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Wednesday, July 25, 2012  

M. Ovie Reviews: The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man really could have been the biggest movie of the summer. Or rather, a summer. By which I mean a summer that didn't also have The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises in it. And a summer that's more than a decade after the first Spider-Man movie, when a reboot would seem less premature. Not this summer, though.

As it is, comparisons are unavoidable. Only two weeks into its theatrical run, I saw it in a theater packed with four other people. There was a much bigger crowd in attendance when I saw the original ten years ago, in a bigger theater, and that thing was a goddamn turd. Maguire and Dafoe stunk the place up, and newly minted blockbuster-maker Sam Raimi directed it with the confidence of a whore in church. At some point very late in the movie, my friends and I realized we were the only ones in the theater laughing, and to this day we still don't understand why.

By that undemanding comparison, The Amazing Spider-Man is certainly an improvement. As Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield seems to understand that being "awkward" calls for more than just buttoning your shirt to the neck and walking like you have a stick up your ass; Emma Stone's smart, brave, and ultimately indispensible Gwen Stacy could kick Dunst's insipid MJ up and down Manhattan (in fact, please do); and Martin Sheen and Sally Field class things up as Peter's Uncle Ben and Aunt May, respectively. I thought I'd have trouble getting past Garfield's distracting physical resemblance to Glark (complete with camera, although Peter's has film and yet he touches up the photos on his computer), but Peter's got a dickish streak that sets him apart. Even better, the CGI technology has improved in the intervening years, so now when Spidey's swinging among the towers of Manhattan he looks like a skinny, knobby-kneed kid in a suit rather than a video game character.

But then, if "better than Spider-Man" is damning with faint praise, it's hard to come up with something less…faint. Against all odds, Spider-Man 2 remains one of my favorite superhero movies ever (possibly the favorite until this past May, which, see above), and this movie is no threat to that whatsoever. My suspicion, in fact -- and stay with me here -- is less that Marvel was trying to make a new Spider-Man trilogy than its own version of the new Batman trilogy.

I'm being serious. While watching The Amazing Spider-Man, the comparison that kept coming to mind wasn't the Raimi films, but Batman Begins. Like that film (which I have yet to see, embarrassingly enough), TAS-M offers a new origin story to an audience who still has the original fresh in their minds, sets up an ongoing mystery that's clearly going to run through the whole series, and matches the novice hero up against some deep cut of a villain that only fans of the comic book will remember (here it's the Lizard taking the place of Scarecrow). The problem is that it's not going to pull it off. For one thing, the Batman trilogy has an A-list director, and while I was watching one of the admittedly impressive POV shots of Spidey zipping over the city, I realized I had no idea who had directed the film I was watching. That's a sure sign of a second-tier Marvel project. The two upsides were that a) the director turned out to be Marc Webb (who I've never heard of, but perfect name) and that Marvel is now a big enough movie studio to have tiers.

And also, there's just something kind of low-budget-looking about it. Maybe that's because I saw it in the cheaper theater, where films just don't look quite as glossy, but I don't think so; Ice Age: Continental Drift looked just fine there a few days later.

For now, I just have to conclude that The Amazing Spider-Man isn't bad. It's not great, either. It's fine, in fact. But the best adjective I can think of to describe it is…unnecessary.

posted by M. Giant 2:50 PM 0 comments


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