Saturday, July 7, 2012

"The Amazing Spider-Man"

I highly recommend “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which is extremely enjoyable even though it should be too soon for a reboot of the franchise.  Employing a darker tone than the Tobey Maguire movies, it is different enough to carve out its own niche.  Dramatically better than the lamentable “Spider-Man 3” (2007), I dare say it might be the best Spidey yet (SPOILERS to follow).

Director Marc Webb was clearly influenced by another reboot, Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” (2005).  Opening with the disappearance of Peter Parker’s parents, the film immediately differentiates itself from the Sam Raimi-directed trilogy.  Though Parker is depicted as a high school outsider in “Spider-Man” (2002), comic book bully “Flash” Thompson beats him up in more vicious fashion early in “Amazing.”  Parker’s high school, Midtown Science (a clear stand-in for real-life Bronx Science) bears little resemblance to the optimism of McKinley High in television’s “Glee.”

Reflecting Cold War-era concerns about the atomic age, a radioactive spider bites Parker and gives him his powers in the original Stan Lee comic book in 1962.  Other comic book heroes of Marvel’s golden era of the 1960s received their powers in a similar fashion, with Bruce Banner becoming the Incredible Hulk after accidental exposure to a nuclear test and the Fantastic Four getting their abilities following bombardment by cosmic rays in space.  With the Cold War long over in 2002, a genetically modified spider is responsible for transforming Parker in the first “Spider-Man” film.  As best one can tell, it is another genetically altered arachnid that bites Parker (Andrew Garfield) during at trip to OSCORP in the reboot.

As in the original trilogy, Peter Parker patrols a relatively safe New York City, featuring much less mayhem than the Gotham of the Tim Burton-directed “Batman” movies of the late 80s and early 90s.  Reflecting the decline in crime nationally and in the city itself by the early 21st century, Spider-Man mostly battles minor criminals and there is no sense of a metropolis under siege.  See

Of course, the major threat does not come from conventional criminals, but from the big bad nemesis, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a.k.a. “The Lizard.”  Like Doctor Octopus in “Spider-Man 2,” (2004) Connors is a scientist with apparently good intentions who is transformed into a villain when his experiment goes awry. “The Lizard’s” rampages in “Amazing” are reminiscent of “Jurassic Park,” (1993) as he terrorizes the city like a dinosaur.  When Parker tells Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) that Connors is a giant lizard, he sarcastically responds, “Do I look like the mayor of Tokyo?” a wry reference to the old Godzilla movies.

Connor’s plan features some 9/11 overtones, as he wants to release a bio toxin throughout the city to transform everyone into a hybrid creature like himself.  With the passage of a decade, though, the terrorist attacks are less of a presence than in the first Maguire movie, which was released a mere nine months after 9/11.  In the 2002 film, a NYC crowd helps Spidey defeat the Green Goblin by clobbering him with projectiles as one yells, “You mess with one of us you mess with all of us.”  The film concludes with Spider-Man standing next to an American flag, at the same time flags hung on houses and businesses around the country as a response to the tragedy.

The film does have some weak spots, as the audience must endure aspects of the origin story, like the murder of Peter’s Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), for a second time.  Still, Emma Stone’ s Gwen Stacy is a stronger character than Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson because she is more of a sidekick to Parker as opposed to a damsel in distress.  The action scenes are also more engaging, perhaps due to continued improvement in technology.

Early box office grosses suggests the film is getting strong word of mouth and the movie’s conclusion lays the groundwork for sequels that revolve around the unresolved fate of Parker’s parents.  I very much anticipate another strong series.

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