The Amazing Spider-Man

 

The summer opener of 2002 was Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’ and I remember walking out of the film feeling disappointment. According to Rotten Tomatotes, the critical aggregator states that I was in the 10% minority of critics who did not recommend the movie. But, given that 90% of the critical population endorsed it, was there a need for a reboot? As a critic, should I dock this latest version points for being a quick turnaround piece? Or should I view it on its singular merits? ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ is a significant improvement upon Sam Raimi’s original, and the second best of the four existing Spider-Man films (with Spider-Man 2 still being the best of the bunch).

The story – Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a teenage outcast, raised by his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). He is bullied by Flash Thomspon (Chris Zylka) and has caught the eye of Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). She is the head intern for Dr. Kurt Connors (Rhys Ifans) at a biotech firm called OsCorp. Peter is interested in Kurt’s findings since he worked with Peter’s late father and may have the answers to some of Peter’s questions. Cross has a missing arm, and his scientific interests relate to cross-species genetic splicing. Peter sneaks into Oscorp, finds himself in a lab and ends up being bitten by a genetically mutated spider. You can guess what he becomes as a result of this. Gwen’s father, Captain George Stacy (Dennis Leary) is on the hunt for this masked vigilante, known as Spider-Man. Hm, this could complicate matters between Peter and Gwen. But, there are even bigger things to worry about when Connors juices on an experimental serum which transforms him into a destructive lizard-man. Realizing his cross-species state, he decides to release a chemical cloud from the tower of his corporation which would turns all humans into human-lizards. It’s up to Spidey to save the day.

There is an emotional hook to ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ which made this picture a more resonating experience than I was anticipating. The origin story takes up the first half of the film and is presented much more clearly than the first time around – we understand exactly why Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man. The picture isn’t just wall-to-wall noise – there is a story and the film takes its time to develop its characters. Andrew Garfield has much more dramatic range than Tobey Maguire, and I enjoyed his rebellious spin on the character. Emma Stone, as always, is likeable here and the two have a very nice chemistry. My only minor complaint is that Garfield (at 29 years of age), and Stone (24) look too old to be playing high school students. “This” Peter Parker is a photographer, but I don’t think he’s employed by The Daily Bugle. Actually, I don’t think The Daily Bugle was even referenced here. This picture is directed by Marc Weber, whose previous directorial effort includes the romantic comedy ‘500 Days Of Summer’ (which made my Top 10 List of 2009). In that film, he proved he was a very good director of actors.

But, does he know how to construct action sequences? The exaggerated set pieces in the original Spider-Man prevented me from giving it a positive review. If you can reference a few scenes from the DVD/Blu-Ray, take a look back at the way Spidey swings between buildings in the streets of Manhattan, and you’ll notice they lack conviction – he looks like a cartoon character, he just moves too fast; there isn’t the weight of flesh and blood. Technology has come a long way in ten years, but Weber gets it right here. He understands that CGI action needs to be slowed down in order for the viewer to derive detail. This makes the fight scenes involving Spider-Man easy to follow. The film’s single best sequence involves Spider-Man rescuing a boy from a burning car – unlike most 21st century CGI-heavy films, you can explain in a step-by-step manner what the actions between the two characters are. The actions involving the lizard, however, are a little more chaotic and incomprehensible, but the clear framing and editing of Spidey’s actions compensate for this.

Despite my misgivings of its existence in the first place, I’m happy to report that ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ is a very enjoyable summer blockbuster. I look forward to what the cast and crew do with the sequel to this new installment. Truth be told, they have big shoes to fill, given what Raimi did with ‘Spider-Man 2’. But, for now, let’s celebrate this victory. Thanks to all involved. I had a blast!  

– Jerry Nadarajah

The Avengers

Currently playing around the country is a small-budget indie film called ‘The Avengers’. With a measly budget of only $220 million, I’m hoping this review will work its magic and create the word of mouth necessary to get audiences in the theatres to see this modestly scaled picture. Ah, I kid! Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and The Hulk all in one film! It’s a comic book lover’s wet dream!

‘The Avengers’, directed by Joss Whedon, is one of the best comic book blockbusters ever made, and is my favorite film of 2012 so far. It has a very good sense of humor about itself, and acknowledges the goofiness and giddiness of having all these superheroes together in the same room without disrespecting the fans of this source material. Robert Downey Jr. is terrific again as the brilliant, self-centered Tony Stark (a.k.a Iron Man), and he delivers most of the film’s memorable comedic lines. But, my personal favorite hero here is Steve Rogers (or Captain America) played by Chris Evans. He has the underdog attributes, and there is a sweetness and innocence in his character that makes him stand out, at least to yours truly. Mark Ruffalo’s self-deprecating spin on the Bruce Banner character is far more effective than the Eric Bana and Edward Norton versions. The other players – Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, are all effective, and no one gets lost in the shuffle – there’s enough screen time for each of them.

 Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s brother, has severe sibling rivalry issues. Like every major villain in a superhero film, Loki wants to take over the world, and he plans on doing this by using a cube-shaped futuristic energy device to unleash his powerful army on Earth. Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) assembles this group of superheroes to try to stop Loki, but they spend almost as much time battling each other as they do focusing on their enemy. I saw ‘The Avengers’ in 2-D and refused to pay the surcharge for a potentially inferior viewing experience, so I can’t comment on the effectiveness of the added dimension. But, I can state that ‘The Avengers’ is everything a summer blockbuster should be. The special effects are first-rate, the action sequences are amazing, the characters underneath these ridiculous costumers are very well-developed, the writing is spectacular, there are more laughs delivered by this film than any full-scale comedy I’ve seen all year, and everyone in this exceptionally talented cast is operating at the top of their game. This is the first summer release of 2012, and has already set the bar very high. A rare example of a film that fulfills its hype, ‘The Avengers’ earns my highest recommendation.

– Jerry Nadarajah