Man, you remind us of something…
MANILA, Philippines - In The Amazing Spider-Man’s production notes, co-producer and former Marvel Studios head Avi Arad says, “Spider-Man has filled thousands of pages of comic books with hundreds of stories since he debuted 50 years ago. That’s a deep vein of resources to mine as we look to continue the story of Peter Parker on the screen.”
That said, it’s quite dumbfounding to see that Hollywood’s just-out The Amazing Spider-Man (which we at Fun Country get to watch a full week ahead of US audiences) relies on many of the same plot points and progressions committed to film just 10 years ago by the tandem of director Sam Raimi and actor Tobey Maguire.
Oh sure, the apple of protagonist Peter Parker’s eye this time is Gwen Stacy (who was a third wheel in Raimi’s Spider-Man 3) and that his new nemesis as Spider-Man is The Lizard (a longtime comic book baddie who now gets to wreak havoc onscreen). And yes, there is “the untold story,” of how Peter comes to the care of Uncle Ben and Aunt May that is ultimately left hanging for the inevitable Amazing sequel.
Overall, though, the new Spidey flick is akin to reheated pizza: still delicious but, given its price tag, both in filmmaking dollars and moviegoer pesos, you’d be hoping for something fresher.
The good news, however, is that, despite counting on a safety net of narrative elements that would ring bells to viewers of the past decade, The Amazing Spider-Man at least is not baffling in its familiarity as Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. (Brandon Routh was apt as the Man of Steel, yet that reboot was little more than a big-bucks redo of Christopher Reeve’s Superman debut.)
Credit largely goes to fittingly surnamed director Marc Webb. A helmer of a hundred-plus music videos but a relative moviemaking newbie whose sole, pre-Amazing gig was the bittersweet keeper (500) Days of Summer, Webb got entrusted with the great power and great responsibility of perpetuating Spider-Man on film. As his new, 136-minute saga unfolds, Webb comes off as strong enough yet vulnerable as the red-and-blue hero is, his flick winding up as fairly victorious in being entertaining all its own but not without the sting of déjà vu here and there.
Foremost among the demarcation lines is how Webb and company distance themselves from the 21st-century Spider-Mans by going for a more muted, grimier look, whereas Raimi’s approach was practically comics-like in its vividness.
Then there’s Andrew Garfield’s commendable take on the high school loner turned lonely superhero, who comes off as much less of a wimp as Maguire’s Peter Parker yet still clumsy and all too human. (Garfield, who was fairly superb in The Social Network, will have a fruitful career if he’s careful enough.) Oh, and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy is a far yummier character, if a tad sketchier, than Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson.
There is also a wealth of aerial, swinging-among-skyscrapers shots in The Amazing Spider-Man to titillate actual or closet bungee jumpers. Drama is also drawn out of a smattering of dad-and-son moments — one of which features ’80s survivor C. Thomas Howell — that would have made this movie appropriate as Fathers’ Day fare.
There too is heightened emphasis on empathetic pain where Webb could summon it, such as at a crucial character’s demise or at a climactic moment when Spidey realizes he’s not really alone in perpetuating the good in humanity. (Such scenes may seem contrived but try telling that to your co-viewers with the damp Kleenex.)
The new film’s espousal of cross-species genetics, which perhaps might not be so hard to swallow 50 or so years from now, is likewise compelling for its proposed end goal: to put an end to man’s physical disabilities. (British actor Rhys Ifans, a great chameleon of cinema, fills the part of Dr. Curt “The Lizard” Connors with equal parts restraint and bombast, the script’s limitations aside.)
And one of Amazing’s funnier scenes is also one of the best onscreen appearances ever by Spider-Man creator Stan Lee, here playing an unsuspecting librarian. (In a further nod to Stan the Man, his cameo comes just minutes after Garfield’s Parker declares that, “I made all this happen.”)
All that aside, there is the curious reliance of The Amazing Spider-Man on many of the beats and tics already brought to celluloid life by Raimi and crew.
Granted that the origin tale of such an established pop culture phenomenon should not be trampled with, and so we get the all-over-again experience of seeing Peter Parker bitten by a scientifically enhanced spider; transform from an unlikely hero into a lifesaver who, ironically, cannot save people closer to his heart; and face off against a foe who embodies the evil that scientists can do.
What’s the point to all this, then? The cynical answer reminds me of a classic In Living Color line by the Wayans Brothers: “Mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money!”
The Spider-Man movies of late, plus the comic books and other printed incarnations and tie-in merchandise, have been such cash cows that it must have been a no-brainer for the suits behind all this to keep cash registers ringing, even with the departure of Raimi following the exhaustion discernible from the bloated Spider-Man 3.
Since Maguire and company have opted to hang in their costumes as well, and given the cringe-inducing, post-Tim Burton takes on Batman by director Joel Schumacher, Webb et al. seem to have opted to start from scratch instead of continuing what Raimi had begun — even if it means dishing out a remake instead of an all-new take. And to be sure that, in spite of (or even due to) its echoes of Raimi, The Amazing Spider-Man will still make a killing at the tills, a bombardment of promotion online and offline has made resistance to this new blockbuster virtually futile.
The more dissatisfied viewer, however, can only hope that, as teased by a brief epilogue within the don’t-leave-yet end credits, the next Spider-Man venture would be truly amazing and less depth-defying. - Rappler.com
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