Too soon? I'll admit to more than my fair share of sour grapes when it was announced that Sam Raimi's 'Spider-Man 4' wasn't to be, despite the finished script, when Sony decided to reboot a franchise not even ten years old. Raimi's trilogy wasn't exactly the best, nor did it perfectly capture any of the characters, and, well, the third film was an atrocity (with blame being shared with the studio for shoe-horning extra villains to try to sell tickets...), but it was beyond successful (1.1 billion dollars in domestic earnings, including numerous records at the time of their releases). It was familiar. In fact, the plans for the fourth film would have finally paid off a long-running tease, with Dylan Baker's role as Curt Connors in the second and third film hinting at the film appearance of one of Spider-Man's oldest foes, the Lizard.
So, with this reboot, we would bid Raimi adieu, along with Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco ("sooo good"), the late Cliff Robertson, three shades of Bruce Campbell, and the perfectly cast Rosemary Harris and J.K. Simmons. Usurping the iconic Raimi and his wealth of experience would come a man with only one feature film credit to his name, as Marc Webb was selected after his work on the romantic-comedy '(500) Days of Summer.' Real-life couple Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone would replace the somewhat hammy, over-the-top (and somewhat over-aged for their roles) Maguire and Dunst, and Rhys Ifans would get the role Baker had been primed for. I can't say that I was exactly excited to see the finished product, and it took me some time to get used to this new image, especially after years and years of repeat viewings of the original trilogy.
The 'Spider-Man' franchise took a step back, financially, providing the lowest domestic earnings (including inflation and 3D ticket pricing) of any film in the saga by almost $100 million, but took a brave step forward by going back to retread an origin story we all know, while defying the odds and creating a truly inspired film that captures the spirit of the characters in a way we've never seen before. Growing pains, warts and all, 'The Amazing Spider-Man' is worthy of the title, both the adjective and the full name of the original comic series from 1963.
In a clever mixture of modernization and respect for the well-known past, 'The Amazing Spider-Man' lays the foundation for what may be a spectacular series. The character of Peter Parker (Garfield) isn't as much of a high school reject as we once knew. He's a bit more troubled, though grounded and generally more an outcast by his own doing, an introvert who focuses on his studies and extra-curricular activities. After discovering some of his father's secret genetic formulas in a long-forgotten bag, Parker sneaks his way into a group of potential Oscorp interns as a way to meet Dr. Connors (Ifans), their head geneticist and former family friend. It's on this tour that Parker winds up where he shouldn't be, and gets bitten by a spider (a bio-engineered one, not one exposed to radiation), only to discover his own DNA is altered by the accident, giving him greater speed, agility, the ability to stick to walls, and a sense that warns him of incoming danger.
That's where the similarities to 'Spider-Man' end for the most part. While Uncle Ben (Sheen) still meets his demise by the bullet of a fleeing criminal, the set-up is changed enough to feel like real New York. The origins of the costume are no longer cartoony, and the wrestling match that was found both in the comic and the 2002 film no longer even exists, though an homage to said origin is done in very classy fashion. Most importantly, the true origins for Spider-Man are made more mature. As Peter seeks out his uncle's killer, he comes across numerous thugs fitting the description, and decides to hide his identity after a close-call. His numerous attempts and failures to locate the fiend also leave him with a police rap sheet that makes the "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man" seem more like a menace, a petty thug than anything else, who has caught the attention of Captain Stacy (Dennis Leary). It's through this identity, as Peter struggles with loss through anger, that a hero is born, while a villain is also hatched, as Connors' quest to regenerate his missing limb causes him to become his own test subject, with disastrous results. The newly coined Spider-Man now has a chance to do right for his wrongs, as the city needs a hero to combat a reptilian menace.
'The Amazing Spider-Man' works, it really does. When the film begins, we're introduced to a young Peter and his parents for the briefest of moments, to establish loss, and really drive home his living situation with Aunt May and Uncle Ben. From here, we have the outcast rather than the nerd, and establish his awkward relationship of sorts with Gwen Stacy (Stone), which directly ties in to the Oscorp segment that puts the film in motion. This film, unlike the 2002 version, seeks to keep Peter Parker in high school, as the innocence of the character, his naivety and euphoria over being "born again," as it were, works far better as a dependent minor than as an adult making his way in the big city all by his lonesome. While segments like the humiliation of Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka) are present in a different fashion, we're mostly given a different Peter, one that younger audiences can relate to more. More specifically, he doesn't spout out dialogue that sounds like it's straight out of 'Pleasantville.'
Once Peter is bitten by the cross-species spider (remember, no radiation...), the story takes off, and we're given a new vision, one that shows great respect to the origins of old with slight retouches that add a bit of modernism and believability to the character. The sequence featuring the discovery of powers, and the odd fascination and bewilderment, becomes an action set piece. The technology of Oscorp plays its hand a few times in the film, most importantly when their material is stolen by Peter to help create his iconic webshooters, following the original path of the comics, opening the door for some real danger when disabled or empty. More importantly, the webslinging isn't some talent that Peter instantly masters, as we see pratfalls along the way, even in the most dire of situations, lending more reality and urgency to the film. As the character that is to be Spider-Man emerges, we see the little bits of Peter's personality infused in the character, most noticeably in the smart-assed, sarcastic banter that shows the ego of the kid behind the mask. We see him struggling with his powers, and not just in some stupid cafeteria mishap, as Peter regularly forgets his newfound strength and destroys objects he didn't mean to. Heck, he even comes home bloodied and bruised from his odd little adventures, adding a sense of realism to the happenings.
What's really interesting about 'The Amazing Spider-Man' is the way it makes Connors a character that we come to know and understand, more than we do Uncle Ben in his limited time. This seems awkward, but I felt it made more sense, since the 2002 iteration seemed like it was a film divided into distinct chapters, rather than maintaining a steady flow and story. We don't have lengthy transformation sequences for the villain, as story is the focus rather than effects, and it works, helping keep this extraordinary story grounded in realism rather than going off the fantasy deep end. The villain, who seems like a bit of the ol' Jekyll and Hyde, is one we care for, and his path mirrors Parker's from loss to gain, though it is twisted in a more tragic manner.
'The Amazing Spider-Man' came about for all the wrong reasons (the fear of the property being reabsorbed into Marvel's cinematic universe, wrestled away from Sony), but proves to be just the right kind of film for the character. I'm more than a little dismayed at how poor an Aunt May Sally Fields proves to be, but the rest of the cast really do sell their performances and characters, in some cases making us forget all about the past films. By the time the film ended, I found myself thankful rather than upset with losing Maguire's somewhat dopey Peter Parker and the prospect of a film featuring Baker as the lead villain, as Garfield and Ifans truly embody the characters. I'm now anxious for 2014, even if it means I have to stare at Garfield's ridiculous hair again for two hours. This reboot was worth it, and I can't believe I'm saying that.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Amazing Spider-Man' comes to Blu-ray 3D across a four disc set: a BD50 3D disc, a BD50 2D disc, a BD50 supplements disc, and a DVD, with all the Blu-rays sporting Region A/B/C playback capabilities. This release comes packaged in a slightly fatter than normal clear case, with each disc showing the image of one of the film's main characters. The 3D disc found in this set does not include 2D playback capabilities. This version of 'The Amazing Spider-Man' also has a few alternate editions, like a Best Buy steelbook case or a Target exclusive fifth disc, which was not provided to us for this review.
The Blu-ray 3D disc for 'The Amazing Spider-Man' comes with a 1080p/MVC encode in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. While a few films in this ratio have seen their Blu-ray 3D releases cropped or open matted to fill the more modern 1.78:1 television frame, the few that remain in the more modern "widescreen" ratio have had their benefits, like 'G-Force,' which saw images break past the standard picture frame into the black bars atop and below the film. I mention this, because, sadly, that doesn't happen here. This disc is solid, technically, presenting an already gorgeous film so that its beauty isn't lost or faded, but due to the somewhat limited 3D use, the pop for the picture in this natively 3D flick isn't anywhere near as impressive as even some more modern converted titles, and the lack of scenes designed to take advantage of the enhanced picture depth is greatly concerning.
For the most part, the 3D effects on this disc are minor. More to the point, they're subtle, not in your face, adding only the tiniest bit of layering to even the most infinitely deep shots on the NYC streets. "Coming at you" effects are kept to a bare minimum, save for a moment the second before the end credits run, almost coming across as an apology or concession to throw in at least one "neat" moment. The web-slinging segments, particularly the crane scene, with their frenetic movement and whooshing camera (moving through a CG environment) are among the highlights of this disc in terms of 3D use, while I personally enjoyed the computer displays in Oscorp that felt as futuristic as a company of that sort should. The most impressive shot of the film, the one that screams 3D, is somewhat brief, and may slip right past viewers, due to the fact that the first car thrown off the bridge by the Lizard is impressively done, showing us the true scope of the size of the vehicle, before abandoning that visual feast to give us more lame, languid shots. It's kind of shameful when the gym sequence ranks in the top five best looking scenes in the film, and bizarre when the moment Peter is reading atop his roof is more impressive in terms of depth than any moment when he's atop a skyscraper...sadly, that's the case.
The picture quality from the 2D disc is maintained here, and there's only the tiniest bit of information lost due to the darkness provided by active shudder lenses. Stray hairs still leap amazingly, minute detail remains a marvel, and textures are gorgeous. Some small new issues pop up, though. A few shots feel a little more digital, with the added bonus of smaller sharper edges leading to some very minor aliasing. Ghosting is not an issue on this disc, as only a couple of shots proved to be problematic, mostly with nighttime shots of the city, with the lights in the buildings in the deepest layer drawing the eye. But, honestly, if this film had any more depth to it, I could and would imagine this particular issue would be more prominent.
This 3D disc looks good. Honestly and truly, it remains a visual feast in terms of picture detail. Picture depth, though, may leave some unfulfilled. This disc isn't to blame for the limitations of the film, which I'd pin on Webb, who isn't as keen a director when it comes to entrancing the audience with visuals. Most directors give us amazing shots and really work the cameras when filming natively in 3D, and that just isn't the case here.
'The Amazing Spider-Man' has a fantastic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Really, it's swell. It just isn't as overpowering, attention grabbing, or even as system testing as I'd expect from a tent pole franchise. I like the warm, in your face dialogue, the amazing localization and movement effects that keep us in the midst of Spidey's actions, and I was really wowed by how much work was put into making web-slinging not just a visual aspect of the film, with swoops through channels accented by bass that sells the speed the action takes place at. The gunfire in the film is top notch, too, and the action sequences really are designed like miniature masterpieces. But, and this is a big but, this disc lacks something, that presence that keeps you engaged at all times. Not only is the subwoofer used somewhat sparingly, the score and soundtrack (ugh, the soundtrack...) don't grip from the rear channels, and environments aren't anywhere near as busy as one would expect from the most populated city in America. Yes, atop the skyscrapers we get a slight authentic busyness that's to be appreciated, but it's rare in this film, that enveloping effect that really puts you in the moment. That's something that only the best sounding discs do.
It's worth noting that there are a few dub and sub options from the 2D release that do not find their way onto the 3D disc. The list of tracks and subtitles on the sidebar for this review reflect those found on the 3D disc.
The way extras are sorted on the various 'The Amazing Spider-Man' discs isn't quite as cut and dry as one would think, considering some features are also found on DVD. The shared extras are spread across the film disc and the bonus disc, the exclusive extras are primarily found on the bonus disc (though the bonus viewing mode is on the main disc), and the 3D edition has its own exclusive.
Three viewings in now, I am finding more and more reasons to enjoy 'The Amazing Spider-Man,' and less reason to gripe and complain about the way Raimi was removed from the franchise. This reboot happened way too soon, and there's no denying that, but this film ended up so much better than I anticipated, that I'm dreading revisiting the original trilogy. This Blu-ray 3D package includes all the discs from the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, and throws in a fourth, which will not be my go to for viewing this film in the future. The 3D isn't as involved as it could have been, and while the picture remains gorgeous, to call this a demo disc for its format would be a joke. Recommended for 3D fans, but depending on your preferences, the 2D Blu-ray release may be the way to go.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.