Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has an encounter with a genetically modified spider, falls in love with classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and battles a one-armed scientist (Rhys Ifans) who occasionally turns into a giant lizard.
Did the world need another series of Spider-Man flicks? Maybe. Did this new series need to start with yet another lengthy rehash of the characterís origin? Not really. This movie spends a good forty-five minutes giving us the stuff with the spider, the senseless death of a loved one, etc., and thatís too much time.
The need to cover the origin is understandable, and the movie does spin it in a couple new directions (the major touchstones are still the same; as with virtually every superheroís origin, there are some things you just cannot change), but this is nevertheless a case where the Readerís Digest version would have been perfectly fine.
That being said, this is still a good movie. The time spent on the origin does mean some other elements get short shrift, and the script isnít as balanced as it should be, but The Amazing Spider-Man works more often than it doesnít. And it does manage to set itself apart from the Raimi movies. It has a different tone, a wildly different visual style (something for which I will forever be grateful), and its emotional center is something Raimiís movies came close to creating on only one occasion (that being Spider-Man 2, which is the highpoint of that trilogy by far but isnít aging particularly well).
Also, while itís not a completely satisfying experience unto itself, it does show signs that it could lead to something quite good, setting the foundation for a take on the character that combines the best aspects of the comics with elements that expand and provide shading to fifty years of Spider-Man lore.
Aside from that stuff with Venom (which I apologize for bringing up), Raimiís movies never seemed to draw from anything other than the first ten years of the comicsí stories. This movie, however, mixes elements from the characterís entire history, even bringing in elements from the various Ultimate Spider-Man titles (which were originally created to cash in on the buzz surrounding the first Raimi movie but quickly took on a well-deserved life of their own).
Peter Parker was something of a stunted character back when Stan Lee was putting dialogue in his mouth, only breaking out of his mold whenever artist/plotter/co-creator Steve Ditko managed to sneak something past Lee. It took a new generation of writers (Gerry Conway, most notably) to move Parker past the sweater vests and half-assed angst. The aforementioned Ultimate books (almost all of which have been written by Brian Michael Bendis) have ripped the character from his old continuity and deposited him squarely in the here and now.
This movie takes a cue from those books, giving us a Peter Parker who looks, sounds, and feels like he walked out of a modern-day high school (something that couldnít always be said of the Tobey Maguire version). Some people may balk at seeing Parker portrayed as something other than a meek Boy Scout who traded his uniform for tights and web-shooters (which here get rolled back to their original incarnation, presented in the form of wrist-worn mechanical devices Peter creates, thereby making it far harder to make vulgar jokes about, well, you know), but this is a far more believable take on the character, an evolution that makes him relatable to those of us who werenít born in the Ď50s.
Garfield is very good in the role (he nails the sarcasm and bullsh*t bravado that is an integral part of the persona Parker adopts whenever he dons the tights and mask), but he brings with him an added bonus: he absolutely looks the part. Ditko drew Parker as lanky and awkward, Spider-Man as bendy and fluid. Much like Christopher Reeve looked like he was a Curt Swan sketch of Superman come to life, Garfield looks like a Ditko drawing, and he moves in ways that clearly delineate the differences between Parker and Spider-Man.
It may go unnoticed by some, or it may mean nothing to them, but making the two halves distinct is almost as important as the Clark Kent-Superman duality. And in keeping with the theme, and in keeping with the movieís mťlange of influences, Emma Stone looks like she was drawn by John Romita Sr., whose importance in the visual development of these characters rivals Ditkoís. The Gwen Stacy you see here is decked out in miniskirts and boots, a fashion sense that is straight out of Romitaís work. Again, this isnít going to matter to some, but it means something to some of us (which is something you may want to keep in mind when weighing what I have to say here).
Director Marc Webb (whose work adds further fuel to the argument that anyone who complains about a tyro director being hired to helm a comics flick should just shut up and wait for the end result) and screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Steve Kloves, and Alvin Sargent (Webb penned the first draft, which Kloves and Sargent then rewrote) obviously took something of a cue from a certain highly successful, highly acclaimed cinematic reinvention of a certain DC Comics character, taking this tale in a slightly darker direction (a tactic weíll all be seeing employed for years to come).
This is definitely a comic-book movie, relying on comic-book logic at several junctures (the high-tech lab that tinkered with the spider has piss-poor security, and the third act relies on a rather sizable coincidence), but thereís stuff here thatís miles away from anything the candy-colored, quasi-campy Raimi flicks delivered. Peterís late parents are an important component of whatís being constructed here, and losing them has obviously affected him deeply, something thatís too often been treated as an afterthought (if at all).
Further, itís obvious Webb (who has already signed on for the sequel) isnít afraid to kill characters if its serves the story. Sure, the comics did it first, but a lot of movies of this genre donít have the balls to follow suit (just look at X-Men: The Last Stand; better yet, donít). I certainly donít think this series will end up being as dark or probing as Nolanís Batman movies (like Superman, you canít go completely dark with Spider-Man and have him still be Spider-Man; also, much of the first Raimi movie co-opted parts of Gwenís story and gave them to Mary Jane, leading me to wonder how what could be ahead here will ultimately play out), but I also donít think this is the sort of Peter Parker who will show change by dyeing his hair and combing it down over his eyes.
Hopefully the second movie will get a better grip on the mixture of comic-book nonsense and more straightforward dramatic elements Webb seems to shooting for. This movie is far better at the latter than it is the former, which is another reason it glides rather than soars. The relationship between Peter and Gwen is handled very well (Garfield and Stone have a palpable spark), and the moments with Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) are nicely done, giving the movie a surprisingly effective emotional core. But while they are, to pay them a backhanded compliment, technically competent, the action sequences are too often perfunctory, standard good guy vs. bad guy stuff instead of epic or innovative.
The battles with the Lizard (whose backstory and motivations could have used some more meat) are dominated by flipping cars and collapsing towers, which are decidedly old-hat. The best this genre has to offer always finds a way to give audiences both the big and the small, and only by doing so will this series be able to truly distinguish itself. (Vanderbilt also wrote the first draft of the sequel [which will reportedly feature Jamie Foxx as Electro], and Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman were brought in to punch it up; Orci and Kurtzman are no strangers to big action, so maybe they can inject some charge into the mayhem and destruction.)
Hopefully the flaws here wonít carry over to later entries. Maybe theyíre just byproducts of the movieís concerted efforts to separate itself from what has come (so recently) before. There has yet to be an iconic Spider-Man movie, one that does for the character what Nolan did for Batman and Richard Donner did for Superman. It remains to be seen if Webb is the person to make that happen, but if thereís anything to be extrapolated from evidence presented here, itís that he has a much better chance than Raimi ever did.
The 2.40:1/1080p transfer--encoded with AVC onto a 50GB disc--is flawless. Webb and cinematographer John Schwartzman used RED Digitalís relatively new Epic camera, allowing them to shoot in 3D and at 5K resolution. Youíd never look at the image here and think itís completely digital in origin, though, as it has a film-like texture and richness. This is a dark movie.
More than half the action takes place at night, with interiors that feature naturally low lighting and exteriors that are bathed in deep, inky shadows; even daytime scenes and brighter interiors are subdued and more natural in appearance. Thankfully, blacks are rendered perfectly, with not even a hint of crush, and shadow detail is excellent. Primaries, few and far between as they may be, have some serious pop. The level of detail is often stunning, allowing you to see the intricacies in Spider-Manís costume and every bump and crag in the scales of the Lizardís green hide.
This is a seriously great presentation.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is equally impressive. The mix does exactly what it should, creating a convincing sonic environment in every scene. Interiors have a good illusion of enclosed space, while exteriors are wide, airy, and open.
The action sequences are enveloping, throwing (often literally) noise all around you, and topping it all off with a low end that really booms. You even get some nice showy moments, such as shot from the Lizardís POV in which his guttural hissing is made to sound as if itís coming from you. Dialogue is always well balanced and natural sounding. James Hornerís score (which borrows from previous Horner scores as well as John Williamsís classic Close Encounters work) is given an excellent presentation.
French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also included, as is an Audio Description Track; English, English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are available.
An excellent commentary by director Marc Webb, producer Avi Arad, and producer Matt Tolmach provides an interesting, lively, fairly thorough discussion of the movieís genesis and production.
The following six features are presented in high-def:
Rites of Passage: The Amazing Spider-Man Reborn (110 minutes) is a comprehensive making-of doc. Broken down into seven sections, it starts with a look at the collapse of the proposed fourth Raimi movie before segueing into a discussion of every aspect of this movieís production.
Pre-visualization sequences (39 minutes) offer a look at the storyboards and/or animatics for several of the movieís biggest setpieces.
Progression reels (11 minutes) chart the development of some of the movieís visual effects.
Eleven deleted scenes (17 minutes) showcase bits that were cut either because they were redundant or because they didnít fit into the evolving nature of the story.
Stunt galleries (12 minutes) present short behind-the-scenes clips of the stunt team planning and rehearsing a handful of sequences.
The Oscorp Archives is a gallery of character concepts, design sketches, etc.
Those of you who own an iPad or Sony tablet will be able to use a Second Screen App to sync the movie with streams of visual and text-based info. And for those of you who choose to purchase the 3D Blu-ray, youíll get all of the above features and a couple exclusive featurettes that explore the movieís use of 3D.
A DVD copy and a code to access an UltraViolet digital copy are also included.
Too soon or not, this certainly isnít a bad start to whatís something of a new take on the story of Spider-Man, kicking off a series that has the potential to leave the Raimi flicks in the proverbial dust.