Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

I don't see many movies, but just for the heck of it thought I'd go ahead and review any I do make it to for this blog.  So, even though it's been out for a few weeks, here is my first review:

The Homeless Nerd Reviews:
The Amazing Spider-Man

At a glance- superhero action, special effects, comedy with some teen angst

What is it? There is a staple in the superhero comic book genera that no hero ever dies. Captain America, Superman, Batman, and so many others have died at one point only to be back in action a few issues later. There is something similar for the superhero movie genera as well, except in reverse. For movies, no hero is allowed to live. Should, heaven forbid, a hero last to two or even, dare they, three movies – well, then it is time for new actors, a new director and reboot the whole story, starting at the origin yet again. Thus, after having three Spider-Man movies, we now have the obligatory reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man.
    I liked the first three movies, and I thought Tobey Maguire was absolutely perfect as Peter Parker. So The Amazing Spider-Man was going to have to live up to its name to win me over. And surprisingly, it did. To be fair, writing a superhero movie is hard since you have the original comic book stories to be faithful to, yet retell in a modern way. Writing a superhero reboot is harder, since you add what the previous movies have done to the mix – so you need to be both the same and different from what was done before you. Pulling it off and making a good movie is quite the feat. The Amazing Spider-Man does a very good job of staying true to the original comics and also being different from the previous movies – while being a well made movie in its own right.

The acting- A big part of its success comes from its cast. We have Andrew Garfield as the lead, Peter Parker aka Spider-Man, and he does a good job. This version of Peter Parker is a little more skater / slacker while still being a genius scientist / inventor – a very hard combination to pull off, and Mr. Garfield does it well. While he may not have exactly the look from the comics, he has a great attitude and presence that more than compensates.
    Emma Stone is Gwen Stacy, and the first big change from the previous movies. There is no Mary-Jane Watson here, but that is okay. Gwen was actually Peter's first love in the comics. Mrs. Stone has a hard role to play, as “the girlfriend” she is given limited screen-time and mostly there to be put in danger. But she does a good job with the lines she's given, and the scene with her and Peter trying to make a first date is a hilarious bit of teen angst.
    Our villain is Dr. Curt Connors aka The Lizard played by Rhys Ifans. I liked Mr. Ifans look and style (different from the comics, but in a good way) however it was sad that his change from humanitarian scientist to evil reptile monster is played out in only 2 home movies. He really needed more time to let us see into his fall from grace. Still, he does a good enough job, and the CGI Lizard looks neat.
    Martin Sheen plays Uncle Ben and Sally Field plays Aunt May, two critical roles to the Spider-Man story. I liked Martin Sheen, he is a more cool, wise-cracking Uncle Ben to go with the new tone of this movie. Sally Field was a bit of a curve ball. Aunt May has always, always been white-haired and her jet-black dyed locks are just not how the character should look from reading the comics. She also gets relatively little time for being such an essential character. Both however are passable.
    The real hidden star is Denis Leary as Gwen's father Police Captain Stacey. I love how even with a serious role Mr. Leary can bring a nice contrasting comedic undertone. He has very few lines, but delivers them all perfectly. Wish we could have seen more of him.
    Fans of the comics/movies may notice the distinct lack of J. Jonah Jameson, as well and Mrs. Watson – but really they were better left out. Wisely I think the writers decided to start with a few core characters and introduce more later – which is a good idea. I think the last movie, Spider-Man 3, was not so great because it tried to deal with too many characters at once, and so did not do any of them justice. So we have something to look forward to in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

The story- If you're talking a Spider-Man origin story there is one key word to know: responsibility. More than any other superhero ever written, Spider-Man is all about the responsibility of being a superhero. Peter makes some key, and fatal (to others of course) mistakes when he first gets his powers – and that is what defines him. While he is a teen, his powers make him grow up very quickly, and he hides a deep maturity behind his wise-cracking crime fighting.
    This is where The Amazing Spider-Man really hit it out of the park for me. They did a great job of weaving that theme throughout the story. There's Peter and how he fails Uncle Ben. Peter contributes to The Lizard's rampage. And poor Peter even does a bad job protecting the city in his first outings as Spider-Man. He fails, a lot like you would expect a teenager suddenly dealing with super-powers to do. From it all though he learns, and becomes a better man for his difficulties. Which, in my opinion, is the best thing a superhero movie teaches – not how cool it is to have powers, but how much harder you have to grow to be worthy of them. This movie really feels like it is a proper Spider-Man story.
    Along with the drama we have some nice comedic moments. Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man has made a cameo appearance in every movie – and he has a funny scene as a librarian listening to music while a fight rages behind him. Peter also has his joking around while fighting for his life, something key to the character but not as well developed in the previous movies. And, of course, there's lots of action. The special effects all look good, movements are fluid and dynamic, just like the character is supposed to appear. The story mostly makes sense (hey, superhero movies are not exactly deep), nothing too glaring to distract from enjoying the show. Overall it is a very solid, well-done movie.

My recommendation- Even if you are not a fan of the Spider-Man character, give this one a try. It has a good mix of drama, comedy and action. If you are a fan, you shouldn't be disappointed. Even though it is a new movie and cast, it feels like an old story, something that fits with the character.

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