The Amazing Spider-Man [Blu-Ray]
Director : Marc Webb
Screenplay : James Vanderbilt and Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves (story by James Vanderbilt; based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2012
Stars : Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker / Spider-Man), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Rhys Ifans (Dr. Curt Connors / The Lizard), Denis Leary (Captain Stacy), Martin Sheen (Uncle Ben), Sally Field (Aunt May), Irrfan Khan (Rajit Ratha), Campbell Scott (Richard Parker), Embeth Davidtz (Mary Parker), Chris Zylka (Flash Thompson), Max Charles (Peter Parker), C. Thomas Howell (Jack’s Father), Jake Keiffer (Jack), Kari Coleman (Helen Stacy), Michael Barra (Store Clerk), Leif Gantvoort (Cash Register Thief)
All the gnashing of teeth regarding how unnecessary it seems to “reboot” the Spider-Man franchise given that the last entry in Sam Raimi’s trilogy (2002–2007) was released only five years ago is a lot of sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing when you consider that it is standard practice in the comic book world to visit and revisit origin stories over and over again from different perspectives. Of course, there’s no need to be naïve—the decision to restart the series with a new cast and crew was doubtlessly a financial one for Sony—but the film is still a significant creative risk given the popularity of Raimi’s films and the impact of stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst on the iconic roles of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. Thus, the fact that Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man spins its own webs around a lot of the same territory covered 10 years ago in Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) is a moot point; we might as well argue that any film is unnecessary since Marvel maestros Stan Lee and Steve Ditko established the superhero’s origins in a comic book back in 1962. There have been suggestions that the nature of franchises and sequels is being sped up in the era of hypermediated digital culture, where today’s YouTube sensation is tomorrow’s forgotten relic, but the only real issue at hand is whether Webb’s version proves to be exhilarating entertainment in its own right—which it does in virtually every respect.
Screenwriters James Vanderbilt (Zodiac), Alvin Sargent (Spider-Man 2 and 3), and Steve Kloves (the Harry Potter series) go back to the beginning of Peter Parker’s life and insert a new wrinkle involving Peter’s scientist father (Campbell Scott), whose cutting-edge work puts him in danger and forces him and his wife to leave young Peter with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) before disappearing and never being seen again. We then catch up with Peter when he is a gawky, intellectual teenager played by Andrew Garfield, an English actor best known in the U.S. for his role as the betrayed Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network (2010). Just as Maguire’s casting was a risky choice back in 2002, putting Garfield’s relatively unknown face at the center of a mega-budget franchise-to-be took some daring, but it turns out to be a perfect casting choice. Garfield, who is handsome in a sharp, angular kind of way (he looks like he was torn from the pages of a modern comic book), infuses his geek outsider with an inner darkness and sense of self that most others can’t (or won’t) see; he is sensitive without being a sap. Plus, his longer limbs are perfect for conveying both teenage awkwardness and spider-like grace.
The early portion of the film moves through familiar territory, as Peter is bitten by a genetically enhanced spider at the massive Oscorp research facility in downtown Manhattan, which is overseen by Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), an old associate of his father’s. The spider, which is part of Connors’ radical experimentation in splicing human and animal genes in the hopes of bringing to humankind new capacities and strengths such as limb regeneration, transfers to Peter a wealth of superhuman capabilities: climbing up walls, moving with lightning quick reflexes, and lifting cars (one of the film’s more amusing moments finds Peter, unaware of his own strength, accidentally ripping the faucet off the sink and the knobs off the doors). His movement into true superhero territory is spurred largely by the death of his Uncle Ben at the hands of a common criminal who Peter had the opportunity to stop, but chose, for entirely selfish reasons, not to. Hence, as with other tellings of the Spider-Man saga, Peter’s guilt and desire for vengeance fuel his early exploits while he gradually learns the mantra that with great power comes great responsibility (although that exact phrase is never spoken here, only implied).
While the film deviates quite a bit at times from the origin story elements in Raimi’s version (including the removal of Peter’s brief stint as an amateur wrestler, although the wrestling ring gets a cameo appearance), one thing the filmmakers clearly embraced is the importance of the story’s boy-meets-girl heart. Raimi’s films, particularly Spider-Man 2 (2004), were glorious romances in addition to being vertiginous action-adventure tales, and The Amazing Spider-Man is no different in ably spinning together its action and romantic components. The action primarily involves Spider-Man battling with Dr. Connors, who was pressured into playing human guinea pig with his gene-splicing experiments and ends up turning himself into a giant, rampaging lizard-man with serious anger-management issues. Like Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2, Dr. Connors/The Lizard is a compelling villain because he is not unidimensionally evil. His villainy springs from recognizable human emotions like jealousy, anger, and resentment, and even his most diabolical plans are never reducible to one-note villainy, but rather to his ego overriding his better inclinations.
The film’s poignant romantic angle involves Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, also perfectly cast), one of Peter’s fellow high school students who is clearly attracted to him even if he is too awkward to do much about it. Stone is much like Garfield, in that she is pretty, but unconventionally so, and she is particularly good at conveying a fundamental sense of decency that marries beautifully with her clear intelligence and slightly sarcastic attitude (Greg Mottola was the first to mine this dynamic back in 2007 in Superbad). She and Garfield have a natural on-screen chemistry, and one of the film’s deepest pleasures is watching her assertiveness and his bashfulness meld, especially under the guarded eye of Gwen’s father (Denis Leary), who happens to be the New York police captain (thus, Peter is doubly screwed since Captain Stacy is both wary of Peter as Gwen’s new boyfriend and intent on capturing Spider-Man, who he deems a lawless vigilante). There is real sweetness to Peter and Gwen’s interactions, and their concern for each other is touching. In the end, we want to see them get together and stay together, which is more than many romantic movies can claim.
Of course, The Amazing Spider-Man (which was shown theatrically in 3D IMAX) is predominantly an action spectacular, and Webb, despite having only music videos and the offbeat romantic feature (500) Days of Summer (2009) to his credit, does an outstanding job of orchestrating the action for both maximum impact and maximum coherence. Although the film adheres to the modern aesthetic of rapid cutting and intense pacing, the action sequences keep us fully immersed and engaged by maintaining a complete sense of spatial coherence, even when Spider-Man and the Lizard are climbing along ceilings in Peter’s high school or shooting down various drainpipes in the sewer system beneath Manhattan. The filmmakers also made the wise decision to rely primarily on physical stuntwork, rather than CGI, to capture Spider-Man’s movements, thus avoiding the rubbery cartoonishness that plagues several parts of Raimi’s films. Cinematographer John Schwartzman, a veteran of several Michael Bay movies including The Rock (1996) and Pearl Harbor (2001), has a special gift for contrast, and in the film’s numerous nighttime sequences (particularly the climactic battle in which Spider-Man tries to stop the Lizard from spreading a toxin across the whole of New York City) he achieves the cinematic equivalent of the shiny pages of a newly printed graphic novel. And, while I could have done without the first-person perspective of Spider-Man swinging through the glass-and-steel canyons of the city (an approach that works well for theme-park rides, but not so much here, even in IMAX), overall The Amazing Spider-Man sustains an impressive sense of wonderment—which is quite possibly the best quality of a superhero movie.
|The Amazing Spider-Man Blu-Ray + DVD + Ultraviolet Combo Pack|
|The Amazing Spider-Man is also available in a four-disc combo pack that include a Blu-Ray 3D presentation of the film.|
|Subtitles||English, Chinese, French, Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai|
|Distributor||Sony Pictures Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||November 9, 2012|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The Amazing Spider-Man is presented in a genuinely stunning 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer on a BD-50 disc, with maximum bit-rate dedicated to the film since virtually all of the supplements are housed on a second Blu-Ray disc. (I cannot comment on the quality of the 3D presentation since the screener I received did not have a 3D Blu-Ray included). The image is absolutely pristine (the film was shot digitally, and it has a slight digital sheen to it), with the kind of crisp, ultra-sharp detail that truly brings the image to life. The film has a wide range of visual palettes, from the relatively bland interiors of Peter Parker’s high school, to the gleaming high-tech labs of Oscorp, to the dank, shadowy bowels of the city’s sewer system, all of which are rendered beautifully. I was especially impressed with the visual quality of the film’s climax, which takes place at night but also features a lot of sharp colors and reflective surfaces that are as sharply rendered as the blacks are inky dark (the standout quality of the contrast is absolutely crucial here). The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround soundtrack is likewise impressive, with fantastic immersion via the surround speakers and a thundering low end that give the fights between Spider-Man and the Lizard a true sense of weight and presence. James Horner’s musical score sounds rich and full, and dialogue is always crisp and clear.|
|With the exception of the informative audio commentary by director Marc Webb and producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach, all of the special features are housed on a second Blu-Ray disc, and once you get into them, you can see why. We start with Rites of Passage: The Amazing Spider-Man Reborn, a nearly two-hour documentary that is composed of seven featurettes: “The Drawing Board: Development and Direction,” “Friends and Enemies: Casting,” “Second Skins: Spidey Suit and the Lizard,” “Spidey Goes West: Production—Los Angeles,” “Safe Haven: Production—Sony Studios,” “Bright Tights, Big City: Production—New York,” and “The Greatest Responsibility: Post Production and Release.” This documentary includes a ton of pre-production and production footage, as well as interviews with just about every human being associated with the production, both in front of and behind the camera. This disc also includes a stunning 16 pre-visualization sequences, 11 deleted scenes that constitute nearly 17 minutes, an extensive production art gallery, and raw video of stunt rehearsals. |
The Second Screen App, which allows viewers can use to engage with key elements from the film while watching it on Blu-Ray, includes two interactive modes: Timeline and Production. In Timeline Mode, scene-specific trivia, featurettes, storyboards, interviews, and other content scroll across your tablet in time with the movie. In Production Mode, you can explore different areas of the production process (Filmmakers, Story, Design, Cast, Location and Stunts, among others). When synced with the Blu-ray, you can “sling” selected content from the tablet to the television screen to watch it in full HD.
Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Sony Pictures Home Entertainment