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“The Amazing Spider-Man” review: Peter Parker is back and better than ever

The Amazing Spider-Man

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It’s been just over a decade since Tobey Maguire first swung across the Manhattan skyline as Spider-Man, and three blockbuster films later, we have a brand new Peter Parker in Andrew Garfield and a fresh spin on the web-slinging hero’s origin story in “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

Still, the bar is set pretty high for Spider-Man’s return to the big screen, with the previous three-film franchise earning almost $2.5 billion worldwide and receiving generally positive reviews across all three installments. For the studio’s gamble to pay off, “The Amazing Spider-Man” must not only succeed on its own merits, but also win over fans of its predecessor with a new director, star, and tone for the wall-crawling, web-slinging hero.

And thankfully, that’s exactly what it does — and what’s more, it goes a long way toward posing the question, “Tobey who?”

It’s worth noting early on that I’ve long considered 2004’s “Spider-Man 2” not only the best of the previous franchise, but one of the best comic-book movies made in the last decade. Even so, when the credits rolled on “The Amazing Spider-Man,” I found myself wondering whether Garfield’s debut as teenage superhero Peter Parker might actually be a better film than “Spider-Man 2” — or either of the two other films, for that matter — in Sam Raimi’s blockbuster trilogy.

Visually, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is the natural evolution of the webslinger’s big-screen adventures, seamlessly combining fantastic practical and digital effects that blur the line between the superhero’s world and our own. In many cases, it’s nearly impossible to tell where the computer-generated elements end and real-world sets and stunts begin, and just as the scenes of Spider-Man swinging through Manhattan grew more impressive with each installment of the previous franchise, the reboot shows every minute of the four years it had to improve on the effects of “Spider-Man 3.”

Along the same lines, the 3-D in “The Amazing Spider-Man” doesn’t show any of the normal issues associated with films that feature a lot of fast-moving, colorful elements, and manages to enhance the experience rather than distracting from it. Basically, it’s 3-D done right, and it shows you just how much the format can add to the theater experience — especially during some of the brilliant sequences shot from first-person perspective that director Marc Webb included in the film.

Plot-wise, “The Amazing Spider-Man” falls short of telling the “untold story” that the movie’s tagline promised, but that’s only because the movie stays closer to the character’s comic-book origin than any of the previous films. From Peter Parker’s mechanical web-shooters to the mysterious circumstances surrounding his parents’ death, to the presence his very first love, Gwen Stacy, “The Amazing Spider-Man” manages to be both a modern retelling of Spider-Man’s origin and the most faithful adaptation of those early comics we’ve seen thus far.

And where the previous films glossed over many of the moments that defined Spider-Man as a character in the comics — most notably, his relationship with Gwen and her father — “The Amazing Spider-Man” clearly isn’t afraid of taking the time necessary to develop the mix of emotional extremes that are a hallmark of the character. Fans know that Peter Parker is at his best when he’s grappling with the demands of his sense of responsibility and the unbridled glee of being a teenager with all of these amazing powers, and Webb delivers a film that captures that dynamic perfectly.

That’s not to say that “The Amazing Spider-Man” is without a few flaws here and there, though. Much like the previous trilogy, Spider-Man spends a bit too much time in costume without his mask, making the notion of his identity remaining secret a little far-fetched. At a time when every parking lot, street corner, and phone has a camera, the idea that Peter Parker’s hijinks sans mask could go unnoticed is a little sketchy.

The film also has some problems here and there with its primary villain, The Lizard, due to the amount of digital effects required to make actor Rhys Ifans into a massive, scaly monster with a tail the size of a compact car. A few close-quarters scenes with Spider-Man and Lizard feel a little too heavy on the computer-generated visuals, but Webb has a good handle on when to rein these scenes in before they run away with the film.

A scene from Amazing Spider-Man

The cast of “The Amazing Spider-Man” also seems to have a good grasp of the subject matter, and Garfield makes a strong case for himself as the new standard for Peter Parker. While his take on the character is less awkward and nerdy than his original 1962 counterpart, he clearly draws a lot from the modern-era Peter Parker introduced in Marvel’s line of Ultimate Comics, which filter popular heroes’ origin stories and adventures through a contemporary lens. (This is the same line of comics that Marvel Studios drew inspiration from for “The Avengers” and the rest of its recent films.)

Unlike his predecessor, Garfield seems to be conscious of the change that takes place in Peter when he puts on his costume. When he becomes Spider-Man, his movements become quick, jumpy, and spider-like, and Webb deserves credit for reflecting this in the action sequences. The hero of “The Amazing Spider-Man” uses his abilities in much the same way as a spider would, wrapping up his opponents with webbing in fast, darting attacks that are 100-percent arachnid, and using the strands of his web to sense what’s around him.

It’s a clever move by Webb that leaves you wondering why the original trilogy didn’t think to do the same.

Emma Stone also goes a long way toward bringing the Gwen Stacy of the comics to life on the screen, and along with being a visual match for the character, her chemistry with Garfield offers a great reminder of why Gwen Stacy is remembered so fondly by fans. First and foremost, she’s attracted to Peter, not Spider-Man — and she sells this key difference in the film. While the film’s duo move from casual acquaintance to tell-each-other-every-little-secret a little too quickly, Webb and his leads do a nice job of showing you why the pair were once one of comics’ most popular couples.

When the credits do finally roll — and make sure to wait until they stop rolling for an extra scene — it seems silly to think of “The Amazing Spider-Man” as anything but the best Spider-Man film we’ve seen so far. From the massive improvements in visual effects and action sequences to a more appropriate tone and leads who better embody everything fans love about the characters, Webb’s spin on the Marvel wall-crawler is proof that looking at a character with fresh eyes can sometimes be a good thing, and that “reboot” doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

In the end, it’s entirely appropriate that “The Amazing Spider-Man” opened in the period between “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” as it occupies a spot that’s tonally equidistant from both films. Where Marvel’s big team-up movie was a lighthearted, fun adventure and Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Batman finale is likely to be a dark, brooding exploration of its hero’s soul, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a balanced mix of bright and dark, fun and angsty, fast-moving and deliberately ponderous — just like its hero.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” opens July 3.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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