It seems many would like to know why there needs to be a re-boot of the Spiderman franchise, which might be bad news for the $2.5 million budgeted, The Amazing Spiderman. After all, the first and well-received entry by geek-fav director Sam Raimi came out a decade ago. That might seem like an acceptable buffer but for the extremely loved Spiderman 2 (2004) and the less-so, Spiderman 3 (2007). It recalls the reaction to the Ed Norton-starring The Incredible Hulk a mere 5-years after Ang Lee's, somewhat reviled, still great, Hulk.
The answer lies with the labyrinthine system of Marvel character rights, which sometimes dictates a film be made despite actual demand by audiences. So, being a film made out of corporate necessity and with a set of good-to-great recent predecessors, The Amazing Spiderman needed to at least rise to their bar of relevance -- because it's not re-inventing anything for a new generation.
So Andrew Garfield seemed a nice replacement for Toby MacGuire -- whose emo take on Parker in the original Spiderman was slightly annoying -- until Garfield's iteration turned Peter Parker into a mugging jerk. Based on his great performance as Eduardo Saverin in 2010's The Social Network, Garfield, along with Emma Stone as Gewn Stacy and Rhys Ifans as the Jekyll and Hyde-inspired, Dr. Curt Connors all spoke to exciting casting for a stratospherically budgeted re-imagining of a franchise not long in the collective rear-view mirror. Turns out, the cast is the best thing about The Amazing Spiderman.
Peter Parker (Garfield) is abandoned by his parents when his father, Richard Parker (Campbell Scott), a genetic scientist, is forced into hiding after the attempted theft of his research. Raised by his Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen and Sally Field), Peter becomes a nerdy, science loving, skate boarding pariah to any girl he's interested in, despite not showing much fear from the bullying Flash Thompson (Chris Zykla).
When Peter learns of a link between his father and Dr. Curt Connors and discovers a long-hidden bit of his father's research, he infiltrates Oscorp and befriends the brilliant scientist. Unfortunately, Connors' research has to do with blending animal and human genomes so as to eradicate death from disease or injury and allowing for limb regeneration. Noble though his quest is, Connors is usurped by his backer, Ratha (the awesomely monikered, Irrfan Khan) who is only interested in saving his dying father, which forces Connors to test the serum on himself.
Parker, looking for the other half of the research his father started, wanders into a room in Connors' lab, filled with genetically mutated spiders. You probably have an idea of where it goes from there, particularly since the marketing of The Amazing Spiderman gave away every possible plot point.
Director Mark Webb's television background hamstrings the pace of The Amazing Spiderman. There are many fine moments of character development and an admirable sense of judiciousness in the script (many of the creative eam from the Raimi films return here) that Webb renders in a fashion either clunky or dull. The film feels epically long considering the narrative, speaking to Webb's reticence to craft a more economical plot because spending a lot of time with these characters makes them more endearing. It kind of does, but it's totally forced.
Webb (no joke) relies on his action sequences and FX, both of which are top-of-the-line, quality 3-D, and of which his cast is ultimately the saving grace. I cared more about Curt Connors plight because of Rhys Ifans adept performance. Emma Stone excels at that perfect girlfriend, the charming replacement for Kirsten Dunst's sleepy MJ. Garfield is clearly giving his A-Game, though saddled with a darker, cyberpunk version of Peter Parker who isn't as likeable or well-written.
Peter Pecked. Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield in the latest take on the comic classic The Amazing Spider-Man.
The action set pieces of The Amazing Spiderman are impressive. Webb certainly goes for scope by the end -- i.e. skyline devastation -- and the parkour-esque fight sequences with Garfield, a slight man, are convincing and cool. The first-person shots of Spidey navigating the walls and rooftops are perfunctory fanwank to gamers, especially cheap since they feed an origin story no one needed again. Still, Garfield makes a good Young Bond, as Parker finds himself sucked into the mystery of his father's past.
It's only by the last 30-minutes that The Amazing Spiderman seems to pull together, with C. Thomas Howell inexplicably helping with a lot of vertigo, lizard fights and the film's most genuinely crowd pleasing moments. But, by then you will question what 134-minutes actually feels like.
Expectations are important. I had none from Seth MacFarlane.
Never having been a fan of his juggernaut animated series, The Family Guy -- a show that mostly sounds funnier than it really is -- it was with some surprise that the trailers for Ted, his feature directorial debut, made me laugh.
Avenue A. The star of Ted and a few of his "lady" friends in deep discusion.
Even more surprising, the film follows through. Like a weirder, funnier, smarter Sandler concept, Ted shoots for amiably low-brow laughs while crafting a unique, memorable, stoner comedy.
John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is an outcast kid with no friends. Given Ted, a cute teddy bear, for Christmas, John wishes that his new toy would come to life and be his best friend. Thanks to an errant shooting star, that's exactly what happens and the world is blown away by a walking, shit-talking toy bear with a Boston accent. But with acceptance, comes complacency.
Almost 30-years later, John and Ted are still Thunder Buddies, smoking weed and watching Flash Gordon because that's what you do on rainy days. Despite being in a dead-end rental car job, John inexplicably has a successful, down-to-Earth and utterly hot girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis) who has put up with his unambitious ass for four years, while fending off the advances of her entitled boss, Rex (Joel McHale).
Of course it all comes to a head when, on their anniversary, John does not propose to Lori. The choice between best friends, one toy and one devastatingly attractive human, becomes a quest for adulthood and a comedy of cringingly sympathetic errors. How can you not go to a party held by your sentient teddy bear best friend who's snorting coke with Flash Gordon (Sam Jones)? Not possible.
Surely, she'll understand.
With Ted, writer/director/star Seth MacFarlane channels his pop culture proclivities into a film that delights in its '80s nerdery, turning the tropes of a his concept into a warm-hearted comedy that miraculously defies suspension of disbelief -- elevated by a game Wahlberg and his chemistry with Kunis and a CG bear. While only 40-year olds will get that the dance sequence is ripped straight from Airplane! or really delight in his love of all things Spielberg, MacFarlane avoids, or tones down, most of the easy pop culture nods he's known for.
His directorial chops give Ted a distinct visual sense that bolsters some inspired storytelling twists and improbably funny moments (Giovanni Ribisi's Donny being one). And with its FUBU imagination, lighthearted characters and able storytelling, Ted is perhaps the funniest film yet of 2012.
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