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Thursday, July 5, 2012 05:26 pm

A conflicted Spider-Man

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By their very nature, reboots invite added scrutiny. So it is that Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man will be compared to its predecessor(s), Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series which began in 2002 and ended a mere five years ago. Do audiences need a new incarnation of everyone’s favorite web-slinger so soon? I would say no, but the executives at Sony Pictures, always in search of a cash cow, think differently. The good news is that Webb’s film is the most visually dynamic and convincing Spider-Man film to date, underscoring how quickly computer-generated special effects evolve, immediately dating everything that’s preceded them. The bad news is that in its hurry to showcase the film’s various set pieces, Webb and his three screenwriters give short shrift to developing its characters and fail to establish the emotional motivations that should propel them. That’s something Raimi excelled at and will eventually, if this trend continues in this series, result in his films being held in higher esteem.

By now, the superhero’s origin has become a part of our pop culture mythology and hardly needs repeating. Yet, one of the reasons behind this remake – and it’s a good one – is to explore how Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) came to live with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). The film takes only baby steps in answering this question, as it is obviously going to string this plot point out over what will surely be a new series. However, what we do learn is that Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) was a geneticist working for Oscorp Industries with his close friend Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) on a radical procedure that would splice genes from one species to another. This is radical work that someone wants to steal, as evidenced by a break-in that occurs in the Parker home that prompts them to leave in the night. They drop their son off with Richard’s research at Ben and May’s and disappear, never to be heard from again.

As years pass, Peter grows into a gawky, shy high-schooler, who’s taken up photography, spends a good deal of his time admiring classmate Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) from afar and occasionally serves as a punching bag for local bully Flash Thompson (Chis Zylka). That all changes when he stumbles upon his father’s research and shares it with Connors. Connors has been frantically searching for the missing piece in his theory as he longs to grow back his severed arm by adding a bit of reptilian DNA to his own. He gets bitten by a very special spider when visiting the good doctor’s workplace.

Things proceed rapidly from there as Pete discovers he has the powers of a spider, gets a major boost in his self-esteem, woos Gwen, and Connors’ experiment goes horribly wrong when he mutates into a large walking lizard with an attitude. It all happens a bit too quickly. The script contains a great deal of lazy writing that opts for coincidence and convenience rather than logic and intelligence in telling its story. It seems far too easy that Gwen just happens to work for Connors in a city of 8 million, thus providing an easy way for Peter to come in contact with him. New York’s Finest track down the Lizard with great ease on one occasion while at one point the monster itself makes a bee-line to Peter’s school to track him down with alarming speed.

This may seem like nitpicking but other small incidents like this occur, to the point they have a negative cumulative effect on the story. When we finally reach the climax, which involves a large series of cranes being simultaneously moved into place to aid the web-slinger as he’s struggling with an injury, it all becomes too much to take. The script’s major sin lies in the way it glosses over the tragic death of Uncle Ben. While the sequence that shows this tragedy is effective, thanks to Garfield’s fine work, far too little is done to show its impact on Peter or May. Only one scene is devoted to the aftermath of this event and Field is reduced to sitting at the kitchen table, fretting over her nephew’s whereabouts every night and nothing more. Rami recognized that not only was this the turning point for the character but it’s what makes Peter tick as his alter ego. Nothing of the sort is established here, which leaves the film feeling hollow.

The movie does live up to its title. This is one of the best of the superhero movies as far as staging its characters’ actions is concerned and it provides at least three set pieces that are visual knockouts. Spider-Man actually moves like a spider, scrambling, darting, jumping as his arachnid counterpart would, and it’s great fun. The Lizard is quite the creation as well, hulking, ominous and more than a worthy foe, as evidenced by the film’s best sequence, a throw-down at Peter’s school that leaves it in shambles. This is all amazing stuff and Webb knew it was obviously the film’s strong suit.

I certainly hope they right this ship before the inevitable sequel arrives, as there is great potential here. Garfield and Stone are quite good together. Their interactions seem natural and both performers are very likable. Field, of course, needs to prove nothing and only requires a well-written role to make Aunt May memorable. And despite having the worst post-trailer teaser ever, the possibility remains that this series can put a distinctive mark on the character, as long as whoever’s at the helm remembers that Peter Parker should be the focal point, not his spandexed alter ego.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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