Visuals and cast trump mediocre script in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’

Back in 2004, I wrote a Trashwire review of Spider-Man 2 under the pen name Dicky Cockerson At the time, Spider-Man 2 was the best Marvel movie to date, surpassing X2.  Although Christopher Nolan‘s Batman trilogy is easily the best comic book adaptation in general, but when it came to Marvel movies, the Spider-Man movies were the best of the lot. Now director Marc Webb and stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone bring us a new version of the comic book hero in IMAX 3D with some incredible POV shots and performances from the leads. The Amazing Spider-Man succeeds in washing out the horrible taste of Spider-Man 3, leaving fans hopeful that future installments can do what Sam Raimi‘s first two films did for the Spidey saga.

When the trailer for TAS was first released, I remember thinking that it looked AH-MAY-ZING (Shouts to Aunt May!). I believed in Garfield as Peter Parker and Stone is a stone cold fox. I knew she’d be a better leading lady than Kirsten Dunst, as just about any actress under the age of 50 would have been. I wasn’t sure about Webb taking the directorial reins, as he had little comic book clout and only one movie credit to his name, 500 Days of Summer, which I didn’t even see.  But based on the trailer, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Webb’s Spiderman depicts Peter Parker as a skateboarder and less of a helpless outcast nerd. But this worked for me because logically, a web-zipping, free-wheeling, city-swinging hero would be someone that enjoys the thrill of skateboarding and intrinsically wants to stand up for justice. Raimi’s Peter Parker would never have stood up to the bully as Webb’s does. And would you have believed Tobey Maguire as a skateboarder? The answer is no, you would not believe that, because Maguire is a sissy bitch, and that’s the reason why he was brilliantly cast as the original Peter Parker.  There are so many alternate universes and incarnations of this series that it worked to re-do the origin story. While I’d hoped that rebooting the origin story again would work in Webb’s favor as it did for Nolan’s Batman, the writing (script by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves) just in’t on the same level, so it can’t be held in the same breath.

Stone and Garfield’s chemistry is palpable and enjoyable, but wasted in large part by the subpar writing. Rhys Ifans does a fine job playing the villain’s role as The Lizard, but other than the fact that the villain’s intrinsic desire to kill Spiderman, you have no reason to hate him because the writing doesn’t drive you to. Dennis Leary isn’t nearly as annoying as I thought he’d be, and both Martin Sheen and Sally Field were cast very well as Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Despite the cast and some solid acting, the actors are put into scenes that are doomed to be corny. You could argue that the writing is intentionally comic booky and cheesy, but I don’t think that’s what fans want today.

Everyone has talked about TAS being a “darker” Spider-Man, and I’d hoped for this as well. Certain scenes get close to embracing a darker tone, but then the next scene takes a step away from the darkness. One scene in particular epitomizes this best: Spider-Man is learning how to use his webshooters by toying with a petty criminal and chuckles as he says “It’s just too easy…”  You believe that he’s actually reveling in his newfound abilities and a more “cocky” Spider-Man awaits. Everyone has always known Spider-Man to be a teenager that makes snarky and funny remarks as he flies through the air, defeating crime.  At times, you think Webb is going to fully embrace Spider-Man’s confidence and juxtapose it with his inner-anger, torn by the loss of nearly all his parent-figures. At times, you get this out of Garfield’s portrayal, but the writing never truly goes there.  This is where the reboot falls shortest.

Still, the action and acting easily trump the shortcomings in the writing. The Spider-Man POV shots are easily the most profound moments of this iteration. The visuals, special effects, and use of first-person shots are spectacular, dare I say revolutionary.  The scenes with Peter Parker using his powers, before he starts donning his suit, look incredibly realistic … other than a really cheesy-looking, backboard-shattering dunk during a needless basketball scene. That’s a perfect example of why the movie was good when it had the potential to become great. In what should have been a very cool basketball scene where Peter shows up the school bully with realistic moves and believable use of super powers, it comes off as totally over the top and tongue in cheek. Some of the writing is so cheeseball that it’s hard ignore.

Aside from Avatar, Webb’s Spiderman reboot is arguably the best use of IMAX 3D to date. While James Cameron used large-screen 3D to immerse the viewer into another world with depth and color, Webb uses it to create an experience with exhilarating first person sequences. If you read only these few words, please heed my advice: see The Amazing Spider-Man in IMAX 3D.

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