Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ahhh, Spider-Man. How amazing can another one be? If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you know two things about Cinema Siren:

1. There will be no bashing a movie just because it’s the fashion to hate blockbusters.
2. There will be no bending to the will of the bigger critics, so whether they love or hate a film, it won’t sway a review.

All movies start out believing in their own greatness, and Cinema Siren walks in a theater doing the same. However, walking into The Amazing Spider-Man, I was guilty of thinking that but for stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, I’d have zero interest in taking a peek at a story that, after a (successively worse) trilogy whose final release was only five years ago, seems so picked over.

I will announce, however, The Amazing Spider-Man is absolutely great. It’s fun, surprisingly heartfelt and believable. Director Marc Webb has breathed new life into what most of us crushed underfoot and wiped off our shoe after the amazingly awful Spider-Man 3.

All respect to Sam Raimi and Toby McGuire, this reboot is markedly better than any of its predecessors. It is the cinematic equivalent of an amnesiac blow that erases the previous Spidey trilogy. One walks out having little memory of anything that came before, praising the great profusion of talented actors and extolling the virtues of 3D, the use of which is so integral to and so enhances the film, it feels as if it is the first time it has ever been used to its fullest advantage.

Yes, the story is familiar. But to those of us who either watched the ’60s cartoon at 7 a.m. as kids, or read the many comic books, hasn’t it always been? To see the coming of (super-)age story with an actor who actually looks and acts like a teenager (no small feat for the 28-plus aged Englishman) struggling with and balancing abandonment issues, the horror of high school brainiac geekdom, budding superpowers, and a crush that leads to hormonal tinglings of a decidedly non-spidey variety, is to get another view of his origin that makes it far more believable, and far more grounded in reality.

Whether the viewer is under 20 or over 50, it is adolescent wish-fulfillment fantasy brought to life. Audiences are never too young or old to enjoy that! What is most amazing in this Spider-Man, is the truth in the emotional story that anchors the film. It is first and foremost about Peter, his relationships, and his developing relationship with Gwen Stacy. Unlike most superhero movies, we really feel Peter’s pain, learn to understand his inner conflicts, even as they split him between being a conscientious do-gooder honor student and a self-destructive would-be heroic vigilante in annoying kidskin.

If, as some detractors would say, there is less iconic imagery or poster-worthy posturing (as in extended images of Spidey hanging upside down or multiple shots of him swinging slo-mo through the streets of NYC), it is consistent with the frenetic energy of a kid who is making up new rules as he figures them out.

Peter is more human than superhuman, and is trying to cobble together his new powers with his confusion about becoming a man, attempting to eschew revenge, and accepting responsibilities he’d rather ignore: ie. teen stuff, spidey style. This Peter Parker is far closer to the smart-alecky barely likable character portrayed in the comic books. He is partly the self-loathing anti-hero, and partly the wounded nerd we all knew in high school, who we root for in getting his joy back, or maybe finding it in the first place.

Andrew Garfield is often called the best actor of his generation, as reviews of his recent stint attest as Biff Loman in Mike Nichols’ revival of Death of a Salesman on Broadway, for which he was nominated for a Tony, and his many accolades as Eduardo Saverin in David Fincher’s The Social Network. In his every quirk, awkward glance and geek-yelp, he brings both a youthful exuberance and a conflicted sense of movable morality to his character, mixing struggles with the looming potential pitfall of new bullying power and ability to exact revenge with his desire to be the man his aunt and uncle (the perfectly cast Sally Field and Martin Sheen) imagine him becoming.
It is worth noting that Peter Parker cries more than once in this movie, without the audience thinking any less of his growth toward manhood. How refreshing to see a budding superhero character show young men viewers more than the so-last-century stoicism traditionally seen as masculine.

Emma Stone once again lives up to her Hollywood hype and further plants herself in the “Top 5” hotties list for male moviegoers everywhere. She makes Gwen Stacy her own, giving the comic book character more gumption—and although her role is at times implausible (as a high school intern at a high security biotech firm, she has the run of the place)—she gives a luminosity to her smart-n-sassy high school girl. Her portrayal perfectly explains Peter’s (and millions of subsequent comic book fans’ and basement dwellers’) burning crush on her.

Other players include Sally Field and Martin Sheen as Aunt May and Uncle Ben, Rhys Ifans, as the reluctant villain Dr. Curt Connors, and Denis Leary as Captain Stacy, Gwen’s policeman dad. All are more multidimensional than could be expected for a superhero movie, most especially May and Ben, who wonderfully represent foster parents, helping Peter focus himself toward becoming a better man.

My own Über-geeky Siren Spouse (read: man who read comic books growing up and loves San Diego Comic-Con so much he actually goes for fun) walked out of this movie saying “There was nothing in this movie I didn’t love,” and that’s saying something. For my part, I have a few trifling complaints: I found it a tad overlong (a weakness for which we can blame the director, who clearly was loathe to cut from the costly climactic action sequences) and there are some inconsistency with the blending of the action sequences and the emotional character interactions featured throughout the film.

That being said, those interactions are what make the audience so firmly planted in Parker’s corner, even as he struggles with his attitude, teen angst (of the understandable my-whole-family-seems-to-abandon-me-or-die variety) and the confusion of blossoming first love.

Those with arachnophobia be duly warned. There is a scene featuring a profusion of eight-legged stars that would send my spider-fearing Siren sister and stepmom screaming into the night.
So. Another Spider-Man movie. How many movies have there been of Romeo and Juliet? Carmen? This isn’t Shakespeare, or Bizet… but Spider-Man does hold an important place in American pop culture. If critics would stop berating the makers of The Amazing Spider-Man for filming another version of an iconic story, they’d notice it offers everything a great blockbuster should.

Hopefully this movie will have much in common with Spider-Man’s genetically modified web; it should be strong enough to ward off potential doom and buoy the good guys toward inevitable victory. If, like me, you are one of the poor souls still without power, looking for a few hours of AC and electricity, get to your friendly neighborhood theater! For 136 minutes, The Amazing Spider-Man will be all the power you need.