Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Best of Its Kind, So Far

The Amazing Spider-Man

Starring Andrew Garfield
   Emma Stone
   Rhys Ifans
   Denis Leary
   Martin Sheen
   Sally Field

Directed by Marc Webb

What's amazing, in a way, is that the movie industry could re-tell the same story it told only ten years ago, in a pretty good movie with Toby Maguire in the title role, and do it with almost no real risk of failure. (I know: there are movies that lose money, probably most of them. Occasionally there is even a blockbuster that loses money, an Ishtar. But when you get right down to it, there are only two kinds of movies that lose money: bad movies, which is most of the losers, and good movies that are not widely promoted. And everyone in Hollywood knows this franchise is a cash cow; just the litigation shows that.)

What they've done is go back to square one, inventing a new back-story for the character of Peter Parker. This time, he's looking into a small mystery left by his late father, and gets bitten by a spider in a genetics lab. The super powers he acquires, combined with his own remarkable technical abilities, not to mention the ability to sew better than any other straight teen-aged boy, turn him into the hero of the film.

Most of the comic-book characters portrayed on screen these days seem to depend entirely on special effects for the entertainment values. Not so this Spider-Man film. There is actual craft evident throughout the film, and more-than-merely-capable performances from almost all the players, even in the small roles. Garfield is believable as the skinny high-school kid with hidden depth, and is still believable when he engages his dragons. Stone is believable as the brainy hot chick (a role that probably came somewhat naturally to her), and Martin Sheen absolutely becomes the principled father-figure, Uncle Ben. Rhys Ifans portrays the villian sympathetically, so we're not too disappointed when he survives the film to set up a sequel (after the credits start). And Denis Leary manages to hold his tongue just enough to keep the film's PG-13 rating, while still exuding his trademark bile until [Spoiler Alert] he finds salvation on his death bed.

The film is good enough, too, for us to overlook a few incongruities. Just how many shells can the police chief's shotgon hold? How did Spider-Man get his mask on, when he's hanging from the bridge with the kid with one hand and the rope with the other? How does Peter Parker manage to encounter only blond long-haired thieves? And what are all those crane operators doing at work at that hour of the night; aren't they Union?

In the end, though, it's the quality of the special effects that keeps us buying in to this film. They are mostly done seamlessly, except for one scene (about a second, maybe two, long) in a longer fight sequence that seemed somehow less-well-crafted. The detail in computer-generated images, of water, of reflections, of shadows, is still amazing to me and, I suspect, to many other viewers. When you pair that with a good story, well-told, we don't really care if we've heard other versions of it before.

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