[As always, spoiler-free and barebones on plot description. If you want the third act twists spelled out for you, please visit Roger Ebert's site.]
But seriously: this film is worth admission alone because this time, they hired a fucking casting director. Gone is the triumvirate of shit that Tobey, Kirsten and Franco brought to the table.
Director Marc Webb gone and killed it. You will fall in love with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in this film. They’re just glowing with chemistry and love and presence. Garfield takes a half hour or so to get there, but Stone is just a magnet for attention in every scene, and never in a presumptuous or overbearing way. They work, and they work very well as the leads in this re-take on Spider-Man’s origin.
The dude playing Curt Connors (the Lizard), Rhys Ifans, who no one really remembers from other films, but who everyone will pretend to always have been a fan of, is actually pretty great to watch in most of his scenes. Nothing about him (as Curt, pre-Lizard excitation) ever pops the way Dafoe or Molina did in Raimi’s films. Trust that he beats out any villain Tobey squared off against in the third cinematic abortion though.
The Lizard hasn’t really featured fully in the film’s trailers, and be glad for that. The quick cuts of action you’ve seen won’t prepare you for the CG monstrosity that the film’s been hiding. It looks like something pre-Gollum, a little primitive and low-budget, but somehow that adds to the horror. I might be totally alone on this, but I thought the resulting effect looked jarring and rather effective as a villainous monster. I’m no expert on the character of Curt Connors as he was originally portrayed, nor the Lizard’s varied designs in the funny books, but the overall picture painted in this film worked for me. This was a worthy foe for this Spider-Man’s first outing.
The major key to that success is the acrobatic nature of the duels between Pete and the Lizard. Very reminiscent of Spidey’s tussles with Doc Ock in Raimi’s second film, the action here is often about close-quarters, acrobatics, and speed. It’s all very fluid and balanced, sometimes more reminiscent of a Cirque-du-Soleil blitz than an all-out brawl. And…I like it. I like it a lot.
The film emphasizes aspects of Peter’s powers and natural enhancements (including spider-like behavior and some esoteric webbing strategies) that never featured in Raimi’s films. You get into Peter’s head pretty quickly and empathize with the sudden onset of his powers at a quick pace, at the risk of the first half of the film feeling rushed.
Add to that the often-criticized first-person sequences, and you get a real infusion of what Pete’s world is changing into at a quick tick. They’re sparsely used, and always appropriate, and just plain awesome. This isn’t whatever Doom was trying to do in homage to the game it was based on. This is about a kid who’s suddenly gained the ability to swing between the skyscrapers in one of the greatest, most towering cities on Earth; the first-person view accomplishes his terror and new perspective very quickly and efficiently.
If, like me, you’re dreading the idea of seeing the origin story retold yet again, you might enjoy the fact that this film doesn’t blow most of its load telling that entire story all over again; it briskly moves through it, giving you the essentials, with twists and variations to set it apart from Raimi’s films, before going into its own territory.
The combat. This is pretty much as awesome as Spidey’s ever been in battle. You just can’t not dig it. It’s fluid, it’s energetic, it’s fucking fun. When the kid catches a flying desk with his shooters mere inches from someone’s head and gracefully hucks it away, all in one arc-like swing, you’ll gasp-gasm like I did. It’s majestic.
Garfield. Take this from someone that just plain didn’t like Andrew in the Social Network. His American English sounded ESL (AESL?), his mannerisms were grating, and the poor shmuck just couldn’t offer any real screen gravity to balance things out against Jesse Eisenberg’s intensity. Everyone went crazy over him, but I didn’t buy it. But damn, DAMN, if he doesn’t just work here as a new Peter Parker. He isn’t Tobey’s dopey awkward Pete. He’s a more realistic awkward, a nerd that gains an appreciable level of swagger and has some more fucking balls. You’ll enjoy it.
Emma Stone. Those eyes. That line delivery. Those expressions. That hair. That presence. You will fall in love. You’ll forgive the hilarious levels of disbelief you’ll be required to suspend when it comes to some of what Gwen Stacy can do, simply because Emma Stone is on screen killin’ it. Girl’s got it. And she and Garfield on screen together are the definition of ‘more than the sum of their parts’. It’s great.
Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben: Yeah, just all around awesome. Altogether too brief a chunk of screen time for the old loveable fart, but what we get is perfect.
Pete’s Quips: Yeah, wisecrackin’ Pete is alive and well. Not enough though. Not enough!
Pacing: This shit moves. Some folks in my theatre last night complained it moved too quickly. I could do the trite thing and list ‘Pacing’ in both the positives and the negatives to be clever, but fuck that. I think the briskness aids this film. I realize I should be reviewing this film as a stand-alone feature, as if it existed in a bubble where Raimi’s trilogy hadn’t happened, and from there, decide if Webb’s film works. But shit, I’d rather be real here. There ain’t no bubble. We’ve seen those films, and now we’re gonna see this one. For us, the briskness is good. It gets the main bullet points across and volleys us right into the meat of the film that much faster, without actually feeling that rushed, on account of our intense familiarity with this origin story.
3D/IMAX: Say what Budrickton? The 3D? A standout?! Well, here it is: I saw this shit on an IMAX screen, and maybe that’s what caused the overall image to be so luminescent and clear compared to all the other 3D films I’ve seen this year. Or maybe this is how all the prints of this film look, IMAX or not. All I can say is, this was the brightest, clearest, best exhibition of a 3D film I’ve ever seen. Moreover, the 3D was never intrusive or uncalled for. It’s actually barely noticeable for 80% of the film, including all dialogue and non-action scenes, which is a good thing, and used sparingly and gracefully in action scenes. Let me be clear; I’d definitely ditch it all (and pay less!) and get a beautiful 2D image, circa 2009 and earlier, but all things considered, this was my best experience with the vile shit that is 3D Film (save perhaps Prometheus, though that’s all that film got right). That’s gotta count for something. More like this please, if we indeed HAVE to press on with 3D.
Also, hey, what, IMAX support? To my knowledge, this wasn’t filmed at all with IMAX cameras, like portions of Nolan’s Batman films or Transformers 2, but, similarly to those films, this film will expand and use an IMAX screen ratio (or something close to it) during a pretty huge chunk of the film’s back half. It was never jarring (like the abysmal shot-reverse shot shit in Transformers 2) and really gives a ton of key scenes in Act 3 of this film some beautiful scope and intensity. See it in IMAX 3D if you can, for sure, despite the increasingly outrageous prices. (In Canada-land, we forked over $19.99 for this beast, the standard going rate for all IMAX shows now, including the 2D TDKR next week).
Suspending Disbelief, in like, upper atmospheric orbit where you can’t see it anymore, but still know it’s there: Some really dumb shit happens. Like, ‘NYC-civvies to the rescue all over again’ levels of stupid. And ‘how the fuck is a 17-year old intern able to access top clearance level shit at Oscorp’ levels of stupid. And so much more. You gotta let most of it go in a film like this and just roll with it, enjoy everything, and so on. But in some moments, like some of the science and tech spewing out of Curt’s mouth and his technical documents in all of his labs, it just gets hilariously dumb. It’s all, of course, designed to get the point across to the mouthbreathing audience real quick. We don’t need to dwell on how an antidote gets made so easily and so briskly, or how cross-species genetic interbreeding mutation bullshit happens overnight, but we also can’t ignore that it occasionally reaches a point where some of it isn’t totally ignorable and actually makes you laugh while the film’s trying to maintain a level of tension that humor would just subvert. Catch 22. Or something.
Sally Field as Sally Field, instead of Aunt May: Sup, generic worried grandmother-type figure? You’ll beg for Raimi’s Aunt May back. Again, I have no idea what May’s really supposed to be like in the comics, and just have the cartoon and Raimi’s films to rock with, but I liked both of those loads better.
Low…budget?: There’s some weird shit going on with some sets and shot angles being reused in some scenes. And the CG feels a bit 2004….or something. I don’t know. You might get the same Lo-Fi vibe my buddies and I did. It really isn’t an issue. It’s just a bit strange. You’d think something as big as Spidey would get every cent it needed. Or did it all get funnelled into the Avengers?
Flash Thompson: Is Retarded. No fucking bully like that exists or talks like that. Every stereotype imaginable exists in this punk, and every note of his behavior is textbook boring dumbass bullshit. Except for a sudden reversal in tone later in the film that feels like Webb’s suddenly trying too hard to undo the douche he made Flash into earlier in the film, and then that becomes its own kind of shit. Whatever. Actor’s hot, but nothing else about the character is. Forgettable.
Go see this shit. Ton of fun. Great fights, great action, some butt-tingling chemistry between the leads that you’ll fall in love with, and a brisk pace that won’t bore people who still have Raimi’s films fresh in mind. Don’t listen to people saying the action in this film isn’t up to par; it’s fucking great. One rumble mid-film involving a library and its surrounding scenes is some classic Spidey-flavored awesome that the previous three films didn’t manage to reach, as far as I’m concerned. Don’t let this little gem get lost between the Avengers and TDKR. If you had the money to burn on Prometheus, you must see this.
I really do take quite a bit of a dump on Raimi’s films in this review, and that’s just not fair. I really dug the first two films and even managed to have some good popcorn fun at the third. And let’s face it, they defined the cinematic Spidey aesthetic that this film heavily borrows from. This film is indebted in many ways to those films that blazed the trail, literally a decade ago. Be grateful so much has improved since then; this film truly benefits from a far more solid cinematographic eye and some great acting, as far as superhero flicks go. Enjoy!
(For reference, there’s just the one scene after the credits start to roll, and it’s mid-credits, and it’s terrible. There’s nothing after all the credits roll.)
Budrickton, reminding you all that “Everybody Gets One”.
(image credit to wegotthiscovered.com, theiapolis.com, film-book.com and badhaven.com)