It's less amazing the second time round ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Monday, July 9, 2012

It's less amazing the second time round

The Amazing Spider-Man
My rating:

As good as it was, Batman Begins - the first of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy - heralded an unhealthy trend in Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking: that of the reboot. I say "unhealthy" because I like continuity. After Batman & Robin, precisely no one wanted Joel Schumacher to make another sequel - and after having gone through Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney, precisely no one was begrudging Christian Bale his turn as a more serious, realistic Batman. But after Batman Begins' success, studios quickly learned that they could recast and reinvent and reboot lucrative film franchises as and when they liked; as long as the property is popular enough, the movie - any movie - would always make money. The Amazing Spider-Man, Sony/Columbia's reboot of the Spider-Man franchise from Raimi's 2002-2004-2007 trilogy, has already made a respectable (if not outstanding) figure at the box-office, so it looks like the lesson still applies.

Which is sad, because it still doesn't prove that Spider-Man ever needed to be rebooted.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) was only four years old when his parents disappeared under mysterious circumstances, leaving him in the care of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Years later, as a high school senior, he finds his father's old briefcase and some scientific papers hidden inside, leading him to investigate his father's former partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Connors is researching cross-species genetics in order to discover a means to regenerate lost limbs - specifically, his disabled left arm. It is at Connors' lab at the Oscorp corporation that Peter gets bitten by the fateful spider that gives him his spider-like superpowers - although this time, his web shooters are mechanical devices based on an Oscorp-developed "biocable." But as he continues exploring these powers - in between romancing Connors' head intern and schoolmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), whose police chief father George Stacy (Denis Leary) is no fan of masked vigilantes - Uncle Ben is shot and killed by the criminal whom Peter could have earlier stopped, but didn't. And whilst Peter struggles to deal with his guilt, Connors is also facing pressure from his corporate superior, Dr. Ratha (Irrfan Khan) to deliver results - pressure that leads him to test his reptile DNA-based formula on himself.

See, the thing about Batman Begins (and I really hope I'm not talking too much about it now; I'm planning a Retro Review soon) is that it was different enough from the series it was rebooting to justify its existence. This movie does not. The all-too-familiar parts of Peter Parker's origin story feel like a rehash, and engenders a feeling of restlessness and impatience to just get it over with already. And the new stuff aren't so much departures as they are omissions; no Harry Osborne, no J. Jonah Jameson, and no "with great power comes great responsibility." I once ranted that it's unfair to deem a film "unnecessary", but I now have to issue a mea culpa. The Amazing Spider-Man is unnecessary, because we've seen this story before - even if it is well-made, and even if Spider-Man is still fun to watch.

Andrew Garfield is already being praised in some circles as being a major improvement over Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker. I'm not seeing it, although I thought Garfield did fine. (Mostly I'm just surprised there's so much dislike for Maguire's version. Since when?) The movie doesn't belabour Peter's downtroddenness; he's just an average gawky and awkward teenage boy with occasional hints of cockiness and arrogance. Garfield plays this well; this Peter Parker is perhaps a more well-rounded character than in Raimi's films, which again, tend to portray him as life's butt monkey. On the other hand, the simple purity of his character arc gets diluted here, to the point where Uncle Ben's death doesn't even seem like the catalyst for his dedication to a life of selflessness. He puts on the costume and the web shooters and goes out beating up criminals at night, primarily to find his uncle's killer, and somehow by and by decides to help people instead.

There's no avoiding comparing each cast member, since that's the most visible difference between the two versions. Martin Sheen has more personality than Cliff Robertson, but Sally Field seems wrong - although that may be due to the script giving her far too little screentime, reducing her to a non-entity after Uncle Ben's death. Emma Stone is one of the biggest improvements; where Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane Watson was dull (and extremely ill-served by her scripts), Stone's Gwen Stacy is irresistibly cute, has great chemistry with Garfield, and lets her exercise her considerable comedy chops. Unfortunately, the villain is no improvement at all. Rhys Ifans creates gravitas and sympathy for Dr. Connors, but when he becomes the Lizard, things get murky and his characterisation gets slapdash. How does a guy go from wanting to regenerate his disabled arm to trying to turn all of New York into mutated lizard-monsters?

And that brings us to the world in which these characters live in. The one Raimi created was clearly a comicbook world; the characters were deliberately campy, the emotions deliberately heightened, the drama deliberately corny, and the audience's disbelief deliberately suspended. It's a fine balance to walk - and Spider-Man 3 in particular took a nosedive off that line - but it was still a clear and consistent artistic vision. Director Marc Webb doesn't quite succeed in creating his own new vision. The movie seems to be taking a more serious, realistic tone, up until people start turning into giant lizards. I've said before that tone is the most important thing for a comicbook superhero movie to get right, and while Webb doesn't do anything wrong per se, the fantastical elements still don't quite seem to gel with the more grounded ones. (To be honest, it feels like the studio re-edited Webb's cut.)

But besides a much improved female lead character, the best thing it's got going for it are its action scenes - a critical factor for a superhero movie. While there's nothing here that beats the inventiveness of the subway train fight in Spider-Man 2, this Spider-Man looks, and moves, a lot better than the first Spider-Man at least. The action choreography is also terrific, and the way Spider-Man uses his web shooters as close-quarters-combat weapons is very cool. Most of all, the web-slinging scenes are beautifully done, and bring to cinematic life the pure kinetic thrill of swinging across city streets like Spider-Man. I don't know how many shots were live-action and how many were CGI, but the seams are invisible; it all looks real, and not like an obvious CGI figure. If there's any reason at all to reboot the franchise, it would be this: to take advantage of current special effects technology and make a Spider-Man that lives up to every comicbook-reading kid's imagination.

Then again, Raimi's Spider-Man 4 could've done the exact same thing. And that would have the huge advantage of being a fresh new chapter in Peter Parker's life, which, goddammit, is what we want to see: something new. According to reports, the (inevitable) sequels to this reboot would focus more on the mystery of Peter's parents and why they disappeared so suddenly. Which, okay, that's something we haven't seen before, although it's not exactly an iconic part of the character's story and the hints of it that we see here don't really have anyone salivating in anticipation for more. (Which is precisely also the effect of the post-credits scene. It's completely meaningless. Learn from Marvel, guys!) But for better or worse, that's what we're gonna get, and that's what we're getting right now: a Spider-Man movie that is pretty good, pretty fun, pretty enjoyable, but just isn't what anybody really wanted.

Expectations: tiru Merantau Warrior sekarang ya, Ahmad Idham?


idysur tagem said...

i don't think that the post-credit scene is meaningless. it is what will be coming in the next movie, which is what happened to The Parkers. from that scene alone we should know that Dr Connor has something to do with their death.

son of the land said...

I don't like this movie. And that comes from a movie buff who reads and collects Spider-man comic books.
Nice review and I agree with most of your points (the action scenes were quite dull IMHO), but one of the shortcomings that I would add is the awful suit. Although most people wouldn't notice the difference, but the best costume is the one from Spider-man 2, which is of course THE BEST Spidey movie. But, I was actually happy that they added the artificial web-shooters.

Anonymous said...

Totally unnecessary re-boot, but it was still very fun and entertaining. Also, Garfield was a nice choice for Peter Parker even if I do miss Tobey Maguire just a tad bit. Just a tad, though. Good review.

Gerard Dodd said...

Im more DC myself, but to be frank the only real problem/fault I could make of this movie was the sudden change of character from Dr Connors. In terms of the re-boot and comparison to the original,I honestly enjoyed it more than Rami's take and believe that Marc Webb got away slightly with creating an origin of spiderman blended with a darker tone with better acting and a believable romance, which in my opinion is the one thing that sticks out from the original.

Sure at times I felt De Ja vu come over me, but once the whole spidey powers montage moved on, so did I.
Don't get me wrong, I was one of those "what? a re-boot?" but I was fairly surprised and look forward to seeing Garfield again. Other People are looking too much into the comics etc. The Dark Knight rises is already having question marks raised relating to the end of the movie.

Still, a nice piece man :)

ZimSen Yeow said...

I actually didn't enjoy the first trilogy. I felt that Maquire's perform was what he can do with what was given to him.

I prefer this new reboot under a new direction because the story telling is much better. Do we need the "With great powers, comes great responsibility" quote again? No, the average movie goer would probably remember it but the for me being a spider-man fan (collected all ultimate series), I personally felt that cheesy line is not required.

Why? Cuz we all know about it by now. I do agree with that Sheen did a better job than the previous Uncle Ben. Kicking out Kristen Dunst and putting in Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy is an interesting mix. We all know that she's going to die. God willing the third movie because I love Emma's character. The thing is the death of Gwen is also another milestone in Peter's life where he really starts why he puts on the mask and I want to see that happen.

It is my opinion and my circle of friends agree that Raimi could have included some smack talk because its simply what Spidey does. He annoys all his enemies with his talks. But none of the movies had him smack talk one bit which annoys me.

The issue with the "natural webshooters" creates another problem as Spidey only develops it later when he is rebirth and he is stuck with his mechanical web-shooters until that time.

A reboot is not needed but I changed my mind when I watched it. And I'm happy for another 2 movies soon.

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