The Amazing Spider-Man

Everyone seems to agree that a reboot of the Spider-Man series after a mere five years since the final installment of Sam Raimi’s big-budget trilogy is entirely unnecessary.  It is.  The revamped incarnation swinging into theaters exists only because of a failed attempt from Sam Raimi and his collaborators to lift Spider-Man 4 and 5 beyond the pre-production stages.  Tobey Maguire was back for the two-picture lock and everything seemed to be in place even though Spider-Man 3 left a sour taste in the mouths of fans.  Raimi refused to compromise on the story he wanted to tell which hurt Part 3 immensely, and eventually the director walked away entirely.  What was the studio to do?  Risk losing the rights to a multi-billion dollar franchise?  I think not.  Next stop: reboot train.

All joking aside, even though Amazing Spider-Man is a pure cash grab, the studio has given the reigns to a talented filmmaker who actually handles this $220 million opus with a deft grip on the material.  Marc Webb gave audiences 500 Days of Summer, one of my favorite films from 2009 and a highly entertaining and fresh romantic-dramedy.  My hope was that Webb would incorporate the richly drawn characters of that film and allow the same amount of emotional weight to encompass the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone).

This Spider-Man origin story treads much of the same waters as Raimi’s original film.  Peter Parker, an outcast high school brainiac/photographer, gets bitten by a genetically-altered spider in the Ocscorp lab only to be transformed into a crawling human arachnid with elevated senses and superhuman strength.  His Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) gets gunned down by a corner store thug that Parker fails to stop ahead of time.  Guilt permeates Parker and drives him to hunt down criminals on the New York city streets hoping to find the man responsible for his uncle’s murder.  In his spare time, the vengeful superhero investigates the disappearance of his parents involving Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a one-armed geneticist at Oscorp working on human and animal gene splicing.

When he’s not tracking criminals and delving deeper into Connors’ secrets, Peter romances Gwen Stacey, a spunky intellectual classmate and intern working for Connors who also is the daughter of the city’s captain of police (Denis Leary).  Unfortunately for Parker, Capt. Stacey seems more interested in capturing the menacing masked vigilante, Spider-Man and bringing him to justice than he is finding other criminals.  Peter must prove to the father of his newfound love that Spider-Man is a hero, not a villain.

I don’t think much could be done in the way of making a new Spider-Man feel ‘fresh,’ but the best thing about this reboot is the casting of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in the lead roles.  They bring a certain gravity to the characters that Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst never managed to in the previous films.  Maguire’s Parker was a textbook Hollywood-engineered nerd.  Garfield plays him as less a nerd and more of a brilliant outcast that would rather delve into research and his parents’ mysterious disappearance than run around a football field.  His transformation into Spider-Man makes him far more believable as he swings around the city fighting crime—out of a more personal vendetta.

The sparks fly between Garfield and Stone as well.  I wasn’t surprised to find that the romance between the two was much more layered and interesting than what Maguire and Dunst previously brought to the table.  Stone’s Gwen Stacey is resourceful, brilliant, and immediately caught up in her beau’s alter-ego.  She and Garfield’s characters operate on the same wavelength, making their romance the highlight of the film.

The web-slinging action never disappoints either.  When much of the hero-villain dueling reduces to standard brawling, as Rhys Ifans’ transformation into the giant crawling Lizard is completely standard-issue, the 3D action is nevertheless alarmingly good.  Forget about the questionable first-person viewpoints that looked like a tired video-game shown throughout some of the trailers.  These instances come briefly and effectively.  For the most part, Marc Webb knows what he’s doing with his characters, the big special effects, and the 3D usage.  The adversary and suspense may be lacking, but this Amazing Spider-Man is at least fully competent and ready for a bigger, better sequel as long as Garfield and Stone stick with the franchise.  Where does this one rank among other Spider-Mans?  Close to—but not quite as good as—Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, however, more enjoyable than Spider-Man and the ultra-lazy Spider-Man 3.

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The Social Network

Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in the world.  How did he do it?  Well, I think we all know full well what he did as most of you probably have your Facebook profile open as you read this.  The mere introduction of social networking changed the way people live their lives and communicate, in much the same way that the internet and e-mail changed communication in their fruition.

Today, hundreds of millions of lives are paraded to users and viewers of social networking sites, and Facebook stands out among crop.  I can remember the early days of MySpace until it became old news once Facebook hit the web.  When I joined Facebook, it was university-based, meant exclusively for college students.  Not long after, the site was opened up to high schools, and ultimately to anyone.  Now it has become a staple in society that anyone and their grandmother uses.

It is safe to say that Mark Zuckerberg has forever changed the world and our way of communication.  That is no small feat for a man in his 20s.  And while his story may be profound, I had my doubts that a feature film portraying his rise to success would be anything but a dull seminar of comuter mumbo-jumbo.  Even when the established director David Fincher came on board to helm the project, it is clear this makes for a striking departure from his previous thrillers Zodiac, Seven, and Fight Club.  How could the story of a young web page designer translate into an exciting drama?

Bringing in writer Aaron Sorkin changed things.  Responsible for A Few Good Men and Charlie Wilson’s War, Sorkin has a knack for biting, intelligent dialogue.  The Social Network survives because of two main ingredients: the fact that the subject couldn’t be more than timely, and the fact that Sorkin’s writing is nothing short of stunning.  Many viewers may be quick to dismiss this as what I feared it to be: a lot of techy computer babble.  The dialogue is so fresh, however, and so perfectly tuned that I became drawn to these actors simply speaking intelligently (which is rare for a Hollywood film these days, especially involving youth).  The characters, while most of them not likable (including Zuckerberg’s character), are sizzling without our approval.  Even when the script veers into instances of detailing uploading, downloading, hacking, lines of computer code, formulas, and so much more I wouldn’t even begin to comprehend, Sorkin doesn’t try to bring his audience to school.  He brings us into the lives of these characters, and David Fincher utilizes the talents of his actors to present the creation of a website as profound and impacting.

Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland) plays the socially awkward Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg.  Desperate for acceptance of his peers, he has trouble channeling his colliding intelligence and self-consciousness when in conversation.  This keeps him from enjoying intimate relationships (as evidenced in the film’s opening scene) and invisible to exclusive school clubs.  Even when his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), spends countless hours trying to get into these clubs through his own embarrassment, Mark mocks him out of jealousy.  The ‘day of Mark’ eventually arrives, as three Harvard club members, including the Winkelvoss brothers (Armie Hammer) “built of brawn” (as Ron Burgandy would say), recruit Zuckerberg to design a unique home page exclusive to Havard students.  Whether or not Mark’s creation would be an act of defiance and resentment against these club members remains a gray area, but eventually over many sleepless nights the design of “the facebook” comes to light with the help of Eduardo and his checkbook.  Ignoring the Winklevoss phone calls and e-mails, Zuckerberg launches the site and it becomes an instant hit with unseen potential.  Eduardo wants to find advertisers, but Mark wants to keep it clean and think bigger.  Enter former Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) to tempt Mark into eating the forbidden fruit and turn Facebook into the hottest thing the world has seen, while leaving Eduardo in the dust.  According to Parker: “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.”

These events ultimately lead Mark to a double lawsuit, one led by the Winklevoss brothers claiming Mark stole and capitalized on their idea.  The other lawsuit comes from Mark’s own best friend, Eduardo, seeking a pricey settlement after being sabotaged out of his original shares.  The movie cuts between deposition proceedings with this back story that leads up to Mark being the richest 24-year-old on the planet.  The material is handled extremely well as written by Sorkin.  He will be budding heads with the Nolan brothers for screenplay of the year.

Fincher applies a deft visual aid to Sorkin’s words.  The movie is gorgeously shot and continually exciting.  His four leads in Eisenberg, Garfield, Timberlake and Hammer deliver very distinct and engaging performances.  Eisenberg has sort of become the alternate-Michael Cera, but with the Zuckerberg role he has a chance to one-up his usual socially-awkward characters and make Mark a total jerk whose desires for friendship and status ultimately cost him the one friend he has.  Garfield is the heart of the film as the unknowing financial key to Mark’s early success in designing Facebook.  His performance details a sympathetic soul looking to share in the success he and his best friend collaborated on only to lose out to a fierce competitor: Mark’s jealousy and envy.  By the time Timberlake arrives, he gets to portray one of those juicy playboy roles that all actors dream of.  He’s like the Mark Wahlberg of The Departed, only Timberlake doesn’t need a running sarcastic mouth to be cool.  Each actor, big and small, complete this arresting movie.  However, as good as it is, it certainly isn’t for everyone.  If you haven’t been captured by the Facebook phenomenon, or have little interest in the digital landscape of society, then The Social Network may not seem like such a big deal.  Only once in a while does the film get lost in its information uploading.  That doesn’t keep it from being very good.  Is it the real story?  Is Mark Zuckerberg portrayed in a harsh light?  I really don’t know, but the lawsuits are real, and everyone has their side of a story.  Fincher and Sorkin attempt to capture multiple angles, and they do so quite successfully.  The Social Network is a writing and acting explosion of fine craftsmanship.

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Rating: 4.5/5 (2 votes cast)