Friday, July 6, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

Rating: 4 Shurikens

The story of the nerdy teen-ager bitten by a radioactive spider, who gains spider-like abilities, is now in its second big-screen incarnation. This is a complete reboot of the story, starting with a backstory of Peter Parker's childhood, and how he came to live with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben. The prelude shows Peter before he was orphaned, and how his father had been working on some very important scientific experiments. The actual results of the work were worth keeping secret, and a break-in at the Parker household causes his father and mother to flee.

They gather some important documents and drive to the home of Peter's Aunt May and Uncle Ben, played by Sally Fields and Martin Sheen. I am always impressed by some of the name actors that will appear in movies like this. Fields and Sheen deliver some fine acting, which helps the story long, seeing as how they are integral to the origin story as told in the 1960's comic series by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

After some tearful goodbyes, his parents leave, and are never seen again. The next thing we know, Peter, played by Andrew Garfield, is a high school student, dealing with the bullying of Flash Thompson, the quintessential bane of nerds' existences since time immemorial. Most of us nerds have fond memories of being pushed around by people of his sort, but I digress. Part of the story of Peter Parker is his reputation as a weakling and an egghead, and how he gains abilities which turn the tables on his tormentors. Garfield's biggest achievement prior to his brilliant debut as an action star was his portrayal of Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network.

This is also where we are introduced to Gwen Stacy, the original love interest from the comic books. Gwen Stacy is played by Emma Stone, who became a star in the movie Superbad, and also starred in Zombieland. Peter takes a drubbing sticking up for one of Flash's other victims, and Gwen notices him, even though he came out on the losing end of the exchange. The next time they meet is at the headquarters of Oscorp, which we will get to in a moment.

Peter finds a briefcase belonging to his father, and learns some facts about his father's research. He learns of a colleague of his father named Kurt Conners. He finds out that Dr. Conners, played by Rhys Ifans, works for Oscorp, so he pays a visit to the Oscorp building, and gains entrance through some subterfuge. Gwen is giving a tour to a bunch of interns, and Peter is among the group. Conners addresses the group of interns, and we learn he is a amputee who is trying to learn about tissue-regeneration in order to possibly regrow his right arm.

Peter decides to slip away from the group and do some investigating, and ends up in a research area where genetically-modified spiders are being used to create super-strong fibers for commercial use. Of course, this is where he gets the fateful spider bite which changes his life forever. After he discovers his new powers, and trying to figure out what has happened, he revisits Dr. Conners, and shares some of what his father had written in some notes stashed in the briefcase. Dr. Conners then becomes a human test subject of a new tissue-regenerating serum which causes him  to become a giant lizard, also known as The Lizard.

In the original story from the comic book, Peter decides to make some money from his new abilities. He decides to try professional wrestling, and decides not to pursue a criminal who robs the promoter. The robber he refuses to apprehend ends up killing his Uncle Ben. The Toby McGuire Spider-man movies followed the origin narrative a little more closely here, but in this story, he fails to stop someone robbing a store clerk. The robber runs away, and minutes later Uncle Ben is dead. Trying to apprehend the killer of his uncle, he becomes the wise-cracking web-slinging hero we all know and love.

As he discovers his new abilities, he develops his Spider-Man persona, designs his costume and web shooters and starts his career as a crime-fighter. The police instantly take a disliking to his vigilante approach, and so they try to arrest him, although without much success. Gwen takes Peter to her home for dinner, where Peter meets her father, Captain George Stacy. Captain Stacy is played by Denis Leary, who voices Diego, the saber tooth tiger in the Ice Age movies.

After dinner, Peter is on the balcony with Gwen, becoming very close in a romantic way, when Captain Stacy is called away for an emergency concerning a giant rampaging lizard. Peter jumps off the balcony and swings into action. It is interesting to note that when Peter arrived at Gwen's house, he had his backpack with him. Then, they have dinner, but he doesn't have his backpack with him. After dinner, Peter and Gwen go to the Balcony, and Peter is still without his backpack. He doesn't have it with him when he leaps from the balcony. Somewhere along the way to the lizard emergency, he pulls off his backpack and changes into his costume. I am writing this before checking to see if anyone else has noticed it, just to make sure I get proper credit.

The rest of the movie is loaded with action, although some aspects are overplayed, and some of the action scenes are jumpy and shift their camera angles much too quickly to see what is actually happening. There is a time when he is being pursued by a large number of unorganized street thugs, but in reality, street thugs would chicken out much more quickly. Otherwise, the movie is really good. It has lots of action, and lots of interaction. The love interests are well-played, and I would give high marks to Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.

I give this movie four Shurikens for good action, a coherent story, and some above-par acting. The casting is excellent, and the movie doesn't rely too heavily on special effects, although the web-swinging action is exhilarating. The Amazing Spider-man is great entertainment. A sequel is inevitable, probably involving The Green Goblin, so don't leave before the credits run.

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