A lot of people—probably none so much as Tobey Maguire, who played Peter Parker/Spidey in the first three films from Sam Raimi—raised their eyebrows when Sony announced that “The Amazing Spider-Man” was going to be a reboot rather than a sequel.
I mean, what’s the point? Someone who saw Raimi’s “Spider-Man” at age 10 still isn’t legally an adult, so it’s not as if it needed to be redone or updated for a new generation.
As for faithfulness to the comic books, all four Spider-Man films walk that line like a drunk taking a sobriety test. In the reboot from Marc Webb—Did the director of “(500) Days of Summer” get the job because of his name?—Peter isn’t a freelance photographer for The Daily Bugle, there’s no sputtering J. Jonah Jameson, and while the monstrous villain is a lizard, it’s not the Chameleon from the first comic book. So the reboot isn’t exactly a set-the-record-straight attempt, either.
Likewise, though there have been advances in CGI, the action scenes in the first three films weren’t bad enough to warrant an overhaul. So why the reboot?
Maybe Sony drew inspiration from Christopher Nolan’s reboot of “Batman,” with Nolan wading into waters made murky by Michael Keaton (“Tim Burton’s Batman”), Val Kilmer (“Batman Forever”), and George Clooney (“Batman & Robin”) and paddling off with Christian Bale in his own, darker direction.
That’s kind of what this feels like—or at least an attempt to be darker. Peter Parker, while not a delinquent, has a bad boy streak in him that’s evident, even though he’s bullied at school. He’ll stand up to the bullies because he’s no doubt seen “Cool Hand Luke” or “Rebel without a Cause.” Andrew Garfield’s Parker is more brooding, more reckless, less wholesome and wide-eyed, but his sarcasm does come closer to the wise-cracking comic-book hero than Maguire ever managed. And how much of rebel is he? Garfield’s Parker doesn’t even care if people see him without a mask!
So while I approached this film as everyone else did—with skepticism—I found myself quickly thinking that Webb’s reboot, though not the complete retooling that Nolan’s “Batman Begins” was, was still an enjoyable superhero action film. Garfield is engaging in the title role, and you can’t do any better for the boy’s aunt and uncle than veterans like Sally Field and Martin Sheen. It adds an interesting dimension, too, to have Denis Leary playing police Captain Stacy, Gwen’s disapproving dad, and to have Rhys Ifans supplying both back story and soon-to-be-nemesis as the former research partner of genetic mutation scientist Richard Parker, Peter’s dad who disappeared when he was just a four year old.
We see less of Parker in school and more of him as Spider-Man in this reboot, while Mary Jane Watson, the character played by Kirsten Dunst in Raimi’s version, doesn’t appear at all. The emphasis is all on Parker’s evolution into a superhero and his ill-fated relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).
Webb gets carried away with the swinging through the asphalt jungle scenes, and it grows a little tiresome once he’s already established that Garfield’s Parker is the kind of guy who’ll jump off a building trusting that his web shooter will work, and if not, oh well. Those long sequences—especially one that serves as an epilogue—border on the tedious and actually slow the film down, despite the action. And let’s talk about that. The battle between Spider-Man and The Lizard is okay, but as Leary’s character quips, “Do I look like the mayor of Tokyo?” As monsters go, this one seems uninspired, with a face that looks more like The Thing and a range of motion that doesn’t push the envelope enough beyond the Toho lizards or Ray Harryhausen’s Ymir.
Still, the story and Garfield are engaging, there’s some nifty CGI work to create the lizard transformations, and apart from the slow-downs “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a respectable entry into the Marvel superhero genre—which is maybe way Stan Lee, in his customary cameo, was in such high spirits tripping out over cheery music. It will be interesting to see where Webb and his writers take “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which is in pre-production now and scheduled for 2014 release.
One surprise is that there aren’t more break-the-plane objects coming at you. You’d think that with all that web action a few more would make the audience duck or wince, but that’s not the case. In fact, there’s nearly as much depth of field in the 2D Blu-ray. That said, the level of detail is superb in both formats, and there are no “reveals” to be found in close-ups—that is, no CGI or make-up secrets exposed. The strongest scenes in 3D are the web swinging, not slinging, scenes. As for the MVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50GB disc, I saw no serious concerns. There was a brief stoppage at one point and one slight episode of banding, but other than that the transfer was a good one. Same with the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer on the 2D Blu-ray.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen.
Another surprise is that Sony didn’t go with a 7.1 soundtrack, offering instead an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio with options in French or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. That said, the 5.1 soundtrack does more than its job. It creates a dynamic sound field that isn’t just noise. There’s a directional logic constantly at work, and that makes up for two speakers lying fallow. The LFE channel is a real presence, though it doesn’t rumble quite as much as you’d expect with an action film like this. Still, it’s an effective soundtrack that adds to the viewing experience—as does James Horner’s score, vibrantly reproduced here.
So many releases have gone with fewer bonus features that it’s almost startling to encounter one that includes a second Blu-ray disc full of supplementary materials. There are really too many to describe, but let’s start with a summary of what’s here: a 3D disc of the film, a 2D disc, a DVD, a second Blu-ray full of extras, and a UV Copy in attractive packaging with a 3D lenticular cover and the discs housed on plastic pages inside a slightly oversized keep case that’s tucked into a slipcase.
On the 3D disc there’s an illuminating featurette (6 min.) on how 3D photography works, though the asynchronous sound is a distraction. An even briefer (2 min.) 3D image progression real is included, presided over by additional animation supervisor David Schaub. But the substantial bonus feature is the audio commentary from Webb and his producers, Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach, who talk about the rebooting thought-process and challenges. Usually the commentaries appear only on the 2D version, but with this release it’s on both HD copies. It’s a better-than-average commentary that includes subtitle options (English, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai).
On the 2D disc, in addition to the commentary and Sony trailers there’s a Second Screen Experience for the jittery generation so they can watch the movie while they fiddle with content on their iPad or Sony tablet—but of course it requires a wi-fi connection. It features the kind of things that previously would have been included on PIP pop-up tracks.
The bulk of the bonus features are on the second Blu-ray disc, which again offers subtitles (and a ton more): English, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian, Spanish, Thai, and Turkish.
The big feature is a close to two-hour seven-part documentary that discusses every aspect of making the film. “The Drawing Board: Development and Direction” talks about the choice of Webb and the decisions made to set the reboot apart from the Raimi series. “Friends and Enemies: Casting” has a jazzier title than the feature turns out to be, but the basics are at least supplemented with some always-interesting audition tapes.
“Second Skins: Spidey Suit and The Lizard” talks about the costume design and prostheses used for both characters, while “Spidey Goes West: Production, Los Angeles” focuses on the stunt and location work. “Safe Haven: Production, Sony Studios” takes you to the sets for a behind-the-scenes look at the filming process. “Bright Tights, Big City: Production, New York” deals with the scenes shot in NYC, while “The Greatest Responsibility: Post Production and Release” focuses on the CGI work and editing.
Also included are 40 minutes of pre-vis storyboard sequences—15 of them—and four progression reels that show how the all-CGI scenes were composed. Then there are 17 minutes of deleted scenes, including “A Different Fate” and several that reveal more of Connors/The Lizard in character, an Oscorp Archives Production Art Gallery (three, actually: Spider-Man, The Lizard, Environments), a preview-teaser of The Amazing Spider-Man Video Game, and, one of my favorites, “Stunt Rehearsals”—12 minutes of real action work on the set that shows the set-up for the stunts as well.
So there’s more here than we usually get from feature films these days. And let’s not forget the Skippy Peanut Butter recipe for Spidery Cookies (which is really just a standard peanut butter cookie recipe with a suggestion for decorating them to look like spiders).
“The Amazing Spider-Man” isn’t as dramatically revisionist as Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins,” but it’s as good as Raimi’s first “Spider-Man” film and darker, while still being tongue-in-cheek. That’s a tough tone to master.