Warning: Major Amazing Spider-Man Spoilers Throughout:
There’s a lot to love about the new Amazing Spider-Man — a Peter Parker who can actually spark some sexual chemistry, a mutated villain with some genuinely freaky biological deformities, a scene-stealing Denis Leary playing the skeptical cop and a climactic showdown that takes center stage atop the New York City skyline. Given the weekend’s box office haul, clearly lots of fans were intrigued to see what direction director Marc Webb would take this familiar universe and I, for one, appreciated the production’s willingness to skew surreal — and silly. There’s something to be said about believable superhero combat grounded in actual physics, but in a season that’s already seen so much overheated, overserious showdowns, I relished Webb’s more absurd and over-the-top asides, like Parker’s subway struggles with his new powers as he bounces off the ceiling and destroys a couple hoodlums with firepower he doesn’t even know he possesses, or when The Lizard loses his temper with, who else, his cab driver. There’s a sense of humor, of inventiveness, in this Spider-Man that runs beautifully counter to the hyper-serious twists of so many other recent comic book blockbusters.
And Webb had one other big thing going for him: The best 3D sequence I’ve ever seen. I’m not joking. To my mind, The Amazing Spider-Man registers as just the fourth film that requires 3D glasses to be fully appreciated (the predecessors being Avatar, The Adventures of Tintin and Prometheus), and it is the first to execute 3D point-of-view shots at this level of precision or ingenuity. I previously wrote about the use of 3D in The Avengers, where the single best shot of the film was an Iron Man joyride through the skyscraper canyons of New York City. If The Avengers experimented with a 3D POV taste test, then The Amazing Spider-Man dishes up a three-course feast for audiences. During one of Spidey’s many flights above New York, Webb shifts from observer to participant, turning the camera into a free-floating acrobat.
As Spider-Man flies, falls, shoots and ascends once again, skimming the horizon before falling back into the city, Webb puts us inside his mask, experiencing the visceral physics of his web placement. The sequence is so smooth and immersive that one almost forgets how difficult it must have been to create – balancing high-definition aerial photography of the city with animated web motion and deep 3D focus. More than just a great spectacle, it’s also the natural evolution of the big-screen superhero experience; after all, we go to these movies to vicariously live out the super powers, so it seems perfectly appropriate that Webb has given the audience the gift of flight.
In fact, the Spider-Man climax suggests a whole new direction for 3D experiences. In its earliest use, 3D allowed audiences to feel as if objects were emerging from the screen. With Avatar, and then again with Tintin, Prometheus, Hugo and the like, 3D went inward. The virtuoso flight sequence in Avatar was all about the depth and the scale. Jake didn’t fly out of the screen, but instead James Cameron helped us to experience the height at which he was flying, the speed at which he was flying, and the physicality of his flying dinosaur. And by giving us all that weight and scope, we became immersed in the reality of the scene.
But this summer, Avengers and Spider-Man have suggested another 3D possibility: Immersion through a character’s senses…where we no longer watch from the outside and marvel at the scenery, but get to experience the world through Peter Parker, as he skims the top of Gotham, or through Tony Stark, as he throttles up and reduces the city to a bright blur, whooshing by.
I know that Mary Pols has already raved on this site about the virtues of The Amazing Spider-Man. I must admit that I’m slightly less impressed, and see this edition as far inferior to Sam Raimi’s epic Spider-Man 2. But where The Amazing Spider-Man stands apart is in its imaginative, precise and hypnotic 3D. James Cameron set the bar, and now Marc Webb has raised it. The 3D evolution continues.
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