Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man (IMAX 3D)

Back In The Big Apple, And Still Very Much A Spider

Spider-Man, aka Andrew Garfield, in Marc Webb's action-drama "The Amazing Spider-Man". 
Jaimie Trueblood/Sony Pictures


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Marc Webb kick-starts another edition of Marvel's comic-book sensation with "The Amazing Spider-Man", a film that returns to the darker origins of the character and effectively builds the dichotomy between Peter Parker (very well acted by Andrew Garfield) and Spider-Man, making no secret of their oneness.  Often played as a huge, defining reveal in previous film editions, Peter Parker-as-Spider-Man is a revelation disclosed to other characters early on.  The central focus of "The Amazing Spider-Man", which opened early this morning across the U.S. and Canada, is the fragility of the human family, which here literally and figuratively hangs by the thread of a spider's web. 

"The Amazing Spider-Man" hits all the right notes and places in its title character's development.  Peter is a ten-pound weakling photographer at his high school (his camera probably weighs more than he does.)  He uncovers the truth about his father's experiments.  He's bitten by a spider.  He's invincible.  Arrogant.  Humbled.  Misunderstood.  Tragic.  A savior.  A loner.  Parker's uncle and aunt (wonderfully played by Martin Sheen and Sally Field) try sheltering Parker from the pains of his life.  There's good tension between the three, adding a layer of suspense and volatility that underlines their interactions.

Mr. Webb builds a brooding, shadowy Hitchcockian tone in the film's first hour, and it is strikingly effective.  (A poster of "Rear Window" is prominent in Peter's bedroom, and like that film's watchful wheelchair-bound photographing hero, Peter Parker is disabled by his circumstances, and watches over New York City but in a more adventurous way.)  Mr. Garfield even resembles Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates of "Psycho", in looks but also as a troubled, unsettled man contained in a scared, slender frame, and his performance registers with great concentration and investment in his character's situations.  He plays a Peter Parker who seamlessly combines brain and brawn.  This thinking-man's Spider-Man may be short on elegance but he is bolder, more real and vulnerable a webbed master than there's ever been on the big screen, thanks not only to the mostly strong screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves, but to Mr. Garfield's excellent work as both characters.

Spider-Man lives in and views a world without brightness or much color, and cinematographer John Schwartzman accurately calibrates this world with slightly de-saturated colors and hues.  Sometimes the pallet utilized looks sad, if that makes sense.  (I don't know if that was due to some of the 3D in the film or the huge IMAX screen.)  What does make sense in this film is the fine chemistry between Mr. Garfield and Emma Stone, who plays Gwen Stacy.  They have great confidence together on screen, comfortable in their skins and characters, exuding a playfulness that is invigorating, flirtatious and natural.  There's always something interesting going on between them, and their interactions aren't your garden variety romantic amour amour in superhero films.  Both Parker and Stacy are meaningful players in "The Amazing Spider-Man", a film that says that everyone has a stake in repairing fractured families, individuals, and cities.

Stacy, an intern at Dr. Curtis Connors' Oscorp Labs and a fellow high school student with Parker, has to fend off her Captain NYPD crime-fighting father (Denis Leary) -- who hasn't been able to claim too many victories in the crime-busting department lately -- from hunting down Spider-Man, whom he's dubbed a menace.  No good deed goes unpunished: Spider-Man gets little respect for his industry.  "I do 80% of your job," the webbed wonder says at one point.  Captain Stacy himself will offer a perception about police officers later on to Peter Parker, in a funny exchange.  As usual, Marvel comic-book "Spider-Man" creator Stan Lee makes a cameo, and a Marvel film just isn't one -- and isn't complete -- without his presence.

[In a strange event outside of the film, the San Francisco general public I saw "The Amazing Spider-Man" with were oddly silent throughout, registering nary an audible reaction at all during the two-plus hours.  Was the audience drugged?  Comatose?  Nonplussed?  Was it the IMAX?  The 3-D?]

Underlying the film's tense, murky aura is a world of secrets.  Family secrets.  Secrets about fathers and sons.  Secrets of love and secrets of science.  The mystery evolving from these secret worlds creates a level of interest and anticipation I greatly enjoyed.  "The Amazing Spider-Man" is at its strongest and most impressive in these moments and in its excellent, compelling first hour.  Though not a great film, "The Amazing Spider-Man" has life, thought and complexity searing through the everyday actions of its characters.  Its tone is fervent and brittle and its cast stellar and entertaining.  (There will be mystery during the end credits.)

The director of "(500) Days Of Summer" Mr. Webb brings an indie sensibility to the superhero genre, a risky thing especially when rebooting a franchise film or continuing a series of films.  Marc Forster, for example, can attest to how an independent, small-scale approaches sometimes mutes a film's atmosphere and pulse (see his "Quantum Of Solace").  By contrast, Mr. Webb succeeds here, blending character-driven drama with action that somehow remains relatively contained even as Spider-Man's adventures cast a sticky spidery life-saving spectacle that blankets New York City. 

Though there's containment and intimacy to much of the events, all of that is torpedoed to smithereens in the film's second half.  Action sequences, which in the first half began on a micro level at the nascence of Peter Parker's new-found powers, grow to clunky, unwieldy and exhaustive extremes with the arrival of Lizard, the horrific, grotesque metamorphosis of Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans), Oscorp's one-limbed scientist extraordinaire who vows to eliminate pain -- the very thing plaguing Peter Parker -- and replace it with perfection.  "Human beings are weak!", declares Dr. Connors/Lizard as he raises the Frankenstein-level of his own existence a notch higher.  Where the first-half action was integral to character and storyline themes, much of the second-half action is deadening, numb instead of thrilling, a let-down, silly where it should have been super. 

The film's relative few weaknesses however, only highlight the intelligence and sensibility of the aptly-named Mr. Webb's characters: their conviction about what is right and wrong, and most of all, their demonstration of compassion.  For all of the blunt edges of "The Amazing Spider-Man" there's a remarkable level of warmth and compassion in the film's overall message.  Characters who may otherwise shoot first and ask questions later forgive.  Bullies become consolers.  "Evil" people make crucial choices.  Ordinary citizens help heroes in need.  The good in humanity, even with all its flaws, isn't dead just yet.

Also with: Irrfan Khan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, C. Thomas Howell.

"The Amazing Spider-Man" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for sequences of action and violence.  Some of the images are grotesque.  The film's running time is two hours and 16 minutes.  In IMAX 3D, and "conventional" 35mm and Digital 3D projection.

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