Marc Webb's take on Marvel superhero Spider-Man carries, Atlas-like, a terrible burden. Coming only ten years after Sam Raimi told Spidey's origin story, Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man presses the reset button and tells it again. 2012 audiences may have a hard time separating out their experience of the movie and their nagging feeling of déjà vu, but as the years pass, The Amazing Spider-Man will more easily stand on its own merits. So, with the premilinaries out of the way, the question remains: is this version of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's famed webslinger any good?
Well, it's not bad. For a twenty-eight year old Brit, Andrew Garfield makes a quite credible American teen—in this case, Peter Parker. As per usual, Peter lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May (this time around, Martin Sheen and Sally Field, both fine). But the new screenplay by James Vanderbilt (Zodiac), Alvin Sargent (all three of the Raimi Spider-Man films), and Steve Kloves (seven of eight Harry Potter films) taps a new vein regarding Peter's absent parents. Glimpsed in a brief flashback sequence, Richard and Mary Parker (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) leave in a hushed hurry and later die in a crash (so we're told), leaving Peter with a host of unanswered questions and "did they love me?" neuroses. The Amazing Spider-Man drops some leaden hints about how the Parkers' damaging secrets will inform the next round of sequels, but mostly the issue is raised to add poignancy to Peter's teen angst: in one efficiently touching beat, Peter takes to wearing glasses to feel closer to his father.
Peter's largely unspoken insecurity reveals itself through behavior: acts of rebellion both small (skating in the halls of Midtown Science High School after being told not to) and large (defending a geek's honor from Chris Zylka's bullying Flash Thompson). Our hero now skews a bit further from nerd and a bit closer to emo kid, with his fingers poking through torn sleeves and his head sheathed in a hoodie. The spin on the character works, partly due to Garfield's emotional resonance and partly because it makes sense for a youngster who's about to start hiding behind a mask. Even as the old hurt of his parents' abandonment gets dredged up, Peter hits it off with the sharp and pretty Gwen Stacy (a well-cast Emma Stone), who also happens to be head intern to experimental geneticist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) at Oscorp Industries. Since Connors once partnered with Richard Parker, Peter follows his nose to Oscorp, pokes around, and—stop me if you've heard this one—gets bitten by a radioactive spider that imbues him with extraordinary strength, reflexes, and stickiness. One tragedy later, he's hitting the streets and shooting his webs at the bad guys.
The primary baddie winds up being Connors, an amputee whose longing to be whole again leads him down a road to megalomania. "I want to create a world without weakness," says Connors, but his rash decision to make himself a test subject for regeneration turns him into supervillain The Lizard. Webb and his screenwriters consistently bauble the business with Connors: first there's some very odd logic—voiced by both Uncle Ben and Connors himself—surrounding the scientist disappearing from Parker's life when the boy's father left (why would he be expected to keep showing up to the Parkers' house—wouldn't that be weirder than not showing up?). More importantly, Connors' motivation to attack New York City (leading Denis Leary's NYPD top cop Captain George Stacy to crack, ""Do I look like the mayor of Tokyo to you?") never quite comes into focus, despite a halfhearted stab at establishing schizophrenia.
Villainous schizophrenia: just like Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin in 2002's Spider-Man. Old ideas threaten to be the death of this new movie. Demographics dictate that there must be a sequence in which Spider-Man shows off in front of and/or rescues a kid (Garfield plays it well). And don't forget that essential reading from the Book of Superhero: "Who are you?" "I'm Spider-Man." As in Raimi's first entry, a key action sequence hinges on civilian (in this case, working-class) New Yorkers rallying around Spidey to help him save the day. And in the category of non-negotiable are the wistful teen romance and the moral education of Peter, who develops the understanding that justice in service of a greater good is far more important than selfishly getting payback.
Webb often finds himself on shaky ground, with murky plotting or scenes that smell as if they've been insisted upon by a studio exec (a skateboarding sequence gives Peter Parker his "Footloose warehouse dance moment," somewhat awkwardly disrupting the narrative on a day when Peter is about to meet with Dr. Connors). But at least as often, he begins building solid foundations for the future of the franchise. This Peter shows signs of the character's traditional wisecracking 'tude ("You found my weakness! It's small knives!"), smartly suggesting that he still needs to slough off some punkishness to be a mature hero. Webb also slyly undercuts one requisite cliché—of a helicopter shot of the hero in rooftop repose—with a phone call asking him to pick up some organic eggs.
Not only are such moments totally in tune with Spidey's comic-book history, but the filmmakers use their story structure to insist that ground-level character and, specifically, relationships aren't the window dressing to an action film; instead, they are the truth and import of this story. That said, Webb ((500) Days of Summer) handles the stunts—call him Peter Parkour—and big action scenes with assurance, and the CGI replacement of Spidey has gotten much better since 2002: the vertiginous webslinging scenes are pretty darn thrilling (if only the dead-eyed Lizard were as convincing a creation). Meanwhile, ominous discussion of costly secrets and dangerous superhero liasions point the way to the sequels. One character innocently asks Peter, as he looks for an ID badge, "Are you having trouble finding yourself?" Maybe just a little, but consider the franchise relaunched, in a manner that's at least good enough for government work.
[NOTE: Die-hard superhero buffs within range of a purpose-built, flat-screen IMAX theater (as opposed to an IMAX dome or "fake IMAX") may well want to invest in an IMAX 3D presentation. The 3D experience is often negligible, but the sheer size of the IMAX screen mightily lends itself to the scenes of Spidey swinging through the air, making it a convincingly immersive experience, further enhanced by Webb's use of POV for some moments.]
Sony rolls out the red (and blue) carpet for Spidey with a four-disc Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD combo pack. Having always been the industry leader for the Blu-ray format, Sony remains second-to-none in A/V quality. The 2D hi-def transfer and lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix are perfectly calibrated to present a home-viewing experience comparable to the theatrical one (now typically a 4K projection); with no noticeable compression, the well-resolved picture yields very strong detail and textures, a palpable sense of life-like depth (yes, even in 2D), and precise contrast and black level; likewise, the sound is incredibly dynamic in its wraparound effects, ambient immersion, full-boded music, and general razor-sharpness of dialogue and effects.
People's mileage always varies with 3D, and that's going to be the case here as well. Die-hard fans and cinematic purists—excepting those with no tolerance for 3D—will want at least the option of viewing the film in 3D, since it was widely presented that way in theaters. That said, this is not the most satisfying of 3D films: as one might well expect, the 3D pops mostly (in fact, entirely) during CGI-heavy action scenes. The dramatic scenes get only faint added dimension, which is mitigated by a dulling of the image brightness (in comparison to the 2D version). Still, those action scenes get a kick from 3D that I'd say is worth the added investment, given that this is, primarily, an action film. In all respects other than the diminished brightness, the 3D experience matches up to the high technical quality seen in the 2D transfer—with no concerns about 3D crosstalk.
The 3D Blu-ray Disc serves up an audio commentary with director Marc Webb and producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach, who discuss their thinking about the iconic material and what they hoped to bring to it in a fresh take on the franchise, the cast and their contributions, character analysis and the film's themes, deleted scenes, and approaches to achieving optimal drama and action, among other topics. "3D 101 with Director Marc Webb" (6:22, HD, 3D) finds Webb schooling us in 3D photography and effects, illustrated with some specific sequences under discussion (unfortunately, this featurette has an annoying lip-sync disconnect). The special effects reel "Iconic Poses and Digital Environments - 3D Image Progression Reel" (2:36, HD, 3D) plays with commentary by Additional Animation Supervisor David Schaub.
The enclosed 2D Blu-ray Disc offers the film in non-3D HD (with impeccable A/V), the audio commentary, and "What is The Amazing Spider-Man Second Screen Experience?" (1:04, HD), which introduces the Second Screen Experience app that employs a wireless connection from player to tablet device to deliver added video and text content (including production notes, effects-shots breakdowns, storyboards, and digital models) during playback of the film
The supplements disc house the terrific feature-length documentary Rite of Passage: The Amazing Spider-Man Reborn (1:49:49, HD), which gives a detailed behind-the-scenes look at the film's making, in seven parts: "The Drawing Board: Development and Direction" (13:09, HD), with cast and crew reflecting on rebooting for more of a real-world approach; "Friends and Enemies: Casting" (15:19, HD), elucidating casting choices through interviews and rehearsal footage; "Second Skins: Spidey Suit and The Lizard" (11:23, HD), on the practical (physical) versions of Spider-Man and the Lizard in suits/prosthetics; "Spidey Goes West: Production - Los Angeles" (16:37, HD), which focuses on L.A. location shoots, with an emphasis on stunt work; "Safe Haven: Production - Sony Studios (15:27, HD), which takes a similar look at the studio phase of the shoot, including plenty of blue-screen work; the self-explanatory "Bright Tights, Big City: Production - New York" (9:32, HD); and "The Greatest Responsibility - Post Production and Release" (28:50, HD), wrapping up with post-production effects work, editing, animation (going back over the material of "Iconic Poses and Digital Environments - 3D Image Progression Reel"), scoring, sound design, and broader considerations about giving this new take on Spidey to the audience.
Eleven "Deleted Scenes" (16:50, HD) include "A Different Fate," "Connors' Condolences," "Tracking Connors," "Hacking Connors," "Going Away," "Top To Bottom, Part 1," "Top to Bottom, Part 2," "Bad Lizard," "Help Me," "All The Power You Feel" and "Lost Something."
Pre-Visualization (39:08, HD)—including storyboards and motion "pre-viz" reels—cover sixteen key sequences: "Revised Opening Sequence," "Spider Room," "The Subway," "Birth of Spider-Man," "Handstand," "Rooftop POV," "Overpass," "Bridge," "Love Swing," "Lizard Sewer," "High School," "Lizard Ambush," "Standoff," "Crane," "Oscorp Lab," and "Oscorp Finale," while The Oscorp Archives Production Art Gallery (HD) collects concept art for Spider-Man, The Lizard, and Environments.
Image Progression Reels (HD) deconstruct the "progression" from all-digital pre-viz and effects to integrations of live-action and CGI, as seen in "High School Fight Sequence" (with commentary by Sr. Visual Effects Supervisor Jerome Chen), "Iconic Poses and Digital Environments" (with commentary by Additional Animation Supervisor David Schaub), "The Lizard Emerges" (with commentary by Sr. Visual Effects Supervisor Jerome Chen and Digital Effects Supervisor David Smith) and "Sewer Battle" (with commentary by Sr. Visual Effects Supervisor Jerome Chen and Digital Effects Supervisor David Smith).
B-roll set footage of Stunt Rehearsals (11:52, HD with "Play All" option) comprise "Subway," "Testing Powers," "Alley Fight," "Escape Under Bridge," "Sewer Fight," "Spidey vs. Lizard," "Lizard Attacks SWAT," and "SWAT Attacks Spidey." Last up is the swift, promo-style "Developing The Amazing Spider-Man Video Game" (3:30, HD)
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