Tuesday, July 3, 2012

'The Amazing Spiderman' - Not Quite Amazing

Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spiderman

Film Grade: B- (B for not a bad film, but seriously, you've got to come up with something better.)

Rewind 10 years back — way back, I know — and that’s when Sam Raimi’s Spiderman first came out. I don’t know about you, but I feel older saying that. Those 10 years flew by, nevertheless, and in movie time, that’s no time at all.

Filmmakers must be desperate for good material, then, because that’s hardly enough time to redo the film so soon — another “nail in the coffin” to their lack of originality, as film critic Leonard Maltin put it.

What’s different about this Spidey story, The Amazing Spiderman? Well, it’s slightly closer to the comic book in that Peter Parker dates Gwen Stacy in high school, instead of Mary Jane. There’s also a new villain.

Otherwise, it’s the same fill-in-the-formula superhero flick — Peter gets bit by a spider, becomes Spiderman, power and responsibility, etc. The trailer looked like it would explore more of Petey’s past; and while the film certainly hinted a direction, especially with the disappearance of his parents, it largely left it unexplored without tying in the loose ends.

As actors go, Andrew Garfield and Martin Sheen fit their parts especially, giving depth, sensitivity and quirks to their characters. Andrew Garfield is a less dorky Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire’s, but more perfectly captures the real teen struggles, in a kind of chagrined, nervous, and yet charming fashion. He is motivated to do good because he desires justice; he respects authority but still defies it; he knows in his head what’s right to do, but struggles ordering his heart to do it. All very relatable qualities that Garfield has no trouble making us believe in.

Emma Stone too adds a fresh face to the franchise, exuding confidence yet vulnerability. The film, however, leaves her skills without much breathing space and her character unexplored for the most part. Most of the film’s meat is focused on the romance between her character, Gwen Stacy, and Peter, providing all of the heart and humor. But its passion, while having the potential to lead to deeper themes, leaves it at just mostly passion.

The best quality of the film, undoubtedly, is Spiderman’s tale of using the gifts one is given for common good. It's a lesson we should all be reminded of from time to time. Uncle Ben, like in the first Spidey film, reiterates it saying, “We have a responsibility to (do good) if we have the power to do it.”

I guess, going into the movie, I was expecting a reason as to why they remade it, some drastic change or updating of the franchise, like Christopher Nolan did with Batman. I was as little disappointed then, that besides giving Parker the proper girlfriend per the comics, it didn’t look or feel any different. It’s certainly not a bad film; it’s just that we’ve seen the story told the same way before, with different actors.

To compare superhero franchises, Christopher Nolan reinvented the character of Batman, exploring philosophical questions and the deeper recesses of the human heart. Nolan treats the character of Bruce Wayne almost with reverence, as Wayne symbolizes virtue, and living out virtue when no one else believes in it — a far cry from Tim Burton’s Batman. In this film, director Marc Webb could have taken similar artistic rein — but merely recreates the same formula of his predecessor, lacking both creativity and a unique stamp of his own to put to the franchise.

Still, it’s worth a watch simply because Spiderman himself is a timeless hero. We relate to him, as he was a normal guy with normal struggles. That essence in this film — a normal guy living a heroic life —doesn’t fail to inspire.

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