THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012)
Running Time: 136 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Chris Zylka, Max Charles, C. Thomas Howell, Stan Lee
If you’re old enough you remember everyone’s favorite comic strip, “Little Orphan Annie.” The title character’s favorite expression was “Leapin’ Lizards!” Nobody expected to take that expression as anything but metaphoric, but now along comes Marc Webb, who directs THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN aka SPIDER-MAN 4,” giving us an actual leaping lizard as Spiderman’s principal villain. Never mind the car thief and one killer: that’s like nothing for the Marvel comic book hero. But defeating a leaping lizard? That takes everything Spiderman has in his repertoire of skills: his ability to thrust out his hand to develop an instant web that can hold his entire weight as he exits from roofs; his strength, which, as we see in the first half of the movie leads to awkward situations including the breakage of his uncle and aunt’s front door; his ability, like Superman’s, to leap tall buildings in single bound.
But if you’re a teen expecting non-stop action from start to finish, you’ll have to wait for an hour while mushy stuff is taken care of. With James Vanderbilt and Alvin Sargent’s almost credible script, there’s enough development in the first hour to make everyone in the audience believe in Spiderman’s powers since, after all, they are not a product of evolution but of the latest scientific developments in genetic engineering. And genetic engineering is the wave of the future, is it not? So settle back and you might even enjoy the pre-action segment more than the whizz-bang stuff.
The film stars Andrew Garfield, known to movie buffs from his major role as Tommy in the terrific Brit sci-fi movie NEVER LET ME. As a nerdy kid from the age of four, Peter Parker (played as a youth by Max Charles), is sent away by his father (Scott Campbell) and mother (Embeth Davidtz) to live with his uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Now attending a high school that specializes in science but whose students look as though they might have been left back five years or more, Peter Parker is a nerd, a dork, the sort of person that others bully and make fun of but who winds up succeeding beyond the dreams of the school’s handsome jocks.
When Peter sneaks into a New York’s Oscorp’s genetic research lab run by Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), where he is shown around by his classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) (what a coincidence), he is bitten by a spider, beats up some thuggish folks on a New York subway train, and discovers that he can hang on the ceiling of the train (not yet ruled against the law by the Transit Authority). When his uncle is killed in a robbery, Peter makes a mask, intending to use his powers to find the killer—during which time he frustrates a car thief as well by pinning him to a wall in a web. The police under Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) consider Spiderman a vigilante despite the latter’s popularity with Gothamites and, ohmigosh, another coincidence: Captain Stacy is the father of Gwen!
When the city falls under attack by a giant lizard, created in the lab by Curt Connors who rules that people are weak and only people like him with super powers can form a new race, Spiderman has a job to do despite his vulnerabilities—unlike Superman, he can be beaten up, even killed by a well-placed bullet.
Action of a different kind occupies Peter and Gwen’s time: a romance that’s too PG-13 to be considered steamy but one involving Peter’s preference for visiting Gwen at her apartment by tapping at the window on the twentieth floor rather than going through the lobby. Their relationship leads to the best one-liner in the movie, a film that has to be seen to understand the context. When Peter arrives late to class promising “it will never happen again,” the teacher responds, “Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” to which Peter whispers to Gwen in the seat in front, “Those are the best kind.”
In motifs of the Frankenstein monster and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a hulk of a lizard of the kind we’ve seen in the 1950s sci-fi movies reminds us of the principal theme of those Fifties dramas, “Maybe we were not meant to fool around with nature.” For an adult like me, the first half, which involves real people in family settings, is the better segment. It’s a pleasure to see Sally Field, whom the make-up team has aged so she does not look like the perky self she was in the Boniva commercials. For my money I’d have preferred to see Toby Maguire but his age, 37, must have been considered over the hill for the role. Then again, Andrew Garfield at 28 and Emma Stone at 24 don’t look quite like high-school students.
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