Sunday, July 8, 2012

Movie Review – The Amazing Spiderman

  The Amazing Spiderman is the re-telling of the classic Marvel comic book character. Spiderman debuted in 1963 and when Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, he not only became the first teenage comic book super hero, he also was the first super hero who was treated as an outlaw by the authorities, and also the first super hero who didn’t have a comfortable lifestyle, instead helping his aunt and himself barely survive as a part-time photographer at the Daily Bugle by selling pictures of himself as Spiderman.

  The first Spiderman movies were a trilogy that ran from 2002 to 2007 starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spiderman. It was an excellently done series that had great special effects. The movies were a combination of the different Spiderman comic timelines and focused on Parker’s romance with Mary Jane Watson and his relationship with Harry Osborn after the death of Harry’s father Norman (aka The Green Goblin). Spiderman has a great group of villains and while I didn’t like killing his arch enemy Green Goblin in the very first movie after the secret of his identity lasted for years in the comics, I thought the depictions of Doctor Octopus and the Sandman were right on the money although a little too human as compared with the comic book versions. It didn’t seem that the Spiderman movies were set to stop at the third one since characters like Gwen Stacey and Dr. Curt Connors (aka the Lizard) were still being introduced into the mythos, but the fourth movie was cancelled when director Sam Raimi left the project.

  This year’s movie gets back to the origin, but instead of starting with wimpy Peter Parker getting bitten by a radioactive spider, this year’s version shows Peter Parker as a young boy whose scientist father and mother leave him with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May for safekeeping while they mysteriously flee from some pursuers and die in a plane crash. Instead of being a shy, short, wimp, Parker grows up to be a lanky, sullen, monosyllabic teenager that reminds me of my own two teenagers. I like this version of a semi-athletic Peter Parker that skateboards around and isn’t afraid to take on the bully Flash Thompson or sneak into Oscorp (where he gets bit by the genetically mutated spider). Another nice change from the last series is that Parker’s scientific genius is highlighted. Where the last batch of Spiderman movies had Parker spinning webs from his body, this movie shows Parker creating his own web-slinging devices just like the comics.

  I generally think that super hero movies spend way too much time on the character’s origin and this movie was no exception, but since this origin was radically different and served to introduce a number of the main characters (including Dr. Connors), I’m not going to complain as much as usual. The movies Uncle Ben’s death scene was brutal in its sudden violence. It started as a funny scene where Parker was not allowed to take 2 pennies from the penny tray by the thuggish clerk to pay for his chocolate milk but getting it for free from the shoplifter(who he lets get away). But the robber runs into Uncle Ben on the street and his gun falls out of his belt, and he blows Uncle Ben away after a short scuffle for the gun, leaving him to die in a pool of blood in Peter’s arms.

  Once Uncle Ben is dead, the action finally starts getting underway with Parker patrolling the streets in a red mask hunting for his uncle’s killer and drawing the attention of the police department before eventually settling on his Spider-Man persona and costume. Parker also feeds some of the notes he found in a hidden compartment in his father’s briefcase to Connors, which Connors uses to implant himself with Lizard DNA in the hopes of regenerating his amputated arm. But instead of merely growing back his arm, Connors turns into an evil-minded lizard creature, complete with super strength, with the plan to turn all of Manhattan into lizard creatures.

  The new Spiderman creative team made the choice of having Gwen Stacy as Parker’s girlfriend, which is the way the plot originally went in the comics. But that’s where the comic book similarities end. Stacy and her police captain father never found out Parker’s secret identity in the comics (although when Captain Stacy died in the comics, he calls Spiderman ‘Peter’ with his dying words, leaving the readers to wonder if he knew all along or if he was delusional), but Parker volunteers his identity to Gwen and her father knows his identity before the final battle with the Lizard. The movie is a lot darker than the previous incarnation. Spiderman is a lot edgier and when he battles the Lizard; he doesn’t just have a few bruises: he is battered and bloodied with deep cuts in his face and body from the Lizards claws. Captain Stacy’s death scene was equally gruesome, being sliced open from one swipe from the Lizard (but lasting long enough to have a few last words asking Peter to stay away from his daughter to keep her out of danger).

  Aside from the inevitable slowness of the character’s origin, the movie is fast paced and the special effects were as good as I would expect from a Marvel super-hero movie. There wasn’t a lot not to like in the movie and the secrecy of Parker’s parents should lead to great plotlines for the sequels. In the final battle with the Lizard, the idea of the Manhattan crane operators swinging their cranes over 5th Avenue for Spiderman to swing over seemed silly as was Parker and Stacy arranging for their first date, but aside from that, the action was excellent and the characters were on the money. Norman Osborn (aka The Green Goblin, Spiderman’s arch enemy) wasn’t in the movie, but was alluded to as being deathly ill. His funding of Connor’s and Parker’s father’s research makes me think he will be the villain in the next movie, but if the movie series sticks to the comics (where Stacy dies at the hands of the Goblin and the Goblin dies in consecutive issues), I could see the Goblin being put off till the third movie.

  Since the trilogy seems to be the current superhero movie vehicle of choice, I wish the movie studios would get the idea of writing and filming all 3 movies at once. A 2 year wait is OK, but too many times (like this month’s Batman movie), there is a 3 or 4 year wait. The cost savings and the ability to have a feature film every year would have to outweigh the initial upfront cost and the possibility of a clunker. Even if a movie like ‘Green Lantern’ turns out to be a box office dud, the remaining 2 movies could be released straight to DVD, but when there is a proven box office character like Spider-Man or Batman, the studios could cash in right away.