“Endure, Master Wayne … they’ll hate you for it, but that’s the point of Batman.” – Alfred Pennyworth

The Dark Knight Rises – IMAX (July 20, 2012)     ★★★★ 1/2

Directed by Christopher Nolan (Warner Bros. Pictures)

It’s been a rough month for The Dark Knight Rises. Before the film was even released, several critics who posted negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes received hateful comments (even consisting of death threats) that were removed by the website’s editor-in-chief, the only such occurrence since the site’s commencement in 1999. Soon after, Rush Limbaugh continued his tradition of idiotic proclamations by stating how the film had purposefully made the association between villain Bane (Tom Hardy) and Mitt Romney’s financial firm, Bain Capital. And of course, there was the tragic event that occurred upon the film’s midnight release in Aurora, Colorado, my sincerest thoughts and prayers going out to the victims and their families.

Luckily, the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is destined to be successful, despite these highly unfortunate (and in the case of the Aurora shooting, truly horrible) situations that have recently occurred. Why? Because it takes the advice of Bruce Wayne’s noble butler and conscience, Alfred (Michael Caine), and endures just like its hero. It endures not only because The Dark Knight Rises is a damn fine movie, but also because it is a deeply thought-provoking, emotional, and allegorical example of how filmmakers, artists, and techies could turn a comic-book character into something more – an allegorical symbol for triumph in the face of 21st century tragedy.

It ain’t no Dark Knight, however, and that’s mainly because we don’t have Heath Ledger, whose performance in this movie’s predecessor was a masterful provocation upon chaos and evil, spun into a narrative as gripping as the greatest film noir, and themes as poetic as any film to win the Oscar for Best Picture (which the 2008 blockbuster, in an unfortunate snub, did not get nominated for). The first film in Nolan’s trilogy, Batman Begins (2005), was a terrific reboot of the series, and maybe what this finale does most successfully is weave in all the strands of narrative and theming throughout those movies that needed an exhilarating conclusion. But while The Dark Knight Rises suffers with a bit of narrative convolution (especially in the story-driven, fast-paced first hour), it remains a powerful piece of big-budget filmmaking, and continues to prove that Nolan is one of Hollywood’s best working directors.

Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) has been in reclusion for eight years, his masked vigilante having taken the blame for the murderous actions of Defense Attorney Harvey Dent, and resulting in a political act that has cleaned up the streets of Gotham, despite having been based on a lie. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), despite having agreed to Batman’s desire to keep Dent clean in the public eye (and therefore, as a symbol of hope), remains guilty about the entire situation, and hopes a day will soon come when he may resign and tell the truth. There is also police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who begins to suspect billionaire Wayne’s secret identity, and “cat” burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who may have a connection to the menacing mercenary Bane, who is plotting something catastrophic within the city sewers. Key players also include Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman’s reprised roles of Alfred and Lucius Fox (CEO of Wayne Enterprises), in addition to Marion Cotillard’s performance as Miranda Tate, an executive board member of Bruce’s company.

Despite what you may expect based on the comic books’ somewhat well-known narrative, Nolan’s screenplay (co-written with his brother, Jonathon) manages to transform this material into something that continuously takes your anticipations and inventively plays upon them. The entire package is stupendously thrilling, and it’s an easy task to cheer for Bruce Wayne as he rises from the ashes of pain to make great sacrifices for his city, and therefore become the hero that he had never previously allowed himself to be. Bale’s performance is as fun to watch as it has been in the last two films, as are the other performers in the quintessential cast of Christopher Nolan favorites. Bane, while never having such an onscreen impact as to rival Ledger’s Joker, is still both a physical and ideological challenge for Batman, and Tom Hardy personifies him with such authority that it arouses pure terror, despite the character’s mask prohibiting us from ever seeing the actor’s face. Thankfully, he also allows us to forget that the villain basically resembles a professional wrestler.

Although she is never referred to as Catwoman, Hathaway is quite fitting in the role of Selina Kyle, and has been unfairly criticized for basically no reason. She personifies the villain/love interest with intelligence, sultry antics, and the ability to kick ass, while still adding a tinge of sympathy that we have yet to see from the character, that which prompts her to decide whether she would prefer to have a clean life on her own, or an interpersonal one with the potential for imperfection. Meanwhile, the subplot presented in conjunction with Cotillard’s character also makes the narrative considerably more interesting, although some aspects are never quite believable, and excuse a couple instances of shabby writing for the sake of introducing more compelling scenes later in the film.

Freeman is still wonderful as the man with all the gizmos our masked hero could ever want, but if there’s one performance here that is worthy of an Oscar nomination, it is Caine’s. Despite his limited screen time as Alfred, Michael Caine packs the greatest emotional punch in the film, and fully displays the importance that his character has brought to the series. As for Gotham’s finest, Oldman remains an example of awesome casting, and in the role of a hothead with a purpose, Gordon-Levitt continues to show his chops for compelling performance in big-budget movies.

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And with over an hour of footage shot with IMAX cameras, epic is hardly enough to describe the scope of The Dark Knight Rises, which deserves to be seen in this format as a testament to Christopher Nolan’s vision. The action sequences are terrific, especially as chaos is unleashed within Gotham’s streets. Meanwhile, any landscape shots or aerial scenes are absolutely stunning on the big screen, and make vertigo seem like a plausible reaction. The film ends up seeming way shorter than its running time (which approaches nearly three hours), mostly due to rather quick pacing, that which diminishes the coherence of the film’s complex plotting throughout its first half.

While partially stylistic, Nolan tends to cut out quite a bit of action between shots, ultimately making scenes shorter, and leading us to wonder what exactly just happened. The storytelling of Nolan and his brother always tends to be one step ahead of their audience, which is an admirable method of relaying a narrative. But here, it seems they utilize it simply to keep the film moving and prevent it from going on too long, which leads us to feel that strands of plot have been slightly mismatched. This is especially apparent in contrast to the final act of The Dark Knight Rises, which mainly consists of exceedingly thrilling action. That said, with a resolution the filmmakers couldn’t have made more satisfying, there are far more things worth commending.

Christopher Nolan would not like to admit that the Dark Knight films are political, although they certainly touch upon issues that are affecting our country right this instant. Most prominently alluded to is the Occupy movement (although the script was likely started before the movement received major attention), and how Bane’s terrorism contorts ideals of “power to the people” and wealth redistribution into a living hell. But in order to solve this problem, super-rich playboy/philanthropist Bruce Wayne doesn’t come to our rescue alone. The best qualities within himself also come to save us, this symbol formulated by Batman. In the darkest hour, Batman could symbolize any citizen of Gotham feeling responsible to save his or her own city, wealth being a slim factor.

Many have claimed The Dark Knight Rises has a conservative agenda, although it could easily be twisted the other way. More importantly, the film touches upon what it is like to live in a paranoid, post-9/11 world, especially when we may feel secluded as either individuals or a unit (the screenplay uses a clever plot device to put Gotham’s situation in wider perspective, yet still keep it completely isolated). Moreover, it is a movie about fears and anxieties that breach our consciousness everyday, and provides a symbol for hope amidst a world that sometimes feels devoid of that very factor.

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These three films, taken as a trilogy, are a grand accomplishment. They only furthered the quest to make superhero movies critically “serious,” and did so with brilliant writing, memorable performances, an unprecendently dark tone, large-scale action, and a pure sense of what it takes to entertain today’s moviegoers. I recently read a tweet by Bill Maher, who I am told is funny. It reads – “And btw, [the] fact that ‘serious’ critics treat a f**king Batman movie as a profound comment on the human condition says a lot about our ‘culture.’ ” From a guy who makes a living out of telling us how ignorant we are, my immediate reaction is to laugh at his hypocrisy. Any piece of art created throughout a significant period in history is part of what has built our global culture. The Iliad could be considered a ridiculous fantasy story, but what does it tell us about the early Greeks? And why should a “f**king Batman movie” be any different?

I come to the conclusion that people like Maher would prefer no culture at all, and instead live in a society where we incessantly criticize people for what we do not appreciate as significant contributions to our own livelihood (or what we perceive as correct in a communal environment). The Dark Knight Rises will endure, as will The Dark Knight, as will Batman Begins. You can argue about many aspects of modern society; you can barely use a social networking site without seeing a post that refers to the denouncement of a person, group, or organization. What is far more helpful to the human condition, what is far more relevant to our “culture,” are the things that join us together. Despite whether you consider film an art form, it should be obvious that going to the movies is one of those things that literally does join people.

This is another reason why the events that occurred in Aurora are so terrible. It breaks my heart to see people who were given the expectation of safety, comfort, and community to be so thoughtlessly harmed. I applauded at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, because despite Bruce Wayne’s placement in the 1%, he, along with these extraordinary filmmakers, has shown us for the third time that percentages don’t mean anything. Batman is the 100%; he is an allegory for the best within all of us. And that is something we should all take to heart. Because at any time, in any period of our extensive human history, we could sure use a hero like him.

CKEP’S VERDICT – 4.5/5

Shots of Humanity

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)     ★★★★★

Directed by Benh Zeitlin (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

If there’s one thing movies have shown us since their sideshow development at the end of the 19th century, it’s that we live in quite a big universe. Cinema has allowed messages from across the world to reach mass audiences unlike any other art film, and in doing so, has presented us with ever-changing assessments of how each man and woman in our world may contribute to something far greater than themselves. Hushpuppy, the six-year-old protagonist of Beasts of the Southern Wild, understands the vast nature of her surroundings, and communicates with animals via semi-fantastical thoughts and visualizations, those that acknowledge their mutual importance within the eternal landscape of life itself.

By first-time director Benh Zeitlin, Beasts is a uniquely imaginative portrait of lives so enchantingly real, shot so naturalistically that it cannot help but feel, in an ironic, Apocalypse Now sense, like fantasy. Taking influence from such films as Pan’s Labyrinth, Days of Heaven, and Slumdog Millionaire, Zeitlin has made a film of startling originality, winning the Camera d’Or at Cannes and the Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic) at Sundance. And featuring astonishing performances by 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis (she was 5 when filming began) and the man who plays her struggling father, Dwight Henry, it also manages to be the best film of the year so far.

Hushpuppy (Wallis) lives in The Bathtub. To some viewers, it may feel like a different planet. Within the film’s onscreen reality, it is a Delta community bordering New Orleans, and separated by levees that makes it a completely distinct community, bound by the family-like relationships between its inhabitants, but featuring living conditions that strongly resemble those of Hell.

Her daddy, Wake (Henry), wounded by his wife’s departure several years ago, drowns out the relentless pain plaguing his soul through the alcohol that bathes each proud citizen of The Bathtub, and perhaps, gives them a sufficient numbness to make their lives bearable. Wake hopelessly loves his daughter, but is fragile enough to smack Hushpuppy when impulsive childishness leads her to make some perilous mistakes. His dream of all dreams is to enable her to be self-sufficient, yet he fears the departure of his goal as he contracts a mysterious illness, and as a foreboding storm comes to reach The Bathtub.

His daughter, while not yet being capable of surviving on her own, is still a symbol of near-impossible resilience. Hushpuppy navigates her life as a piece of a whole; her naive, childhood instincts only complement the survival instincts she has been taught, which then provoke the imagination that makes her story one of complete fascination. She listens to all living things, hears the beat of their hearts, listens to what stories they have to tell.

She seems also determined to tell her own, realizing the triviality with which the rest of the world would view her situation, yet always in recognition of its importance as an astounding record of humanity (of course, she conveys these thoughts far more simplistically than they sound). As this great storm approaches, Hushpuppy visualizes the polar ice caps melting, and believes that a giant cluster of prehistoric creatures (called aurochs) is approaching. She loves her father in return, but at times, fails to distinguish the hate of his hand from that of the man.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is exquisite in its approach of how tragic circumstances could affect a developing child, in addition to how it could provoke strength and open-mindedness in a way that couldn’t be unleashed in any other fashion. Zeitlin, directing a script by himself and Lucy Alibar (who wrote the one-act play that the film is based upon) also convey their unremitted love for the people featured in the film, those natives of New Orleans who have received shabby treatment through cliches and stereotypes.

As Hushpuppy says in one segment of her superb voiceover, “The Bathtub has more holidays than the whole rest of the world.” These characters attempt to remain in a perpetual state of optimism, drinking themselves half to death, but loving their home more than many could ever be capable of. It’s their own world, their own slice of life, and no matter the circumstances, they will never depart from this speck of the cosmos.

If Quvenzhane Wallis were to be nominated for an Oscar with regard to her performance as Hushpuppy, she would be the youngest Best Actress nominee ever. If she were to win, she would become the youngest winner of any Academy Award. I couldn’t imagine a performance more deserving than this. Wallis and her mother had to lie about the child’s age for her to even be considered for the role (she was 5 when filming began, and was chosen among almost 4,000 other candidates). It is a flawless performance, driven by both Hushpuppy’s instincts as a child, and need to survive that calls upon her coming-of-age.

She believes that her mother, however gone she may be, is still part of the world in some way or another. Hushpuppy has conversations with her, shouts out at her over the rising water, and even attempts to find her. Her quest is a heart-wrenching journey, but never sentimental. The spectacularly inventive score by Zeitlin and composer Dan Romer does tug at the heartstrings, but in a well-deserved fashion. As a whole, Beasts never feels manipulative, and is truly commendable in the way it involves its audience emotionally.https://i1.wp.com/content7.flixster.com/rtmovie/90/99/90997_gal.jpg

Each step Hushpuppy takes is an impactful event in an extraordinarily present tense; the main concern for these characters is survival, yet this girl is curious of the way survival is perceived. She does not see it as a selfish concern. Instead, she comes to recognize it as a communal experience, and interprets life, death, and the flow of her natural environment as a system that comes to define the universe; the concept of “everything fitting together just right.”

This journey is personified by her growing relationship with Wake, whose inhabitance by Dwight Henry is a sensational performance in a tale of dramatic nirvana. Henry is not a professional actor. In contrast, he owns his own bakery. His strong commitment to Hushpuppy likely comes across due to the love he has for his own family, and nearly every scene these characters inhabit feels painfully true. When Wake falls to his weaknesses, the onscreen result couldn’t be more humane. He and his daughter have a rule against crying, a firm indictment against their suffering. In one scene, both break it. You will too.https://i1.wp.com/images.zap2it.com/images/movie-9026955/beasts-of-the-southern-wild-7.jpg

This combination of fantasy and harsh reality requires quite an eye, and director Benh Zeitlin surely has it, aided by cinematographer Ben Richardson and editors Crockett Doob and Affonso Goncalves. Zeitlin was raised in Queens, his mother and father sharing a fascination for New York City folklore. After attending Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, Zeitlin moved to New Orleans and likely fell in love with lore of a quite different kind. The camerawork here approaches realism with indie-centric shakiness, yet fills the screen with impeccably beautiful imagery, that when combined with Hushpuppy’s voiceover, feels reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s level of cinematic excellence.

Each shot is carefully composed, and Zeitlin is confident enough behind the camera to show us things he believes we have never seen before. This is life in the real world, and certainly not that which we could commonly associate with idealized notions of America. It therefore feels as surreal as the most realistic war film, filled to the brim with real horrors that feel like fantasy, and such powerful optimism to contradict it. An early sequence (featuring who knows how many fireworks and bottles of hard liquor) will simply take your breath away.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is an emotional roller coaster, driven by performances that verge on transcendant. And when situated within imagery that dances effortlessly between naturalistic observation and an astonishing sense of the otherworldly, it becomes a film of endless opportunities to experience; the options strongly differing for each viewer. For instance, does Benh Zeitlin have a political agenda? That’s up to you, as are your feelings of how you associate the events onscreen with post-Katrina tragedy.

To sum up this incredible piece of filmmaking, there is a particular bit of voiceover that seems appropriate to share, as Hushpuppy does with her audience. “When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces.” Some shots in Zeitlin’s film feature vast levels of grain, and I can’t help but imagine each and every bit of the director’s pictorial imagery as an invisible piece, those which fit together “just right” to create what we see on the silver screen. Movies like Beasts are the reason we venture to theaters in the first place. There are many stories to be told, and oftentimes, the smaller ones are those that create such an understanding portrait of our own existence. Don’t blink when you see Beasts of the Southern Wild; there’s simply too much to see. But if you find it as effective as I did, your eyes will certainly be open. And when you return home, back to a daily life of often complacent routine, they will remain that way.

CKEP’S VERDICT – 5/5

Who would you be without your pot-smoking bear?

Ted (2012)     ★★★ 1/2

Directed by Seth MacFarlane (Universal Pictures)

In the age of Judd Apatow, 35-year-old children learning to become men, driven by sporadically raunchy humor (and a touch of genuine heart), is a concept that has come to define a significant portion of contemporary, mainstream comedies. Seth MacFarlane, who created TV’s insanely popular Family Guy, makes his first jump into the movies with a surprisingly clever twist on that familiar theme.

MacFarlane directs, co-writes, co-produces, and voice-acts in Ted, a film about 35-year-old man-child John (Mark Wahlberg), who remains best friends with Ted (voiced by MacFarlane), the teddy bear who he successfully wished would come alive on a Christmas night in 1985. As much as the two pals remain in a committed friendship, the problem lies in how John remains in an even more serious relationship, a four-year endeavor with his lovely girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis). When it becomes clear that Ted, who happens to drink, smoke weed, and occasionally hire a crew of prostitutes, is seriously impeding the relationship of John and Lori to go any further, John’s pal-for-life is forced to move out of the couple’s apartment.

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Some jokes hit and others miss, but for the most part, MacFarlane’s Family Guy formula is consistently hilarious, his own, foul-mouthed character becoming instantly memorable. Wahlberg and Kunis also have terrific chemistry; for once, a comedy not about an immature guy trying to get the girl, but a surprisingly smart movie about a half-mature guy attempting to be fully mature, while still holding onto the girl he loves and is fully committed to. Wahlberg proved in The Other Guys that he had great potential as a comedic actor, and continues to fulfill his promise with a character who attempts to do the right thing, but is conflicted in his attempt to be loyal to both his girlfriend and best friend, while subduing the urge to drink, smoke, and party like it’s 1985. Kunis is considerably more career-minded than her significant other, but loves John for who he is, and attempts to give him every chance in the world before Ted simply becomes an immovable obstacle.

As for the fuzzy guy himself, what a clever idea to write Ted as none other than a burnt-out child star, who starred on Carson for being magically brought to life, but now has nothing but a best friend and his bong. When he is forced to move out, he still craves the company of the only person who truly cares about him, and in effect, serves to further jeopardize John’s relationship. MacFarlane tries his best to make sure Ted doesn’t feel like a feature-length Family Guy episode, and the movie makes fun of itself enough to know that this is basically inevitable. Complete with jazzy score, fart jokes, ridiculously funny cameos, and the worship of both Boston and 80’s movies, Ted may feel inconsistent and over-the-top, but is far more personal to MacFarlane than his cartoons, and is surely more intimate than anything else he has done. Needless to say, it is also really, really funny.

First of all, the motion-capture animation of Ted is terrific; one can’t imagine how a fist-fight between Mark Wahlberg and a teddy bear could be any more hysterical. Humor aside, the film is also very astute in its examination of love and friendship, something you would never find in a MacFarlane-associated television episode. Lori attempts to be as understanding as possible, but wants John to let go of his childhood need for an undyingly loyal pal. Anyway, isn’t that what she should be? This is something John does understand, yet he can’t bring himself to leave his buddy-for-life in the dust.

All three of these principal characters care for one another in some shape or form, and it is a sure-fire complement of Kunis’ performance in that her character comes to a significant realization. She wants her man in his truest form, and soon begins to realize that unless he has his teddy bear (or in the circumstances of real life, that best friend who we would never equate to our own level of responsibility), a piece of what makes him John Bennett will be lost. Every man, no matter how old, has a talking teddy bear in his life, and a girlfriend who sometimes wants that seemingly bad influence out of the picture. But all the people in our lives come to make us who we are, and it is important to reach the point where we are comfortable in sharing the ones we love with other people.

MacFarlane makes great comedy because he knows how society interprets certain subjects, and in such a combination of pop-culture references and vulgarity, is able to arouse laughs that are often directed at our own, naive conceptions of the world. Like the characters in Ted, he proves his maturity. The 38-year-old man-child shows that he also understands relationships between individual people, and executes his narrative with laughs that just keep coming. We may also be the butt of the joke, but we love it just as much on the big screen. At the showing I attended, many lines were unheard due to the audience’s uproarious laughter. For lovers of both nostalgic and undeniably “modern” humor, Seth MacFarlane’s debut delivers. At the box-office, this has already become apparent. Ted has scored the highest opening weekend gross of all time for an R-rated film.

CKEP’S VERDICT – 3.5/5

Wishing for Thicker Webbing

The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3, 2012)     ★★★

Directed by Marc Webb (Columbia Pictures)

The dynamic of critical analysis has changed for superhero films, and since the explosive release of Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man ten years ago, the differences have never been more noticeable. For example – in 2002, no one would have possibly thought that movies starring men and women in tights could ever warrant a Best Picture nomination, as was nearly accomplished with The Dark Knight in 2008. As a result, these films are being made with the recurring desire to be grounded in a more realistic, onscreen environment, which might have seemed nearly impossible a decade ago. But they found a way. You will no longer see the flamboyant visuals of Ang Lee’s Hulk, but instead movies that veer more toward dramatic naturalism. While this often results in films that are better scripted, they surely look and feel less like they originally did; in other words, we no longer feel immersed within a comic book. Instead, highly capable directors visualize comics and portray them as “serious films,” and thus, critics now judge them that way.

So how do we begin to compare Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man to Raimi’s original trilogy, and what exactly justifies this reboot of such an incredibly influential series? It’s only been five years since Spider-Man 3, a sequel that buried itself amongst a mess of villains and subplots. Raimi and his star, the terrific Tobey Maguire, were not compelled to return for the webslinger’s next installation.  So Columbia decided to completely restart its colossally successful enterprise, injecting it with a less cartoonish vibe, and one more tonally similar to the superhero flicks we are now seeing. By today’s standards of spandex judgement, Webb’s Spider-Man may be a “better film” than Raimi’s first, but it is far less successful in fulfilling the goals it suggests, and is certainly no match for Spider-Man 2, which has enough heart, character, story depth, and visual splendor to rival Nolan’s Dark Knight as the best superhero movie ever made.

Webb, who directed the popular (500) Days of Summer, sure knows his romance. The chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone is wonderful, as are the performances from each of these increasingly accomplished actors. This triumphant casting was no accident – The Amazing Spider-Man presents a love story that is more intimate and believable than that in Raimi’s trilogy. Everything else, however, is quite underwhelming; we go through Spidey’s origin story all over again, and as if the filmmakers sense our incoming frustration (or in an attempt to be “contemporary”), they barely give weight to other elements of the film.

Yes folks, Peter Parker (Garfield) is in high school once again, living with Aunt May and Uncle Ben (played by Sally Field and Martin Sheen). He has a crush on Gwen Stacy (Stone), who happens to be interning at OsCorp, where Peter is drawn once he learns that his mysteriously deceased parents once worked with Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Through respective biological incidents, Peter becomes Spider-Man, Connors becomes The Lizard, and shenanigans ensue. In the midst of his transformation from high school outcast to superhero, Peter also falls in love with Gwen, and must face the plot complications presented by her father, George Stacy (Denis Leary), who happens to be captain of the NYPD.

Garfield, who gave an Oscar-worthy performance in The Social Network (and in which the Brit also had to fake an American accent), brings unprecedented depth to the character of Peter Parker, so much so that the filmmakers could have utilized his abilities to craft a far more compelling character story, rather than one that feels halfheartedly redundant. In the generation of Mark Zuckerberg, one does not have to be a “nice guy” to be successful. In fact, one can be socially inept, or even cruel in his relationships. But if you are a truly smart or creative person, opportunities abound if you make the right business decisions. The new Peter Parker is also part of this generation; the kid is a genius, but he is arrogant, socially awkward, lonely, and curious. That said, he is also a good person, and Gwen, who shares his love of science, instantly finds a companion.

When these two share the screen, sparks fly. And by that, I mean Fourth of July, Washington DC, Katy Perry-style fireworks. As if she hasn’t proved it countless times, Stone is more than ridiculously cute; she has an instantly charming, highly intelligent presence. The problem lies in how these performances make all that surround them seem considerably less amazing. As previously mentioned, Peter is significantly curious; he longs to discover the circumstances of his parents’ life and death, and understandably questions his new abilities. But in his transition from boy to man, I never felt him ask the question, “Am I a good person?”

There is outstanding subtlety and emotional credibility to the relationship between Peter and Gwen, but the narrative never gives justice to the former. This kid isn’t creating Facebook, he isn’t attempting to make billions of dollars. He is attempting to save lives. The film is effective in its motivations for how Garfield’s character transforms, but it doesn’t make evident the difference between those two things. Peter’s intentions as Spider-Man begin selfishly, but become broader after Dr. Connors’ reptilian accident. But what if they didn’t? What if Peter actually had to struggle to make this decision; to put himself in danger for the purposes of others, not just himself? And how would this struggle effect his relationship?

Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man hints at these wonderful instances of storytelling, but unfortunately, never goes down that path. Peter simply moves into Spidey-mode like clockwork. As for similar flaws, there is an unfortunate event that brings forth Peter’s webslinging in the first place, but after that occurs, we completely lose touch with a theme that the first act (and even the film’s trailer) heavily imposes – the secrets hidden by Peter’s parents.

This narrative element, while serving as a catalyst for nearly all the events to follow, turns out to be a gigantic tease. After Peter suffers another tragedy in his life, motivations become rather hazy, considering that we are never sure which of these events drive Peter to do anything whatsoever. We never do find out much about Peter’s parents after all, and in addition to the other event mentioned, these sorry occurrences in Peter’s life appear to be strands of plot placed aside for sequels, rather than important factors that develop the film we are currently watching.

This explains why it was such a mistake to retell Spider-Man’s origin story; none of us really want to see it all again, so many scenes are handled with a lazy demeanor. Even Aunt May and Uncle Ben feel misplaced, although Field and Sheen give heartfelt performances. If we wish to be enthralled by The Amazing Spider-Man as a standalone film, these things are surely a problem, albeit ones that cannot be easily solved. While setting a new Spider-Man film in a different universe than the first three, it would be interesting had this film only alluded to a newish tale of origin, rather than feeling compelled to haphazardly tell it.

But for some reason or another, we essentially have a more naturalistic (there’s that word again) remake of 2002’s Spider-Man, with both positive and negative consequences. Webb proves himself as a solid director; action is shot and edited with tight-knit skill, but still allows each frame to breathe. Unfortunately, there are few supremely memorable sequences; those which do occur serve to drive forth the story, but never provoke utterings of “wow” as we leave the theater. For a movie that wants to be taken more “seriously” than its predecessors, the effects are surprisingly cartoonish, but still quite exciting. The main motivation for this is obviously 3D; with these CGI renderings appearing far different from other elements within the frame, they pop off the screen even in two dimensions. Yet one cannot help but feel that as Spidey swings toward the screen in slow-motion, Marvel’s geek squad counted on this gimmick to make up for other shortcomings.

Yet another is The Lizard, a less than formidable foe. Dr. Connors has been living life with only one arm, and plans on using DNA from other species to help himself, among others. Based on an equation that is solved by Peter, things don’t quite go as planned. I never quite felt Peter’s guilt of helping transform Connors into a giant lizard (although it is certainly alluded to at least once), nor did I appreciate the design of this pompous creature, which never provokes fear or intensity, but is instead, rather humorous-looking. There is also little evidence of the man underneath, which was done so well by Alfred Molina as Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2.

The Amazing Spider-Man Lizard Still 3

The relationship that Connors had with Peter’s parents also has little effect on this hero-villain dynamic, which leads to a letdown in several instance of plot and character development. Meanwhile, Connors’ descent into villainy is virtually nonexistent. He transforms, and in what seems like seconds, threatens the entire city of New York. There could be motivation behind the madness, mainly that Connors has been matched with so much pain throughout his life that when he finally feels unable to heal it, he abandons his desire to help others recover from similar turmoil, and quickly decides that he must toss it upon a city full of people; maybe so that they may understand what has so deeply hurt him. Unfortunately, the lack of these motivations onscreen allow us little opportunity to empathize.

Soon after Peter is bitten by a radioactive spider, there is a scene in which he asks Gwen Stacy out on a first date. Despite his believable stuttering (I could only imagine the nervs of any teenager asking out Emma Stone), she says yes. In the minutes that follow, we receive the inevitable sequence where Peter tests the full extent of his powers, except this time, it addresses the matter in a manner that is far from predictable. Feeling liberated from the troubles of youth, Peter utilizes his webslinging, wallcrawling abilities as an unleashing mechanism for pure joy. It is a fabulous scene, one that feels as welcome in a superhero movie as it would in any other romantic film. Teenage girls will flock to The Amazing Spider-Man, as will everybody else. Buried in the humdrum narrative of Marc Webb’s film is a richly told story of youth in love, and people with flaws aspiring to goals greater than themselves.

It should be noted that Peter Parker is now a skateboarder. A nerd, yes, but far more hip. Luckily, Garfield and Stone bring more than enough to their roles, compensating for a film that forgot what joy it brought audiences to feel square. When I saw Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, probably when I was about 10 years old, the film was an uncanny transportation into my imagination, and will always be a recurring example of childhood nostalgia. The Amazing Spider-Man, while not quite being as far and away as Christopher Reeve’s Superman is to Superman Returns, has moments of excellence, but features potential that is consistently unfulfilled. Webb’s film certainly revisits my adolescence, but not those early years that seem long gone in the realm of superhero movies. Take it how you will, the reboot of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man feels awfully like going back to school. Therefore, it seems only just to relay on next-gen Spidey something I was told way back in the days of Spider-Man 3; a compliment that never felt like praise at the time.

You have a very promising future.

CKEP’S VERDICT – 3/5