Superhero, superhero, superhero.
That's all we seem to be hearing/seeing from Hollywood these days. I don't know what it says about us as a culture (We need someone to save us? We vicariously want to live through someone bigger and more powerful than us? We want to escape into a fantasy world?) but in order for a superhero movie to succeed nowadays, it needs to put forth something intelligent, and something memorable. (See The Avengers for a positive outcome, see Green Lantern for the negative.)
While Marc Webb's iteration of The Amazing Spider-Man is a much more lively, engaging version of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies, there's still a lingering sense of dullness that pervades the film. The story of Spider-Man himself, while inherently pushing all the appropriate "engage" buttons, has been re-tread and retold so many times that everyone from young child to grown adult can recite it. During the screening, a young boy behind me was telling his father who each character was, his/her motivations and what was going to happen. It's difficult for a movie to surprise when everyone knows the tale.
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What saves Webb's Spider-Man are the details outside of the story. Perhaps Webb understood the unfortunate hollowness at the center of this oft-told narrative, and sought to make amends on every other front. Lead actors Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker) and Emma Stone (as love interest Gwen Stacy) play their parts with perfection. Garfield is sufficiently lithe, troubled and brooding for the role, and Stone is cute, wry and about as charismatic as an actor can be. The two of them together exude chemistry that makes you want to root for them. The supporting cast, similarly, is superb, with Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Sally Field and Martin Sheen all turning in convincing performances.
On par with the acting are the effects; you literally feel like you're swinging around Manhattan with Spider-Man at several points in the film. Scenes in a spider lab and some glimpses at futuristic technology are probably the coolest parts of the movie, as is seeing Peter Parker assemble his Spider-Man uniform. These facets help add new dimensions to the story, and thus save the movie from the at-times plodding exposition. Regrettably, because those small interesting segments are plopped here and there, at times the movie has a stop-and-start feel (especially in the first hour), like we have to suffer through a 15-minute blah-blah-blah before we get to something amazing.
The target audience for the film -- obviously teenagers and tweens, given the PG-13 rating and zero swears -- will probably enjoy the movie. The love story (including a new "kiss scene"), the quips, and the action make it a perfect summer movie outing. For the more critical in the bunch, the film absolutely requires that you suspend your disbelief. Some questions I was left with at the end: How did no one at the high school notice Peter Parker's sudden strength and ability? How did Parker -- a known academic mind -- not Google his father's experiments sooner? And what sort of ridiculous coincidence is it that Gwen Stacy is both the daughter of the police captain pursuing Spider-Man (a fact brought over from the comic books) and in a senior position at Oscorp, where Parker encounters the spider that gives him superpowers? It's all very convenient, and at times eye-rolling.
In sum, Webb's Spider-Man is beautiful to look at, and overall very enjoyable, but it's hard to shake the feeling that you've seen it a zillion times before.
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