Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

Three isn’t a lot.

It’s not a lot if you’re collecting playing cards, it’s not a lot if you’re putting books on a book shelf, and it’s not a lot if you’re buying grapes at the store (but, on the other hand, it’s great for lists).

So after only three Spider-Man movies, it seemed pretty early to be hitting the reset button.

Nothing changed my mind about that after seeing the first few teaser trailers. Or glimpses of the updated costume.

So now let me go back a little farther. It’s September 2009 and I’m in Toronto to see a U2 concert. This is only relevant because the concert happened to be going on the same time as TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). For TIFF, I waited in line for the chance to see two movies -  one I got in (Whip It) and the other I didn’t (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus). When the one I didn't see finally aired on The Movie Network, I was completely charmed by it and all of the performances in it.

Some years later it was announced that Andrew Garfield, who played “Anton” in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, was to be the new Spider-Man. My reaction was, "Oh!!" Building on this news and successive spidey-trailers, the more I saw of the movie, the more I wanted to see it.

The clear strength of this latest version is its cast. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are clearly too old for high-school, but, really, so what. Watch them try to talk about going out for a first date in the high school corridor and tell me they’re not wonderful. Rhys Ifans is mostly known playing a string of eccentrics (notably Notting Hill and later Xenophilius Lovegood in Harry Potter) but in this and last year’s Greenberg, he’s been very good as the guy sadly but nobly carrying the invisible burdens life. His nobility is corrupted in the Amazing Spider-Man (not all his fault) and he becomes another in a list of reluctant villains. The Lizard does not seem to be trending well on that list (will anyone ever supplant Doc Ock at the top?), but that’s not Ifans’ fault; the Lizard is completely generated by CGI and my brain kept getting images of its talking face and saying, no. No.

On the other hand, Spidey gets to do some mighty fine SFX stuff.

Remember the ‘60s cartoon where Spider-Man is web-slinging over the city and he shoots his webs to somewhere up above the camera frame on to things you can’t see (clouds?)? In advance of the first of the Tobey Maguire movies, I would lie awake and wonder how they would craft this into the film. In my mind’s eye, I kept seeing Spider-Man crashing George-of-the-Jungle style into a wall on his way down. How do you attach a web to a building and have physics on your side to swing up from the bottom of the arc without the building getting in the way?

Okay, so there you have a glimpse into my admittedly bizarre brain, but I bring it up only in reference to the climactic battle, where a very cheesy scene results from a specific collection of New Yorkers rallying to come to the aid of their new hero. But as contrived as it is, it pays off into the best web-swinging scenes of the franchise. Overall, I liked the physicality of this new Spider-Man and not just in regard to his stunts. The way he moves and especially the way he smart-mouths bad guys, cops and citizens, (“Hey, I’m swingin’ here…!”) are more in line with the character from the comic books. Also, when Spider-Man gets beat up, Peter Parker is the one who has to bear the cuts and bruises which, absent suit and mask, have nowhere to hide. At the end of the movie, Peter comes home and you figure that Aunt May knows. How could she not know.

The Amazing Spider-Man has left room for improvement. There will obviously be sequels to make the effort. Sally Field as Aunt May is a big name in a thankless role. Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben doesn't fare much better. The Lizard, well, we talked about him.

So many familiar plot points from the original movie are recycled into this one; both end with the rain falling on so many dark blossoms of funeral umbrellas. I liked this movie better than the original Spider-Man but somehow it still felt too soon, maybe only because the origin story had to be told all over again.

Two major plot points were left glaringly unresolved and serve only to whet the appetite for the next instalment: What was it exactly that happened to Peter’s parents, and who was that mystery guy in the jail cell. Could it finally be … Electro?

Three Straws.

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