Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Peter Parkour: The Amazing Spider-Man

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

I'm not even going to pose the question, "Do we really need a reboot of Spider-Man already?" because, the answer seems to be pretty obvious. Of course we don't! Sam Raimi's Spider-Man was only ten years ago, and the third sequel only five. But if we're gonna ask that question we might as well just ask "Do we really need any more superhero or comic book movies at all?" to which I would respond, "No, no, we don't," because I'm tired, so very, very tired, of comic book movies at this point; I could really use a break.

But all that is moot. The world doesn't feel the same, comic books movies are here to stay, and it's likely reboots like this will become more common, if the opening box office has anything to say about it. And people who don't like them don't have to see them. (Unless, like me, you kind of have to.)

For the record, I was a comic book reader growing up, but I was more of a DC gal. Superman, Wonder Woman, and most of all Swamp Thing (where's THAT reboot?), were my books of choice. All I really know about Spider-Man is from what I heard in the lyrics to the animated show, and what I saw in Sam Raimi's films, (which, aside from the third one, I enjoyed).

At the center, of course, is high school dweeb Peter Parker, played by the 28-year-old Brit, Andrew Garfield. Garfield is just as believable as a teenager as Tobey Maguire was, which is to say, kiiiiind of.

This is an origin story movie, so we start with the young Peter being dropped into the laps of Uncle Ben, (Martin Sheen and his teeth), and Aunt May, (Sally Field and her grey hair), by his parents, played by Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz, two actors way too talented for nothing but cameo roles, (the better to cast a sequel with!).

Once Peter gets to high school, he's a camera-wielding semi-dork, with his share of bullies, and an eye for a blonde named Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, about as believable as a teenager).

Gwen is more than a pretty blonde, though, and is, coincidentally, also the head intern at Oscorp, a giant genetics company headed up by the one-armed Dr. Curt Connors, (Rhys Ifans), a man who also--coincidence number two--used to work with Peter's father, Richard.

A visit to this super lab is what leads to the inevitable spider bite, and soon Peter Parker becomes Peter Parkour, leaping over hand railings, fire escapes, and bad guys in a single spurt of spider web. (Said spider webbing isn't a somewhat creepy biological excretion this time around. Instead, Peter fashions his techie wrist shooters himself. Just don't try to understand how he does it.)

Peter uses his super spidey brain to help out Dr. Connors with his miracle serum, only to have the once sane doctor go quite mad once he ingests some of it himself. The stuff doesn't just turn him into a lizard; it turns him into a pissed off lizard.

I remember just enough about Raimi's first movie, and its origin story, to recognize the differences, and be bored by the similarities, and--spoiler alert!--Uncle Ben suffers a similar fate in both. It's this fate that compels Peter to done some spandex, (his online search for a suit is one of the movies surprisingly few comedic moments), and take to the streets, vigilante style, which provides the perfect prep for his eventual showdown with the Lizard.

The movie is long, and as is the case with origin stories, there's a lot of setting up to be done. It's well over an hour before Spider-Man gets into it with the Lizard. A lot of that time includes montages of Peter practicing his moves, fighting with petty criminals, and flying through the air. I saw the movie in IMAX and 3D, and I think both are ultimately unnecessary. The only thing the giant screen did for me was make me notice how pink Andrew Garfield's lips were, and how it really looked like he was wearing the same color lipstick as Sally Field.

I think Spider-Man's aerial acrobatics would probably look just as good in your standard movie theater. I did like how director Marc Webb (Webb!) used several moments of POV camera work, so that it feels like you are the one swinging above the streets of New York.

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have a definite chemistry with each other, and I found Garfield's aww-shucks charm a lot more appealing than Tobey Maguire's. I also appreciated that even after gaining his spider powers, Peter remains kind of a skinny, wiry guy. He doesn't suddenly grow super abs.

Emma Stone proves once again that she can do no wrong. She's just attractive enough that you can also completely buy her as also being a bit of a nerd. And she continues to prove she's got wicked comedic timing. Some of the film's best moments are quiet, flirty ones between Gwen and Peter.

And really, it's the success of the two leads that is the make it or break it of this movie. Cast a dud of a Spider-Man, and you'd probably end up with the equivalent of 2006's failed Superman Returns. Garfield's Peter Parker has the perfect amount of geeky cockiness, complete with wisecracking commentary when he's fighting the bad guy; those bits are straight up comic book, and fun. (It's just too bad there isn't a bit more levity in the film.)

And I hope Emma Stone's Gwen comes back in the inevitable sequel, as the series could use the continued presence of a strong, smart, and funny female partner for Parker. And not to give anything away, (really), but in the end, it's really Gwen who's responsible for saving the world...And I bet she'd look fantastic in spandex.

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