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Project 52: 'The Amazing Spider-Man'

Posted Friday, March 1, 2013 at 12:01 AM Central
Last updated Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 5:13 PM Central

by John Couture

You know, for someone who doesn't read comic books, I sure do watch a bunch of comic book movies. Part of that is Hollywood's desire to release nothing but comic book movies and part of it is that I enjoy comic book movies because they really translate well to the big screen.

After all, films are simply just giant comic books except that you don't have to read or turn the pages.

Yeah, I know that's an oversimplification, but it still rings true. Thanks to the incredible advancements in technology, those scenarios thought up by the Stan Lees, Jack Kirbys and Alan Moores of the world can actually be realized on film.

And since this is the age of the Geek, most of the audiences at the megaplexes grew up reading comic books. And just like you'd be more apt to tune into the local news if you knew that crazy neighbor lady who turns discarded toilets into flower pots was going to be on, you're more likely to go see a movie based on a comic book that you revered as a child.

Failing that, for the most part, they are the best of everything that film does well. They have great stories, big explosions and special effects and they entertain you while using as little brain power as possible. They are a great escape from the every day and in today's world, that's increasingly important.

Of course, all of that said, not all comic book movies are created equal and to quote the franchise that I will review today, "With great power comes great responsibility."

The Amazing Spider-Man

So, how does The Amazing Spider-Man stack up against its peers and more importantly to the trilogy of films that Sony released only a decade earlier? Well, like many things in life, they did some things well and others, not so well.

Off the top, I should probably admit that I was a pretty big fan of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films. OK, I wasn't so much a fan of Spider-Man 3, but I'm hardly in the minority with that opinion.

Given that I held the original Spider-Man films a bit reverentially, I was more than a little hesitant to accept a reboot so soon. I understand the politics of it. Sony only had a certain amount of time to get a movie in the pipeline or risk losing the rights to Spider-Man back to Marvel.

And given the way that Marvel is knocking comic book movies out of the park lately, studios are even more keen to hold onto their Marvel characters. My initial concern is that in the haste to get a movie made, Sony would cut too many corners and bring an inferior product to the megaplexes.

After seeing the film, I can at least give them credit for not dropping the proverbial ball. But, there's just something lacking from the film that continues to bother me.

Or maybe it's just an inherent flaw in the character himself. I mean you have no idea how much time I spend worrying and double-checking to figure out if it's Spider-Man or Spiderman. Batman or Bat-Man

And don't even get me started on all of the villains.

All the while knowing that if I screw up even the most tiniest of details that the comic book community will flood my inbox with corrections, hate mail and death threats for weeks. No, I'm not kidding.

But as I said, I like the character enough. Spider-Man's trademark smart-ass humor and nondescript appearance makes him easy to identify with. Despite being a superhero, he deals with the same issues that every high school kid deals with, namely, getting the attention of the beautiful girl in class.

Again, since I'm not well-versed in the comic book mythology, I'm not sure which version is more faithful to the canon, but I do know what I enjoy as a viewer coming into it late in the game. I think the biggest problem of The Amazing Spider-Man is the lack of genuine chemistry between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy.

I'm not sure if that's just a lack of chemistry between leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone or if it's an intentional fallacy between the characters that will set up the real romance between Spider-Man and Mary Jane. It's probably a little of both.

I thought the Gwen Stacy character was pretty contrived in the film. She was a fellow student of Peter Parkers, but instead of allowing their romance to build in high school, she just happened to be an egg-head interning for Dr. Curt Connors, whom Peter has seeked out to get answers about his father. It just seemed incredibly convenient and nothing against Emma Stone, but she just doesn't exude brainy nerd all that well.

So, this clunky romance blossoms out of nowhere and to be honest it's more of a distraction than a driving factor behind Peter's actions. No, that's another problem in itself.

On the surface, I enjoyed the idea of introducing a bit of shadow into the lives of Peter's parents. What were they working on and did they die because of their research? The potential revenge scenarios are quite juicy.

Again, I don't know how this is handled (if at all) in the comic books, but I found that it really didn't go anywhere and became tedious after awhile. In fact, it appears that the story thread will carry through to the next film at least as the post-credits scene specifically deals with Peter's Father and "the truth."

I guess the biggest problem I had with the film was the use of The Lizard as the main villain. I understand that you want to stand apart from the earlier trilogy, so it would make sense to choose a different villain, but to me he's just not strong enough of a character to carry an entire film by himself.

Don't get me wrong, I love me some Rhys Ifans. But, I just feel that The Lizard would have been best realized as a smaller villain in a film with another primary villain. Given that they dance around Oscorp and Norman Osbourne so much, it just seems ridiculous that we don't get at least a token cameo from the Green Goblin.

This is also the criticism that I had, initially, with Batman Begins. It was risky to have a Batman film with relatively unknown (to lay people) villains. I thought that the Joker's omission was a huge mistake.

I've since come to appreciate the Dark Knight trilogy and even saving the Joker for the second film. So, perhaps one day I will accept Osbourne's omission from The Amazing Spider-Man in the same way.

I can't end this review without recognizing a few standout performances. Martin Sheen is great in everything that he does and his Uncle Ben is top notch. He chews up the screen in all of his scenes and adds a certain new gravitas to his responsibility speech to Peter.

The other actor that I can't get enough of in this film is Dennis Leary. While I'm an unabashed biased fan of his work, he really shines as a conflicted police captain and father. In a key scene, he has to turn his back on his beliefs and job to allow Spider-Man to save his daughter.

Leary pulls it off splendidly. Although, I'm a bit concerned about the sequel when the two actors that I thought did the best in this film both die.

Oh well, I guess that means the rest of the cast will have to pick up the slack. Overall, the film was enjoyable, but left me wishing that it could live up to the original films. For that reason, it earns a Straight.