The fanboy engines sure have been revving for exaltation since the ultra awful Spider Man 3 hit theatres in 2007. There were so many problems that simply could not be forgiven, a fault of studio interference more so than the personal failings of Sam Raimi, whose trilogy always felt heavily flawed to me, despite good intentions. Now five years later the reboot task is up to relative newbie Marc Webb, whose lone previous film credit is the indie romantic 500 Days of Summer. Now I have not seen that, but by all accounts it is supposed to be quite good. Perhaps not surprisingly, the best things about this latest Spider-Man are indeed the more intimate character moments between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. That said, I’ll try not to let my own experiences with the characters (I dabbled in the comics, action figures and awesome ‘90s cartoon) taint my review, and keep any comparisons strictly to the other films.
The main problem with this film is that it retreads material already done to death in the previous trilogy. Everyone and their mother knows the story of how Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and became a superhero, while keeping his Aunt May in the dark all those years. Is there really no other way around beating the dead horse that is coming to terms with Uncle Ben’s death? At least there was no mention of “With great power…” Take a page from the recent Incredible Hulk, a reboot of sorts from the nearly unwatchable Hulk that Ang Lee did. Rather than subject audiences all over again to showing Bruce Banner get exposed to gamma rays, Louis Leterrier managed to do condense an hour’s worth of recycled plot into mere minutes in the opening scene allowing for a much more focused film, unconstrained by obsessive origin stories. This feat was all the more impressive considering how much less well-known the Hulk is compared to Spider-Man. The Hulk is much more comic-booky, compared to the more mainstreamed Spider-Man.
I’d like to comment on how well the Lizard was featured and utilized here, I don’t think I could have taken yet another recycle job. Rhys Ifan is fine as amputee genius Dr. Curt Connors, though his eventual motivation (beyond seeking a cure to regenerate his lost limb) gets a bit silly in the end. Martin Sheen and Sally Field were also good as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, presented less fragilely than before and given more of a chance to shine. Unfortunately their arcs pretty much follow the same beats that we’ve seen before. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily but it feels like more of a case of stunt casting than anything else. Sometimes the time period itself can hold things back as well, like Spider-Man’s reliance on cell phones having to contend with a bully named Flash Thompson in 2012.
But enough bitching. There are some good parts to behold. Andrew Garfield easily outshines every instance where Tobey ‘Banal’ Maguire failed before, both as Peter and Spider-Man. Though Garfield still makes for a heartthrobby nerd, he’s into not only photography, but skateboarding as well, playing it just convincingly enough to where he’s not quite cool. Also his stammering and stuttering around Gwen Stacy makes for a rootable underdog. Ahhh Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy… I’m not fully caught up on her character from the comics, but from what I remember Stone does a remarkable job acting (and looking the part). But as good as she is, Denis Leary as her father Captain Stacy steals nearly every scene. Leary is coming off his FDNY run Rescue Me and while his range isn’t what’s appreciated here, it’s his style. Leary knows how to play a no-nonsense, hardass dad to the hilt.
In yet a further nod to the comic origins, Peter here devises a rather ingenious way to develop his mechanical wrist bound web shooters, as opposed to his organic method in the other movies. This brief scene of discovery and development illustrates just how effective a brisk pace can be to this type of movie, not committed to comparable scenes we’ve been exposed to ad nauseum in previous iterations. It’s believable and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The web slinging scenes are some of the film’s highpoints, especially the first-person sequences, and while the 3D adds some slight enhancement, it certainly isn’t necessary, added in to inflate box office grosses.
Much has been made about early reactions to the film’s many CG sequences, particularly the Lizard’s transformation. I didn’t see any of that early footage, but I can say that if there have been improvements made, the finished product is fluid and slick. There are no issues in close-ups or lip syncing. While I can’t remember how the spider-sense was presented in the Raimi films, I can say that the editing strategy used to convey it works really well here. If there were any missed opportunities for added tension, it would be the changing/reloading of web cartridges which is never addressed here at all.
For those who have expressed concern over the two major moments of having Spider-Man suited up but unmasked in the trailers (once when rescuing a boy from a burning vehicle and the other taking on the NYPD), I will say that only the burning vehicle instance warrants the ire of fans. Without sounding too geeky, it is in every superhero’s best interest to keep your identity concealed from as many people as possible to avoid putting loved ones in jeopardy. The logic for voluntarily removing your mask especially in the age of Youtube is not forgivable. Also the revelation to Gwen Stacy came about much too quickly, would you trust a high school girl with such a secret?
Dr. Connors’ primary motivation is to concoct a serum that will re-grow his own lost arm, but his master plan when in Lizard form takes a head-scratching turn. Connors is painted as having a dual-nature in Lizard-mode (complete with hearing voices), which basically creates a conflict of massively inflated Id/superego dynamic which is never quite fully explored. What benefit is there to create a race of super-lizard people in New York? Also, the subplot of Lizard-SWAT guys is completely tossed aside, giving the final half-hour a very disjointed feeling. You sense that Marc Webb was on the precipice of something truly great at times with the dramatic moments, but then felt shoehorned into throwing in some action scenes (some of which are kind of good) for the heck of it. The biggest problem is that the story does not feel self-contained, but rather a set-up for sequels. While teasers are fine, whole dangling plot threads are not. Perhaps when the inevitable sequel is released we’ll get something fresher resembling a standalone film, rather than having to depend on yet another retelling of what we already know.
Final Grade: C+
TRR Movie Revue by Jacob Aquino