'The Amazing Spider-Man"

Reeling It In
US actress Emma Stone, British actors Andrew Garfield and Rhys Ifans, stand with Director Marc Webb, from left to right, as they arrive for the French premiere of The Amazing Spider-Man at a central Paris cinema, June 19.

"The Amazing Spider-Man"
Columbia Pictures
2 hours, 16 minutes

It's been ten years since Tobey Maguire and director Sam Raimi gave us our first big-budget, big-screen glimpse at Marvel Comic's most popular hero, "Spider-Man."  It's been five years since that series crashed and burned with the overstuffed third film, which featured more than the requisite number of Peter Parker dance numbers.  That number is zero, by the way.  The original "Spider-Man" series didn't bite the dust nearly as hard as the previous "Batman" series did, however, which turned the saga of the Caped Crusader into a braying, neon, live-action cartoon.  There were seven years between the abysmal "Batman & Robin," and Christopher Nolan's dark, gritty reboot, "Batman Begins," and the distance seemed appropriate.  By comparison, this weekend's Spidey reboot, "The Amazing Spider-Man" seems disturbingly soon.  To give the filmmakers credit, however, I will say that director Marc Webb and his team have gone out of their way to create a tale that is far less stylized, far more reality based than Sam Raimi's stylized take on the character.  This feels like a new film, and aside from a few requisite sequences - i.e., Peter sewing his suit or the chaotic CGI shots of Spidey swinging wildly through the streets of New York - an effect that has, frankly, gotten a little boring - the filmmakers do give us a fresh new take on "Spider-Man."  Unfortunately, though fresh, very little of what you'll see in this new film is particularly incredible or, well, amazing. 


Perhaps a better title would have been "The Adequately Entertaining Spider-Man."

In case you are in need of a refresher, Peter Parker, played here by "The Social Network's" Andrew Garfield, is a brilliant but awkward high school student living with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben after the deaths of his parents.  "Amazing Spider-Man" throws in some intrigue about Parker's genetic scientist father and his parent's mysterious disappearance, but for the most part, it's the story you know and love.  During a class outing, Parker is bitten by a genetically enhanced spider and that's that.  Later, as Peter is learning to deal with his newly developed spider-powers, he fails to stop a convenience store hold-up, and, in the end, Uncle Ben winds up shot, giving Peter angst and a reason to prowl the city at night, searching for his uncle's killer.  In the meantime, Peter has caught the eye of the prettiest girl in school.  This is where the stories start to diverge.  The earlier film had Mary Jane Watson as Parker's love interest, but here it's Gwen Stacy, played very well by Emma Stone.  Gwen, a science whiz like Peter, interns for the brilliant, tragic, one-armed scientist Dr. Curt Conners, whose search for a way to allow humans to regenerate lost tissue results in his frightening transformation into... a giant lizard man.

Yes, it's as silly as it sounds, and this is where "Amazing Spider-Man" starts to go off the rails a bit.  The new grittier, more realistic tone may have it's benefits, but one drawback is that it's harder to hide mistakes.  The Lizard looks kind of dumb.  There's no getting around it.  Every scene he's in is reduced by the fact that his character is just goofy.  Now I will concede that The Green Goblin also looked goofy, but the difference is that Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" has a stylized air of fantasy that allows the mind to skip over the fact that one of the main characters dons a giant green demon mask and flies around on a tiny little winged sled.

One thing a darker tone has going for it, and the newer "Batman" movies can attest to this, is deeper character development.  Peter, in this current film, is a weightier character, and his relationship with his Aunt and Uncle seems more palpable.  Unfortunately, this also makes Peter less of an everyman and more of a brooding loner type.  It was interesting to watch Parker's transformation, viewing it as an allegory.  In the original story, and in the comics, for the most part, Peter Parker's transformation into Spider-Man is a metaphor for growing up and becoming a responsible adult.  In this current film, it feels more like we are watching a character's descent into the darker regions of his soul.  Spider-Man's motto could well be, "With great power comes great responsibility, and it's going to mess you up!"  As Peter comes to grips with his new abilities, he becomes more distant, erratic, and emotional, staying out until all hours, and coming home with weird bruises and abrasions with vague stories about how he got them.  If this was any other movie, you'd say this character had obviously gotten mixed up in drugs.  I kept thinking that if Darren Aronofsky had made this movie, the whole Spider-Man thing would have probably turned out to be one big "Black Swan" psychotic break from reality just before Aunt May discovers Peter's heroine stash.  Luckily things don't get that dark, but the whole story is a little less accessible than it was previously, and that's a loss.

With all that critique in mind, I should say that "The Amazing Spider-Man" isn't bad.  If this were the first film version of the web-slinger we'd seen, it probably would seem pretty amazing.  But coming so close on the heels of the previous series, it's impossible not to compare.  On it's own, this "Spider-Man" is exciting and entertaining, and does have some pretty cool effects.  Spidey creating a giant web in the sewer system to snare the Lizard makes for a nice visual, and the choice to make Parker's webslingers a mechanical device instead of some kind of weird organic emission was a good one.  This movie is fine, the cast does a good job, and I'm sure it'll make enough money to justify a sequel, which will likely be an even better film, if history is any guide.  "The Amazing Spider-Man" wants to blow you away with its awesomeness and, while it doesn't really achieve that, it does give a firm high-five with it's pretty-goodness.  I guess that'll have to do.  Grade: B-

"The Amazing Spider-Man" is rated PG-13 for comic book violence and frightening images.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.