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The Amazing Spider-Man

Rebooting a superhero series means once again going through an origin story. It’s the inevitable nature of the beast. But despite their narrative necessity, origin stories are generally frowned upon; audiences always seem to want to get to the action. I, however, like origin stories because they give our hero something to fight for. They put reasoning behind their actions other than the simple fact that evil is present. Usually they suffer through a life changing tragedy that gives them the will and motivation to fight. Origin stories set up the character for all that is come, making them the most interesting to watch, but The Amazing Spider-Man, coming so close to the end of Sam Raimi’s popular trilogy (only five years after the final installment), feels redundant. If there was ever a movie that had a been-there-done-that feel to it, it’s this one. In a time when most Marvel movies are setting new standards for what superhero movies can and should be, The Amazing Spider-Man falls far short.

Taking over the reins from Tobey Maguire is Andrew Garfield as the titular hero. Peter is still the nerdy kid we know him as and he’s still living with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). He has a little crush on Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a character different than Mary Jane in name only, who eventually reciprocates his feelings. One day after being bitten by an experimental spider, he is given amazing powers, including superhuman strength and the ability to climb up buildings using his fingertips and toes. In one of the only major narrative departures from the Raimi trilogy, he develops a durable web-like substance that he shoots out of a device attached to his wrist, thus rounding out his spider abilities and giving him a means to move about the city. His fun is short lived, however, when Uncle Ben is shot and killed by a fleeing robber, partially due to Peter’s unwillingness to do the right thing and stop him. Vowing revenge, he dons a suit and sets out to make him pay. His attention is soon diverted when a giant lizard begins running amok throughout the city. This lizard is the by-product of experiments with cross species genetics by scientist and former partner of Peter’s father, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), and he’s out to get rid of Spider-Man and infest the city with a deadly toxin that will turn them into hideous creatures.

And if you’re wondering, yes, Uncle Ben does give the “with great power comes great responsibility” speech, or at least a variation of it. Although restrained somewhat by the source material, The Amazing Spider-Man fails to find a voice of its own, from its redundant opening all the way to its clichéd “ticking clock” ending (where Spider-Man may or may not save the day at the very last second). It’s all so familiar, so conventional of your typical comic book movie that it’s hard to muster up the strength to care, partially because the script seems to forget why Peter’s fighting in the first place. By the end, Uncle Ben seems like an afterthought and his prophetic words forgotten. Yet it’s that tragedy that makes Spider-Man such a compelling character, so by throwing that to the wayside, you lose much of the film’s (and character’s) appeal.

Take the abandoned motivation out of the equation, however, and you have a movie that does at least one thing correctly: it builds its characters. In particular, Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy build a believable relationship (surely due to an off-screen budding romance between their real life counterparts) while the descent into madness by Dr. Connors isn’t rushed through, but rather approached with a deliberate pace. It nails everything that The Avengers did so poorly except the most important thing: the aforementioned lack of motivation. But where The Avengers suffered in character evolution and creating a team dynamic, it more than made up for with some incredible action (even if the team was separated too much of the time). The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t come remotely close to matching the awe inspired by that film, or many other recent comic book adaptations. The action is perfunctory in every sense of the word, both unenthusiastic and routine, seemingly there because it feels like it needs to be (aside from the climax, most of it is unnecessary, including a short lived scene where the Lizard bursts through a toilet in Peter’s school and starts attacking him).

Although character growth is more important than flashy action (and always will be), The Amazing Spider-Man is too immature to be recommendable, both in its technique—director Marc Webb, the man responsible for the wonderful, but wildly different, 500 Days of Summer, doesn’t quite have the experience necessary to tackle such a huge endeavor—and in its annoying, cocky approach to its lead. There’s a really embarrassing scene early on, just after Peter gains his powers, where he shows up the school jock on the basketball court, culminating in a painful-to-watch slam dunk that breaks the backboard. This is immediately followed by Peter shredding on his skateboard. This is a Spider-Man for the tween generation, not the mature movie going audience that wants, and expects, more. It may make attempts at being dark, but it’s a faux darkness, similar to something like Twilight: moody, but insubstantial. It may not be one of the worst movies of the year, but The Amazing Spider-Man is certainly one of the most disappointing.

The Amazing Spider-Man receives 2/5


Never Let Me Go

It seems that 2010 is the year of underwhelming films. So many movies with so much potential have come out and struggled to reach the top. Special people with real talent have come together and delivered quality, but few have been worthy of consideration on a best of the year list. Last week’s The Town was one of those movies. Never Let Me Go is another. A handful of great performers team up with a prized director in what is yet again a good, but all the same disappointing, film.

In the early 1960’s, medical science had a breakthrough that expanded the life expectancy of humans to over 100 years. Unfortunately, it required harvesting the organs of people genetically engineered specifically for that purpose, which, consequently, killed them in the process. Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) are three of those people. They were friends as children, but now they’re all grown up and Tommy and Ruth have begun a romantic relationship while Kathy remains alone. Perhaps because of this, Kathy decides to become a “carer,” a person who comforts donors as they go through their period of giving away their organs. The trio has now grown apart, having not seen each other in 10 years, but Kathy soon finds out that Ruth has been called upon to donate, which brings them together again.

Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go feels like it was adapted literally page by page. Although I haven’t read it, I say this because novels tend to move a bit slower, taking more time to flesh out its details. What the movie does is skip over the details while keeping the sluggish pace.

And its slow pacing is a problem because there's a general lack of connection to the characters. Although it’s emotionally complex, it’s also curiously flat. The characters go through a range of feelings—happiness, sadness, loneliness, jealousy, rage and regret—but there’s a detachment between them and the audience. We don't feel what they do. Their world feels faked and the ending doesn’t work because of a disregard for character building. So little time was spent crafting a believable connection between the two end characters (whom shall remain nameless to avoid spoilers) that I cared little about what happened to them. I was always aware I was watching a movie.

Although Never Let Me Go stumbles in its character development, it is thematically rich and offers up plenty to think about and discuss. It may tackle similar territory as something like Repo Men or Repo! The Genetic Opera, but this movie isn’t simply about blood and violence. It asks what makes one person more valuable than another. It wonders if cloned organisms can be considered actual living things or merely soulless tools with which to slaughter and use at our behest. It even shows the benefit of one person sacrificing their life to save another, an allegory for a number of things, including war.

There’s a certain scariness to Never Let Me Go, similar to what I imagine it would be like to be on death row. These characters know their fate is sealed. They know one day they will be summoned to die and, once summoned, it's like a ticking clock counting down to the end. It’s an unsettling thought, one I would never want to live with. I suppose that’s where the movie impresses the most. It’s dramatically lacking, but it still keeps you hooked because it deftly explores morality and mortality, knowing full well that death is too often caused by the hands of others.

Never Let Me Go receives 3.5/5