Amazing Spider-Man (2D), The (US - BD)
Gabe watches Peter Parker's categorically adequate return to film...
Teenage social outcast Peter (Andrew Garfield) spends his days trying to unravel the mystery of his own past and win the heart of his high school crush, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). A mysterious briefcase belonging to his father, who abandoned him when he was a child, leads Peter to his dad’s former partner, Dr. Connors. The discovery of his father's secret will ultimately shape his destiny of becoming ‘Spider-Man’ and bring him face to face with Connors' villainous alter ego, the Lizard. (From Sony’s official synopsis)
Sam Raimi had a mostly good run on his three Spider-Man movies. There’s been quite a bit of retrospective backlash heaped upon his original 2002 film, much of it in the wake of the messy third film, but I wholeheartedly disagree with the sentiment. Spider-Man remains one of the most buoyant and entertaining of the post- X-Men superhero films, and is structurally the smoothest of the popular origin story motifs that have proliferated ever since. There’s very little halving of the plot between the everyman’s (boy’s?) journey to herohood and the action movie thrust of his ‘first adventure,’ unlike, say, Batman Begins, Iron Man, Captain America, and just about every other mostly successful superhero movie, where the origin and ‘first adventure’ are sharply divided between two disparate sections. The Green Goblin’s costume may have been a little stupid-looking and some of the effects work a bit ropey, but Raimi and screenwriter David Koepp got that origin story down pat. There’s absolutely no reason to revisit it. The only more unnecessary revisiting of a superhero’s origin story would be Superman’s and there’s no way any filmmaker would possibly make that mistake (cough, cough).
Yet here we are, a mere decade since that perfect origin story to ‘first adventure’ ratio and we’re starting all the way from scratch with Marc Webb’s made-in-committee, creative voice-less Amazing Spider-Man. Did Spider-Man need a reboot? I enjoyed at least half of the mostly reviled third movie in Raimi’s series and even I tend to think it was time to move on (in a perfect world, Spider-Man 3 would’ve been given the time to be two movies and some of its biggest narrative and thematic lapses could’ve been avoided), but there’s still absolutely no reason to re-tell the origin story from the ground up, wasting a huge swath of this new film’s runtime on a whole load of stuff we already know. Changing the story a little doesn’t even matter (much of it was taken from some of the less beloved comics and, strangely, Ang Lee’s Hulk), nor does Peter’s more obsessive and proactive approach in his hero’s journey – it still comes down to more footage of a guy discovering powers and screaming ‘woo!’ a whole lot while finding his moral compass. There’s not even any ‘web-slinging’ until 50 minutes into the movie. The Incredible Hulk and Punisher: War Zone both did fine jobs retelling the lead characters’ origin stories with changes during the opening credits and in brief flashback, respectively (the quality from there is up for argument, but I seriously doubt anyone in the audience was confused). The only reason Batman Begins gets away with retelling Batman’s origin is the fact that it had never been told directly on film. Well, unless you count Mask of the Phantasm. But most people didn’t see that (tsk, tsk). The Batman brand was also in a deep shame spiral at the time and, no matter what you think about the overall quality of Spider-Man 3, it made more money at the domestic box-office than either of the other two already popular films in Raimi’s trilogy.
I want to reiterate that I’m not acting as a Raimi fanboy that needed an additional movie in the original series. I agree with the producers, for the most part, that there weren’t many places to take his version of the characters. Spider-Man 3 was also insanely, stupidly expensive and a whole lot of that money was spent on the cast’s and Raimi’s paychecks. A reboot made sense and so did a stylistic change. Webb mimicking Raimi’s aesthetic would’ve been a mistake. I also get the impulse to go ‘darker’ with the material, following the wild success of The Dark Knight, even though I think it’s wrong for the character (there are rumours that Sony opted to change the film’s colour grading to something more vibrant after the far less serious The Avengers made a box office mint). The problem is that Webb and the producers (who, for all intents and purposes, really were the ‘filmmakers’ as I understand it, much like the travesty called X-Men Origins: Wolverine) got way too wrapped up in being ‘dark’ and missed the opportunity to make up for one of Raimi’s most undeniable shortcomings in adapting Spider-Man/Peter Parker to the big screen – he still isn’t very funny. They tossed a few more quips into the mix, but, if anything, Peter is even more mopey and despondent here than he was in Raimi’s already excessively watery-eyed, frowny-faced portrayals.
I still haven’t seen former music video superstar Webb’s first film, (500)Days of Summer, so I don’t really have much of an opinion on his directing abilities outside of this film. It doesn’t mean much, since I have little confidence of his creative voice even appearing here, but he’s certainly a capable button-pusher. He’s very good with actors and his action work is usually pretty crisp, aside from the herky-jerky, nausea inducing P.O.V. shots. The school fight is downright great and a rare case of this production capturing the unadulterated joy I prefer from my Spider-Man franchises (it’s entirely possible that a lion’s share of credit is due to second unit director Vic Armstrong, who directed second unit action for Gangs of New York, War of the Worlds, the original Total Recall, and a number of James Bond films over the years). I’m not clear on why everything needs to be quite so consistently dark, but as inappropriate noir adaptations go, this is one of the better looking ones (is it ever plain old ‘daytime’ in New York or is it always sometime between dusk and dawn?). At times, I felt like I was watching David Fincher’s version of Spider-Man, which makes sense – Webb took Andrew Garfield from The Social Network, so he might as well snag a technical element or two along with him. Webb’s visual control is pretty well-maintained throughout, but his pacing is all over the place. Some of this is a case of the script having so much more story than it needs (origin story again), but plenty can still be blamed on bad storytelling choices on his part.
Raimi’s films were very well cast. We all grew a bit tired of Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco in those roles, but they worked very, very well for that first movie, and pretty, pretty well for the even more well-received second movie. However, if there’s one thing about The Amazing Spider-Man that stands above Raimi’s original, it is the cast (other than special effects and that’s just a case of technological advances). The differences aren’t massive, but Webb did very well by hiring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone and I actually look forward to seeing more of them in sequels. Unfortunately, the version of Spider-Man/Peter Parker on the page isn’t nearly as relatable or likeable as Maguire’s and Garfield is forced to spend his considerable talents on a boorish, unlikable superhero. I can only assume this is the reboot character’s version of ‘growing pains’ and that he’ll be a little less Junior Batman next time around. I’m most torn between Webb and Raimi’s films when it comes to Peter’s relationship with Uncle Ben and Aunt May. This is perhaps the best example of The Amazing Spider-Man actually doing something different and succeeding on its own terms. Martin Sheen and Sally Field aren’t necessarily better than Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris – they’re enjoyable in a different way. Hell, I’ll even give Webb and company the edge for the better, more crushing, and more thematically relevant Uncle Ben death scene, which counts for a lot when the entire audience knows exactly what is going to happen.
As a nerd (which is the absolutely worst place to come from, critically speaking), I’m actually more disappointed by the treatment of Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard. Raimi’s films arguably spent too much effort making the villains sympathetic, even changing long-standing character traits to make them less evil and more tragic (Dr. Octopus and The Sandman don’t really represent their comic book counterparts, though; I’d call their underdeveloped version of Venom an improvement on almost every level). It was time for another villain as joyfully nasty as Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin. In an effort to not repeat Raimi’s villains, the filmmakers here chose fan-favourite The Lizard – the most consistently sympathetic/tragic villain in Spider-Man’s gallery – and turned him into self-obsessed, single-minded jerk. Not just a jerk, but a jerk that reminds me a lot of a sub-standard, poor man’s version of Dafoe’s Goblin. It makes sense, because both Connors and the Goblin’s alter-ego Norman Osborn have acted as mentors/father-figures to Peter throughout the comics, but why cast someone as talented as Rhys Ifans to play such a flat version of a multi-layered, Jekyll and Hyde analogue? And why give him such a lame, nonsensical plan? Didn’t someone think to tell him that Magneto had already tried the same thing in the first X-Men movie? And why does he look like a Goomba warrior from Super Mario Bros.?
Before they even agreed on a storyline, director, or cast, Sony had already decided that The Amazing Spider-Man was going to be a digital 3D release. This became a central part of the advertising campaign, including an early teaser trailer that was almost nothing but a 3D show-reel. Webb and cinematographer John Schwartzman shot their movie using RED Epic digital HD cameras at a super high 5k resolution, ensuring it could be expanded and shown in IMAX theaters without a loss of detail. Not surprisingly, this 2D, 1080p, 2.40:1 transfer (the image does not expand to 1.78:1 for the IMAX shots) does not disappoint. Webb and Schwartzman shroud a lot of the movie in darkness (the raw footage from the behind the scenes footage appears to verify that the film was darkened in post). I’d argue unnecessarily so, but the RED format’s abilities with smooth gradations and super-sharp highlights ensure the important details aren’t lost. I worry that a standard definition release would lose some of the finest details, specifically those spider webs, would be missing altogether. I also worry more that the shade of 3D glasses would make 90% of the film indiscernible, but I’m unable to verify that one. Occasionally, the darkness and shallow focus practices make for kind of mushy backgrounds, but this is obviously not a problem with the transfer, but rather, a problem with filmmakers that weren’t very interested in background texture. The intricate, deep-black cityscapes are a good contrast anyway and positively swimming in complex detail without any major signs of digital noise or sharpening effects. Spider-Man’s theme colours of blue and red are the most outstanding in terms of consistent vibrancy and contrast the otherwise earth-toned palette quite nicely, along with a few more poppy elements, like pinks and yellows. Colour blends are fluid, the more aggressive hues are tightly separated, and the impressionistic shadows are good and sharp.
In other non-news, this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is outstanding. The mix is appropriately subtle when dialogue is concerned, creating a busy environment that doesn’t overtake the words or constant musical presence. At worst, the quality is a bit dulled by a bewildering amount of canned effects (yet no Wilhelm?). Bigger aural moments include the obvious action sequences and representations of Peter’s hyper-attuned senses (I like the changes made to the ‘Spidey sense’ and webbing ‘thwip’ effects in order to keep this series aurally separate from Raimi’s series).There’s a lot of directional enhancement in web-slinging scenes and an especially aggressive use of the surround and stereo channels during the Spider-Man vs. Lizard battles, many of which take place amidst crashing metal rubble that shakes the hell out of the subwoofer channel. The obvious demo piece, though, is the bit where Peter sets web traps to alert him to Connors’ presence in the sewer and the twang of the webs subtly rattle throughout the room. James Horner had some huge shoes to fill with this musical score. Both Danny Elfman and Christopher Young supplied memorable and emotionally stirring music for the Raimi trilogy (surprisingly, I find myself arguing that Young’s Spider-Man 3 score may be the better of the three). But he’s James Horner, he’s easily in the same class as both Elfman and Young, and he doesn’t disappoint. This sweeping, dramatic, and yes, emotionally stirring score is often too good for the film that represents it. The score mixes traditional symphonic motifs, punchy percussion, and more delicate electronic work, which is given a lot of direction breadth throughout the track. Webb’s pop music choices are a little less graceful and painfully on-the-nose, but are given a proper surround and LFE treatment.
This packed two-disc release begins with a commentary track from director Marc Webb and producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach. Webb, who is recorded separately from the producers, is calm, collected, and his tone is warm enough to maintain the film’s excessive length. He’s good at crediting the proper parties for their contributions, he conveys his intentions for the franchise (though it often sounds like he’s justifying starting from scratch, rather than offering a genuinely good reason for it), compares the subject matter to occasionally unlikely literary sources, and is generally more concerned with thematic expression than deleted scenes or technical elements. He runs out of steam a few times, but there’s not an excess of long pauses. Arad and Tolmach are more about narrating on-screen action or talking up the film as if they’re involved in a press tour. They basically have nothing interesting to add and the track would probably have been better without them, since they rarely fill Webb’s blank space anyway. The in-film experience continues with a second screen app that doesn’t seem to work on laptops. I don’t have a tablet, so I’ll just assume this is similar to the one that accompanied The Avengers disc.
Disc two begins with Rite of Passage: The Amazing Spider-Man Reborn (1:50:50, HD), a somewhat deluded, but well-made, five-part behind the scenes documentary. The first part, Drawing Board, covers the stalling of Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 (no one mentions money and pretends that it was an important narrative choice, rather than a case of keeping the product going), writing the script, hiring Webb, and developing characters. Friends and Enemies covers the casting process, including screen tests. Second Skins covers the costume, make-up and creature design. Spidey Goes West covers the production design, stunts, set construction, and location shooting in LA, while Safe Haven covers much of the same stuff as filmed at the Sony Studios stages, and Bright Tights, Big City covers the limited New York shoots. The Greatest Responsibility covers post-production, including editing, digital effects, music, sound design, and release. Interview subjects include Webb, Arad, Tolmach, producer Laura Ziskin, screenwriter James Vanderbilt, costume designer Kim Barrett, co-creator Stan Lee, specialty costumer Joseph Richard Collins, production designer J. Michael Riva, make-up designer Ve Neill, creature designer N.C. Page Buckner, location manager Mike Fantasia, second unit director Vic Armstrong, stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong, set decorator Leslie A. Pope, special (physical) effects supervisor Jim Schwalm, (digital) effects supervisors Jerome Chen and David A. Smith, additional animation supervisor David Schaub, prop master Andrew Seigal, B camera operator David Luckenbach, stunt tech Tyler Barrett, composer James Horner, cinematographer John Schwartzman, editors Alan Edward Bell and Michael McCusker, and actors Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Sally Field, C. Thomas Howell, Jake Ryan Keiffer and Irrfan Khan.
Disc two continues with eleven deleted/extended/alternate scenes (16:50, HD), most of which could’ve probably been put back, in lieu of the pointless origin stuff to fill out the characters a bit better. The most interesting of these scenes is one that explains the disappearance of one of the film’s villains and hints at Sony’s originally planned/rumoured changes to the origin story (via Ang Lee’s Hulk, it seems). The extras are completed with sixteen pre-viz/storyboard sequences (39:10, HD), three image galleries, four image progression reels, eight stunt rehearsal footage reels (11:50, SD), and Developing The Amazing Spider-Man Video Game featurette (3:30, HD).
There’s a big moment in The Amazing Spider-Man where the people of New York are given a chance to help the title character along his hero’s journey, seemingly in an effort to evoke the ‘you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us’ moment towards the end of Raimi’s original film (this seems hokey in retrospect, but was exactly what audiences reeling from 9/11 wanted and elicited cheers from the audience the first time I saw the film in theaters). The sentiment is right on and the set-up is borderline brilliant, but so much of the film is wasted on laying the same narrative track already seen a decade ago, that there’s little context and thus no emotional impact. The irony being, of course, that there were already three films worth of context the filmmakers could’ve been working from, had they not made the choice to start from scratch with the series. There’s a good movie in here somewhere. The cast is great and the director does much better with the action than I would’ve ever imagined, given his short track record. Perhaps now that they’ve gotten this retread out of the way, the production will move onto some something genuinely great next time around. Those millions of folks that liked The Amazing Spider-Man more than me are in for a treat, however. This Blu-ray features a fantastic HD transfer, a dynamic DTS-HD MA soundtrack, and a whole lot of extra material, including a feature-length making-of documentary.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 9th November 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, French and Portuguese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Mandarin, Spanish, Thai and English Audio Descriptive Track
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Indonesian/Bahasa, Korean, Portuguese and Thai
Extras: Director and Producers Commentary, Second Screen App, Rite of Passage: The Amazing Spider-Man Reborn, Deleted Scenes. Pre-Visualization Sequences, Progression Reels, Stunt Rehearsals, Production Art Gallery, DVD Copy, UltraViolet Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Campbell Scott, Irrfan Khan, Martin Sheen, Sally Field
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy and Drama
Length: 136 minutes