Japan loves Spider-Man. I mean they LOVE him. It's not the same with other American superheroes -- Batman, Superman and most of the recent Marvel movies tend to do poorly in at the Japanese box office.
Even Avengers didn't get a major push in the Japanese media until after it proved to be a financial success in the West -- and it's not coming to theatres until August. But Spider-Man has always been popular in Japan. Perhaps it's due to his similarity to Japan's own masked superhero -- heck, he even had a live-action, power ranger style show in the late '70s. Because Spider-Man is a sure hit in Japan, his movies often get released in Japan before the rest of the world. Spider-Man 3 came out three days before its release in the West. The latest, The Amazing Spider-Man opened in select theatres last weekend -- nearly two weeks before the rest of the world. And Kotaku East was on hand to review it.
Good -- Tell Me If You've Heard This One Before
Going in, I had one major question: Do we really need to see Spider-Man's origin story again? After all, director Sam Raimi's Spider-Man came out a mere 10 years ago. So entering the theatre absolutely sure that another retelling of the origin of Spider-Man was not needed, I gladly ate my words along with my popcorn as this was easily the best way that this story has ever been told. It's all there: talks about responsibility, tiny abuses of power, a wrestling ring, a robber, and the death of Uncle Ben. Yet, the way everything unfolds is subtly different -- all while keeping the same iconic imagery. So despite everyone knowing the basic story going in, The Amazing Spider-Man mixes it up enough to stay interesting and enjoyable throughout.
Good -- Spider-Man
If I had one issue with Toby McGuire's Spider-Man, it was that he wasn't witty, fast talking, or full of jokes like in the comics. Andrew Garfield's, on the other hand, is all this and more. It's clear that Garfield's Spider-Man is the person his Peter Parker always wanted to be: funny, smooth, cool under pressure -- in short, everything Peter is not. It greatly increases the likeability of the character and, at the same time, makes him much more human.
Good -- The Supporting Cast Steals the Show
The supporting cast in The Amazing Spider-Man ranges from the competent -- Dr Connors (Rhys Ifans) and Aunt May (Sally Field) -- to the excellent -- Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) , and Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka). But no one in the movie, Garfield included, puts out quite the performance that Martin Sheen does. It is no exaggeration to say that the character of Uncle Ben is the heart and soul of this movie (and perhaps the entire Spider-Man mythos) -- and he dies half way into the movie. Yet every scene he's in develops the relationship between Peter and his surrogate father -- and thus makes us better understand the thoughts and motivations of Peter after Ben is gone. It is an amazing performance and the man deserves every reward he's likely to get for it.
Mixed -- Odd Directorial Choices
The Amazing Spider-Man is filled with odd -- though not to say bad -- directorial choices. The first is the inclusion of 3D. Honestly, I am usually against 3D in movies as it makes the movies darker and more choppy. That said, Director Marc Webb handles it well. Most of the time, you don't even notice the film is in 3D -- unless it's in the action scenes where it's welcome fun. Best of all, there are only two or three "jump out" 3D effects in the whole movie.
Another odd directorial choice was the inclusion of the occasional first-person viewpoint scenes. Outside of Doom, I can't remember a movie with this much first person in it. It's weird in the middle of a fight to suddenly be seeing through Peter's eyes -- not bad, mind you -- just weird.
The final strange choice was the handling of exposition -- especially in the case of Dr. Connors. Instead of giving him some villainous monologue at the climax (just so the audience knows why he's evil), we are instead treated to his video lab notes, where he monologues to the camera. As a scientist, it makes sense for his character to do this and it gives us the information we, the audience, need. So why is this device suddenly dropped half way though in favour of hearing a conversation inside Dr. Connors' head with himself? Never do we hear anyone else's thoughts in the movie, just his -- the character who already has an expositionary tool. It's weird and out of place -- and the insane voice in his head makes Connors seem like a poor man's Willem Dafoe (the Green Goblin in the 2002 Spider-Man).
Mixed -- How Much Disbelief Can You Suspend
All films not grounded in the real world demand a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. The Amazing Spider-Man actually does better than most -- except that Peter's secret identity depends on a lack of security cameras, forensic science, and digital accounting. Both boldly walking into the top-secret lab of a biochemical company (filled with their priceless radioactive spiders) and leaving blood at a crime scene would have him well on the track to being caught, but these aren't the dumbest thing he does. He actually orders the base of the spider suit online and direct orders -- or steals (it's rather ambiguous) -- the webbing fluid from Oscorp. And as the webbing is presented as Oscorp's most famous bit of technology, it implies that both the company and the police are incompetent -- not the way you want your potential antagonists to be portrayed. Of course, none of that really makes all that much difference if he doesn't remember to...
Bad -- Keep His Damn Mask On!
Over the course of the movie, no less than five people get a look at Spider-Man's unmasked face. Only two of these instances are by choice and the other three witnesses are actively out to get him. There are several possible behind-the-scenes reasons for this. First off, having your face hidden for over half the movie would annoy any actor. Moreover, unlike say the Avengers or even Batman, Spider-Man's mask covers his entire face, completely removing the easiest way for the audience to judge the character's emotional state.
But inside the context of the movie's world, the amount of unmaskings seems ridiculous. It's like he lets the villains know who he is just so he doesn't have to wear the mask. At one point in the film, he actually takes off the mask for no reason and runs around his school, having no way of knowing if students or the police are roaming the halls. This is even worse when set in direct contrast to an earlier scene where he learns the dangers of being unmasked. It makes me wonder if the mask is just that uncomfortable.
Despite the (admittedly minor) complaints I had about the film, I found The Amazing Spider-Man to be a generally well thought out, well-acted movie. I'd go so far as to call it the best superhero origin film this side of Iron Man. It was a refreshing take on the character and the supporting cast really blew me away. And now that we have all this origin business out of the way, I look forward to seeing what this spider can do when he's free of his web.
The Amazing Spider-Man was released in Japanese theatres on June 23, 2012, and will open in Australia on July 4.