The Amazing Spider-Man & Savages

The Amazing Spider-Man

Left at a young age with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Sally Field and Martin Sheen), Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has always had questions about why his parents, Richard and Mary Parker (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) ran away late one night after a break in at their home and later died in a plane crash.  Now in high school, Peter is a bit of a nerd with a passion for photography, science (like his scientist father) and classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), the daughter of police captain George Stacy (Denis Leary).  When Peter discovers his father’s briefcase in the basement, he finds a newspaper clipping of another scientist identified by Uncle Ben as his father’s research partner Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans).  The pair worked together at Oscorp on cross-species genetics.  Peter also finds a mathematical formula hidden in a secret pocket of the briefcase.  Posing as an intern candidate, Peter goes to the Oscorp headquarters and is surprised to find Gwen is Dr. Connor’s head intern.  Wandering around the facility, Peter follows Dr. Rajit Ratha (Irfan Khan) to a secured lab and enters a room filled with spiders spinning webs on a metal grid.  One of the spiders lands on Peter and bites him, beginning a transformation that gives him incredible strength, the ability to walk up walls and to sense approaching danger.  Peter shows up at Dr. Connors’ home and tells him he’s Richard Parker’s son.  Connors, who is missing his right arm just above the elbow, tells Peter he and his father were working on a way to mix the genes of various animals with human genes so they could eradicate disease and even allow Dr. Connors to regrow his arm.  Peter gives Dr. Connors the formula he found in his father’s briefcase.  Later, the pair goes to the Oscorp lab to add the formula to the research already done and they attempt to regrow the front leg of a mouse.  The formula works but Peter has forgotten to go pick up his Aunt May.  When he gets home, he and Uncle Ben have an argument and Peter storms out of the house.  Ben follows and is killed in a struggle with a robber whom Peter could have captured a few minutes earlier.  Meanwhile, Dr. Connors is being pressured by Dr. Ratha to begin human trials of the cross-genetics formula in an effort to save the life of the ailing head of Oscorp, an unseen Norman Osborn.  When he refuses, Connors is fired by Ratha who says he will test the material at a VA hospital, saying it is flu vaccine.  Connors injects himself with the serum and passes out, later waking up with a still developing arm incased in what looks like lizard skin.  Following Ratha to the VA hospital, Connors begins to change into a giant lizard-like creature.  He almost kills several people on a bridge but your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man shows up to save the day, beginning a series of battles to stop the Lizard from carrying out a twisted plan that will affect all of New York.
Comparisons to the Sam Raimi-directed “Spider-Man” series of films are inevitable due to how recently that trilogy ended.  While a reboot of the franchise wasn’t at all necessary, this slightly modified take on the web slinger does offer enough differences and stays closer to the comic book mythology to make most fanboys happy, with Spider-Man’s webs generated artificially using Oscorp technology instead of being a product of his spider bite mutation.
Peter’s discovery of his powers is handled with more comedy in this go round.  His first fight with some guys on a subway is largely played for laughs as is his having to modify how he opens doors and turns on faucets so he doesn’t rip them off.  Garfield does a very good job of making Peter Parker more vulnerable and confused about his transformation.  While Peter has always been a good person, he isn’t immune from using his newfound abilities to get some revenge on the high school bully who torments him daily.  This also leads indirectly to Uncle Ben’s death which adds to the various layers that make up who both Peter and Spider-Man are.
Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have a great chemistry.  You can see some real attraction between the co-stars which has apparently spilled out into the real world as the pair is now dating.  Garfield gives Peter a layer of pain and sadness that is built upon for the first half of the movie with the loss of Uncle Ben and his guilt for not preventing it.  Emma Stone is a bright light in this movie.  Whenever she’s on screen you can’t help but pay a great deal of attention to her.  The rest of the cast is also great with one small reservation.  Rhys Ifans plays Dr. Connors as a rather common villain.  While he sometimes appears conflicted about his actions his human character is largely forgettable and only becomes interesting when he transforms into the Lizard.  
The other problem I have with the film is the first hour felt a little slow.  With a running time of two and a quarter hours, the film probably could have used some tightening up and it could have come from the first half.  We’ve seen Peter’s transformation into Spider-Man before in the other films.  While this is a reboot and there are some differences between the two, the basics are the same.  There could have been some fastforwarding through the power discovery phase.
Despite this, the film is entertaining and the action scenes are exciting to watch.  While there are some odd looking movements from time to time as Spider-Man swings through the city, the special effects look good in either 2D or 3D.  Garfield and friends will be making more Spider-Man movies and I hope they don’t fall into the same issues of dull, lazy storytelling and too many villains like “Spider-Man 3.”
“The Amazing Spider-Man” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence.  There are numerous fights between Spider-Man and the Lizard.  Peter Parker also gets beat up before his transformation by a school bully.  He also battles various street thugs after the spider bite.
While a retelling of his origin story is unnecessary, “The Amazing Spider-Man” does a good job of putting its own stamp on the character with a winning cast and some great visuals.  Now that they’ve gotten Peter Parker bitten by a spider, maybe the next movie will move forward with better momentum and a slightly more interesting villain.  By the way, stick around for the bonus scene in the middle of the credits to get a clue as to who that bad guy might be.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” gets five guitars out of five.
Chon and Ben (Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson) have been friends since high school.  Chon is a vet of two tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Ben went to college and double majored in economics and botany.  Together they started a pot growing business that produces some of the most potent weed in the world from seeds Chon smuggled back from Afghanistan.  Ben is the brains while Chon is the muscle.  They try to take the violence out of the pot business but sometimes you got to do what you got to do.  They are protected from law enforcement by a corrupt D.E.A. agent named Dennis (John Travolta) who they pay a monthly fee.  The boys not only share the profits from their business they also share a girlfriend named Ophelia (Blake Lively).  Ophelia, who goes by just O, loves both men and shares both their beds.  The business and their relationship is a win-win situation for everyone.  Ben even uses some of his cash to do charity work in other countries, bringing clean water and education to dark corners of the third world.  Despite their efforts to stay under the radar, a Mexican drug cartel led by Elena Sanchez (Selma Hayek) wants to partner with Chon and Ben and learn how to improve the potency of their product.  Ben and Chon initially reject their offer but after Elena sends her enforcer Lado (Benicio Del Toro) to kidnap O, they agree to the partnership.  O will be released in a year as long as they abide by the deal.  Chon and Ben play along with the cartel but make a plan to rescue O and take revenge on Elena and Lado.
Director Oliver Stone takes a group of people who are largely on the dark side of society and turns some of them into bright, vivid, likeable characters.  Chon, despite his propensity for violence, loves his two friends and would do anything to protect them.  Ben is warmer and more caring and he shares his love and money with chunks of the world to improve other people’s lives.  O is the ray of sunshine in both their lives that fills a void in their souls.  These characters are offset by the dark pits of evil they come up against.  Elena has seen far more violence and death in her own family than any one person should.  It has turned her cold and ruthless, choosing to attack Chon and Ben through their love of O.  Lado is a ruthless killer who enjoys inflicting pain on anyone Elena orders him to.  Dennis uses his position to protect those he has sworn to arrest and profits from their crimes.  These polar opposites will have no choice but to try and cancel each other out.
For most of the film, the cat-and-mouse game between Ben and Chon and the cartel is entertaining.  While it is unlikely to be anywhere near how a real Mexican drug gang would operate, watching as Chon and Ben try to adhere to their beliefs while facing the kind of violence they’ve tried to avoid and save O from a painful videotaped death is a fascinating bit of storytelling.  While Chon is comfortable with handing out pain and suffering to those that deserve it, Ben finds it abhorrent.  His entire focus in the business is taking out the darker elements and making it more like a legitimate endeavor; but now his beliefs are in the way of saving O.  Watching him transform from milquetoast to badass is surprisingly satisfying.
Where the film flies off the rails is the ending.  I do not want to give away too much but I will say the movie decides it must have both a sad and happy ending.  It wants to sell its pot and smoke it too.  It sells out what has come before and ruins what should have been a very good film.  The movie is based on a book of the same name and author Don Winslow co-wrote the script.  If the book ends the same way as the movie, I’m not sure why anyone would like it.  The ending wastes the two hours you’ve spent preparing yourself for what you feel is the inevitable conclusion.  We are shown and told again and again how violent and ruthless the drug cartel is yet when faced with a couple of guys who stand up to them, they seem to lose all their teeth.  In the real world, I believe O would have been killed and her body parts mailed to Chon and Ben as a reminder of who is in charge.  Instead, the cartel tries to use her as leverage over a couple of low level growers who are nothing more than a blip on the drug dealing radar.  The ending only amplifies the various weaknesses in the plot which are largely concealed by good performances from a good cast.
“Savages” is rated R for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout.  We see the aftermath of several men who are beheaded.  There are numerous shootings and stabbings, some more graphic than others.  There are two graphic sex scenes, both early in the movie.  A third scene is brief and less graphic.  We see one woman mostly naked and a couple of nude men’s behinds.  Foul language is common throughout the film.
Interesting characters and plenty of violence should be a winning recipe for a thriller.  Unfortunately this movie takes all the goodwill of the first two hours and chucks it down the toilet in the last few minutes.  I have to wonder what the filmmakers were smoking.
“Savages” gets three guitars out of five.
Your choices this week in the movie poll include an animated third sequel and some art house flicks.  Vote for the next movie I see and review.
Ice Age: Continental Drift—Scrat's pursuit of an infernal acorn has world-changing consequences for Manny (Ray Romano), Diego (Denis Leary) and Sid (John Leguizamo).
Bernie—In the tiny, rural town of Carthage, TX, assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede was one of the town’s most beloved residents, so it came as quite a shock when he was charged with murder.
Moonrise Kingdom—Set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965, Moonrise Kingdom tells the story of two 12-year-olds who fall in love, make a secret pact, and run away together into the wilderness.
To Rome with Love—Four tales unfold in the Eternal City in a film directed by Woody Allen.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.
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