‘The Amazing Spider-Man’Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma StoneDirected by: Marc WebbRated: PG-13My spidey sense tells me that this is going to be one of the biggest movies of the summer because it’s that good — on every level. For anyone asking why this Marvel Comic hero needed a reboot after the highly successful trilogy starring Toby Maguire, this new feature will quell any discussion despite some of the liberties taken with the character’s mythology.
Young Peter Parker’s parents still die and he is sent to live with his aunt and uncle (played by Sally Field and Martin Sheen), but the spider bite that gives him his powers is no longer radioactive. Instead it’s a genetically mutated spider busily spinning a wicked web in the OsCorp lab where Dr. Curt Cooper (Rhys Ifans), a former associate of Peter’s dad, is fiddling around with regenerative cross mutations of animal and human DNA.
The reintroduction of Peter becoming Spider-Man requires a lot of expository scenes front loaded into the action as he hones his new athletic skills and hyper-senses caused by the bite. The story must also cover the burgeoning love story between shy Peter and sassy classmate, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). The accidental killing of Peter’s uncle in a robbery attempt that is sort of Peter’s fault is the impetus for him to come up with a mask and costume to disguise himself as he searches for the killer, something that captures the attention of the police chief (Denis Leary), also Gwen’s dad.
But the real action kicks in around the halfway mark when Dr. Cooper’s experiments turn him into a giant green lizard that menaces the city, threatening to unleash a bio-weapon that will infect the population with the same scaly fate — a plot point not as evolved as the creature Dr. Cooper becomes.
Refined special effects breathe new life into this story. Also there is real chemistry with real-life couple Garfield and Stone. While perhaps a tad too old to play high school sweethearts, they both imbue their characters with the necessary innocence and uncertainty that is age appropriate. Garfield especially offers a more nuanced interpretation of the orphaned teen with a lot of angst — both human and superhuman.
Directed by Marc Webb, the visuals are exhilarating as Spider-Man scales dizzying heights scraping the sides of the city’s tallest buildings — a perfect environment to take the 3D effects for a spin. The Howard Shore score adds a nice, soaring touch that complements the aerial ballet. No doubt this “Spiderman” will soon be returning with a sequel.
‘Savages’Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, Selma Hayek, John TravoltaDirected by: Oliver StoneRated: R
This is more akin to Oliver Stone’s hyper-violent “Natural Born Killers” than the proselytizing he engaged in with “Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps.” It’s hard to pigeonhole Stone, who has made movies about everything from past presidents to spree killers. But a movie about Mexican drug cartels seems perfect for his talents, and he unleashes the violence and mayhem in this feature based on Don Winslow’s New York Times bestseller.
In idyllic Laguna Beach, Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) share a hugely successful pot enterprise and a girlfriend, “O” for Ophelia (Blake Lively), who also narrates the story. The sunkissed ménage a trois live the good life in an expensive beach pad with Ben, a soft-spoken botanist, growing a world-renown product, and Chon, an ex-SEAL who toured Afghanistan, keeping the business end functioning.
When a Baja cartel led by Elena (Selma Hayek) wants to partner up, the independent producers naively turn down the offer. That mistake leads to O’s kidnapping at the hands of Elena’s stateside enforcer Lado (Benecio Del Toro with an amazing mullet). Playing both sides against the middle is an opportunistic DEA agent (John Travolta), who switches allegiances as often as it takes to save his own skin. Meanwhile, Ben and Chon are forced to adapt to the cartel methods they disdain to get back their girl.
Stone pumps up the action with crazy camera work using a wide range of mediums and techniques including black and white, oversaturation, digital, handheld shots — a vertiginous mix that feels suited for the story. Stone typically overplays his hand, and here he does so with ultra violent scenes of torture and some epic shootouts that are over the top. It’s fierce and vicious and feels ripped from the headlines of Mexico’s newspapers.
The trilogy of underperforming young stars is no match for the veterans who dive into their roles with brio. Del Toro is a menacing thug who seems to relish his work, whether that is whipping a man to death or raping girls. Travolta is a wily buffoon who appears blessed with the ability to think on his feet. Of the three, though, the best is Hayek as the wicked female cartel leader who seems as hard as a Lee press-on nail but reveals a softer side.
Her feminine wiles serve her in business, but she also offers good advice when she purrs in her husky voice to her captor, “There is something wrong with your love story, baby.”
Gratuitous violence aside, this is a better product than Stone has produced in some time. The story moves quickly and Hayek makes a super “Savage.”