July 7, 2012 -- The reboot of the Spider Man franchise with “The Amazing Spider-Man” is the second such franchise reboot by Marvel/Disney in recent years. The first reboot was in 2008, with “The Incredible Hulk” which was a reboot of the 2003 film “The Hulk.” There is a pattern developing here.
The original “Spider-Man,” starring Tobey McGuire and Kirsten Dunst, was released to huge box office success in 2002, followed by two sequels. Now Marvel is starting over, regurgitating the 2002 film with new actors, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Technically, it isn't a remake, it is a reimagining based on the original source material, but in less academic terms, it is a remake. If you can start over with “Spider-Man” why not “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings?” Is this just another way for Hollywood to avoid originality? Or just a way to make more money by endlessly remaking successful movies?
As you would expect, the new “Spider-Man” is darker and more gritty than the original. It doesn't start out with high school student Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield of “The Social Network”) obsessing over his next door neighbor Mary Jane Watson. This one starts out with Peter Parker as a child being whisked off suddenly from his home to stay with his aunt (Sally Field) and uncle (Martin Sheen). The reason for this has to do with some kind of trouble based on his father's research into cross-species genetic engineering.
We fast-forward to high school student Parker discovering some of his father's hidden genetic research papers. This leads him to Oscorp, a huge company working on cross-species genetic engineering and other things. Parker seeks out one his father's old colleagues working there, Dr. Curt Connors (played by Rhys Ifans of “The Five-Year Engagement”). Lurking around in Oscorp (owned by Norman Osborn, who is never seen in this movie) Parker is bitten by a genetically modified spider and becomes genetically modified himself, a spider-man.
As in the first movie, Parker's beloved uncle is shot and killed due to Peter's negligence, causing Peter to become a vigilante, looking for his uncle's killer. Instead of Mary Jane Watson, in this film, Parker becomes infatuated with a different girl, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone of “The Help,” who works at Oscorp. This character also appeared in the third Spider-Man film). This is a complicated relationship since Gwen's father, (Denis Leary of the “Rescue Me” TV series) is a police captain determined to arrest Spider-Man.
Meanwhile, Dr. Curt Connors, using a formula that Parker shares with him, takes a big chance and injects himself with a compound which turns him into a giant, powerful lizard-man. He turns into a mad scientist determined to turn everyone in the city into lizard-people. Parker, who is partly responsible for this reptilian turn of events, must stop Connor's evil plans. Most of these characters, by the way, are featured in the Marvel comic book series on which the film is based.
The big difference between this film and the 2002 film are the lead actors, Garfield and Stone, who are better actors and better-looking than the couple in the fist film. The special effects are better this time around owing to major advances in visual effects in the past 10 years.
The thing I missed most from the first film was the absence of J.K. Simmons, whose wonderful comic portrayal of newspaper editor, J. Jonah Jameson was a real highlight of the first three Spider-Man films. I also missed the sense of joyful playfulness that Tobey Maguire brought to the role of Parker in the first film. Parker is a very serious character in this new film. He shows little joy in the exercise of his super abilities. He doesn't seem like a teenager at all. Gwen Stacy is at least a bit girlish, as opposed to Parker's morose, burdened adult character. I also missed the great line from the first film, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
An interesting character in the film is the school bully, Flash Thompson, played by Chris Zylka. Rather than being a simple bad guy, as he is in earlier Spider-Man films, Flash is a more complex character here, who changes considerably as the film goes along. The characters Norman Osborn and his son, Harry Osborn were major characters in the 2002 film. They are no-shows in this film, although Norman Osborn is mentioned several times as being the force behind some illegal human genetic research.
So how does this remake compare to the original? I'd say it is about the same in quality. It is a good film with a solid story and solid acting. It has top-notch special effects and production values. It is an entirely unnecessary remake, but a good one. This film rates a B.
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