Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) donning the spidey-suit, Emma Stone taking on the love interest role as Gwen Stacy, and the villain is brand-new as Rhys Ifans tackles the Marvel Comic Book made iconic Lizard. A re-boot of a franchise a mere decade later may seem to be unwarranted, and given the huge fan base of Raimi's Spider-Man unwanted. Director Marc Webb, a man whose name begs to be at the helm of a Spider-Man film, and screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves have more than done justice to the Spider-Man screen legend; in fact, they may have improved it exponentially.
The reality of adapting comic books for the screen is that many adults do not like them, nor do they clammer to the cinema to catch them on the big screen opening weekend. For the sake of full disclosure, I am indeed one of these moviegoers. There are exceptions, of course, as Iron Man, Thor, and the Tim Burton Batman remain favorites to even the least inclined comic-book film watcher, myself included. The Amazing Spiderman has officially been added to the list, mostly because, as the films above did (Burton's Batman, perhaps not), The Amazing Spiderman creates a more humanized, less punchy, darker telling of the Peter Parker/Spider-Man story while infusing it with sympathetic characters and intellect. Spider-Man is not merely a boy playing at wearing a skin-tight suit, battling bad-guys in the night in order to play with his newfound powers, nor a boy needing to prove himself to anyone, while trying to get the girl of his dreams. All things found in Raimi's Spider-Man that made it more of a cheeky adaptation of a comic book. The Amazing Spider-Man stands on its own as a film, needing not to be associated with the comic book or in need of a viewer who has any background in the subject matter. Therefore, even the least likely comic-book movie attendee will enjoy the film.
The Amazing Spider-Man centers around Peter Parker's (Andrew Garfield) discovery of his father's briefcase that contains information on a project he was working on at OsCorp. Peter has not seen his father since he was 4-years-old, when he was left by his parent's with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) for an indefinite amount of time. What happened to his father and mother remains a mystery. The contents of the briefcase lead Peter to his father's former scientific research partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), and the OsCorp corporation. A place where, as luck would have it, Peter's high school crush is an intern, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone)--Gwen is a highly intelligent and capable scientist herself so you will not find any cheerleading on her schedule. The use of his father's name gets Peter in to meet with Dr. Connors, and he learns of the work he is doing in cross species genetics--a field his father worked in prior to his disappearance. Dr. Connors is an interesting character, and far more than an evil scientist who will later transform himself into a mutated monster hell-bent on destroying the human population. With only one arm he dreams of finding a way to regenerate growth to get his arm back, to be and feel whole again, with the use of genetics. He is full of pathos, envy, and desperation. It is his desperation that leads him to use himself for self-experimentation, creating the Lizard monster in the process. The Lizard never fully reaches a menacing and exactly frightening presence as the villain, but he need not. The horror is in what drives him to become the Lizard.
The combination of Peter transforming into Spider-Man, because of a spider bite (some things do stay the same, as they should) with a slight twist that happily overreaches the scientific deficiency of Raimi's Spider-Man, and Dr. Connors story of finding his wholeness again make for a Spider-Man film that is part philosophical, dark and moody with the tense emotions running deep in both characters, and intelligently crafted. The simplicity of good vs. evil is not present in The Amazing Spiderman. There are more complex emotions at work, and a deeper meaning to the actions of characters, Spider-Man and the the Lizard, respectfully. Even the romance between Peter and Gwen is more mature, greatly in part to them both being on the same level intellectually and not playing games over whether he is worthy of her, or if his secret will forever keep them apart. For a movie based on a comic book you would be hard-pressed to find a more well-rounded story being made in American fantasy-action cinema today; especially with those laden with special effects. The Amazing Spiderman is amazing in that it is a smart piece of filmmaking, and one an adult non-fan-boy type can enjoy, as well as a lover of comic book fantasy.
The visual effects in The Amazing Spiderman were made possible by the team at Sony Pictures Imageworks, and Academy Award nominated VFX supervisor Jerome Chen. The team "created many digital characters, environments and VFX elements including: Spider-Man, The Lizard villain, OsCorp Building including spire and extensive rooftop set, New York Sixth Avenue, Mid-Town High School hallways, library, sewer tunnels beneath New York City and Spider-Man's new webs."1 Their work is impeccably done. The most impressive is none-other than the Lizard villain. Everything else appears real, as intended, and therefore the line between what is "real" and what has been "created inorganically" are difficult to decipher. But the Lizard, as much as it could have been a man in a rubber suit, created by make-up effects teams and built out of paste and mortar, is all CG. The final look of the Lizard is nothing short of perfection, from the scales that move with the muscles beneath them (thanks in part to the use of a stuntman who was later removed in stunt-heavy scenes), to the ways in which his eyes evoke emotion. It is the emotional-depth, the idea that the Lizard is in fact thinking, that lends more to the animated character.
The Lizard is not merely a mutated man who has been taken over by animal instinct. He is in fact a man trapped inside of an animal's body, constantly fighting the human conscious he still possesses and the animal instincts that are fighting to take control. In order to create this dichotomy, Chen drew upon what he was taught previously, that "the key to making an animated character believable is that the audience has to see that this character is thinking."2 The Lizard is in fact thinking, and to achieve this "the filmmakers worked with Ifans to get videotape references for the animators," and Chen states, "Marc directed Rhys during the key emotive moments when the Lizard was on screen. Though the Lizard rarely speaks in the film, there are many moments where we have to read his eyes and his expression."3 The end result is an articulated version of the character, as Rhys Ifans creates his emotions as the Lizard, re-created in the CG Lizard form. The close-ups of the Lizards's eyes, the way they move and change, lend a realness to the character that is rarely, if ever, seen in an animated comic book villain. The Lizard has been made to be as realistic as possible, and as a viewer you are able to set-aside the impossibility of a giant mutated Lizard existing in the real-world because he has humanistic qualities.
The Lizard is not the only impressive effect in The Amazing Spiderman. Inside OsCorp there is a room where the original mutated spiders exist that Peter's father created. It is a mechanically made web, full of thousands of spiders, moving along the spindles mingled with iridescent lights. The sight is incredible. Then of course there are the webs themselves, that Peter expels with the use of his self-created (not organic, and not a mutation) wrist web-shooters. You're sold the first time he uses them, and the creativity around how he captures assailants makes them a great weapon, and movable device from place-to-place, all the same. There will always be parts of a visual effects laden film that you will find a flaw or two, and The Amazing Spidrman is not the exception. But when the positives outweigh the negatives ten-to-one there is no need to outline when something was not rendered as best as it possibly could have been. The likelihood that anyone will walk away from seeing The Amazing Spiderman without being impressed is unfeasible.
1 2 3Information courtesy of official The Amazing Spiderman production notes, as furnished by Marvel Entertainment for Columbia Pictures.
Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have never been in a film together before; they should continue to make movies for as long as their careers allow them. As teenagers with very different high school experiences, Peter (Garfield) is shy, introverted, and for the most part teased by his fellow classmate Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka). But Parker has a backbone, sticking up for fellow bullied classmates even when it means he will take a punch, or kick to the stomach. Stone's Gwen Stacy is beautiful and brainy, the complete package so to speak, and lacks any sorts of problems in school. When Peter and Gwen meet, officially, the sparks fly between the shy, introverted Peter and the outgoing, playfully sarcastic Gwen. Creating even more chemistry between them is their similar interest in science. Gwen is not just a pretty face, and her intelligence mingled with Peter's knack for science and creating gadgetry enable conversations that exist further than the typical boring high school fodder or love-sick pony expressions. Garfield and Stone make a perfect match on screen, even the first kiss is awkward and magical all at the same time. The heartbreaking moments between them, when reality trumps young love, are full of emotion and truth. There is not a shred of silly, cheesy, love-lorn youth sappiness in The Amazing Spiderman. This is in thanks to the capability of Garfield and Stone to make Peter and Gwen a couple that exists outside of the realm of fantasy, and firmly grouped into reality--even when a giant lizard is on the loose in New York City.
Peter and Gwen are not the only ones who need to "work" in The Amazing Spiderman to make the relationships believable. Peter's Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) is incredibly important, as the connection between the two is substantially significant in relation to where the story takes the viewer. They could not be better on screen together. The same can be said for Uncle Ben and his wife, Sally Field's Aunt May. The screen time they spend alone is minimal, but the bond of years spent together, and raising Peter, is felt. Aunt May and Peter work well together as well, a final scene between the two speaks beyond words. Casting is such a pivotal part of the filmmaking process, and one negligent choice can make or break a picture. There are not any mishaps in The Amazing Spiderman's casting; casting director Francine Maisler, and the team of filmmakers supporting her decisions, has done an incredible job with The Amazing Spiderman.
The Amazing Spider-Man is an origin story, and therefore much of the action is limited to specific areas of the plot--and not in a dance-like progression from start-to-finish. The flash-and-spectacle seekers may find themselves dissatisfied. Those who enjoy substance over flashy gimmickry and special effects will be pleased. There is action, though. Spider-Man is chased down by the good and the bad guys, there are captures via webbing, and attacks via the Lizard. The end sequence is incredibly well-done, with Spider-Man swooping through the city, the 3D working in harmony to outline the strategic placement of his webbed maneuvering, to paint an amazing portrait of Spider-Man and New York City combining. The final fight with the Lizard is not very climactic, even as it plays homage to King Kong--a sight sure to make giddy a film geek. The fight itself is full of the necessities but it is the villain himself that keeps it from reaching legendary heights or a huge level of thrills. A sympathetic villain does not make for a rousing duel of good vs. evil, as empathy gets in the way. Regardless, the ending is climactic in its own theoretical way, playing perfectly against the rest of the story and not cheapening the more cleverly sophisticated film by throwing in unnecessary thematics.
Action, Fantasy, Drama
July 3, 2012