The Amazing Spider-Man was released in the summer of 2012 as a remake of sorts that departed both thematically and in narrative from the initial 2002 movie with Tobey Maguire. In my opinion this film was a significant improvement to the original series and was well worth the remake effort - it is loaded with undertones and (I believe) hidden meaning. In particular the film is about genetic manipulation of the human species and I believe it has been released in a timely manner to probe the population's sentiment on this topic. There's also a fair bit more violence and gore and let me tell you the reptile character is downright creepy.
The story begins as always with Peter Parker as a slightly awkward, troubled and rebellious young teen struggling to grow up with his new foster parents (his aunt May and uncle Ben) while trying to avoid the gauntlet of public school life in New York City (the film opens with him being beaten to the ground by a fellow classmate during recess). Parker is good at pretending to follow rules while secretly following his own agenda - a skill that will come in handy throughout the film.
During this early phase of the film we are also introduced to Gwen, the object of Parker's affection who at first pities and yet admires Parker as it is her boyfriend Flash who beats him up for standing up to his bullying. Gwen is a typical young blonde starlet and it just so happens to be that she interns at OsCorp - the corporate biotech giant that is genetically engineering all kinds of "goodies" for humanity (or so we are told). OsCorp's headquarters in downtown Manhattan and is digitally added to the Manhattan Skyline - the headquarters are both impressive and intentionally monolithic. When Parker discovers some papers that suggest his father's work at OsCorp may have been near-groundbreaking he decides to do some sleuthing and assumes the identity of a new intern during an intern-orientation program hosted by none other than his heart-throb Gwen. During his "orientation" Gwen realizes that Parker is assuming someone else's identity but instead of ratting him out she simply orders him to stick with the group. During the OsCorp "orientation" Parker has his first meeting with Dr. Curt Connors, his father's original associate though he does not introduce himself at the time and instead impresses Dr. Connors with his knowledge of genetic engineering and cross-species hybridization. Of course ignoring Gwen's requests, at his first opportunity, Parker wanders off into the halls of OsCorp after bumping into a rather sinister corporate man - Dr. Ratha whom we later find out is associated with Parker Sr.'s death - and catching a glimpse of some of his papers that were related to Parker's Sr.'s work. After following this individual eventually Parker walks into the "spider laboratory" where he gets bitten by a genetically engineered spider that produces "biocables" and, well, you know the rest...
When Peter meets Dr. Connors finally as himself at his residence (he reveals he is Parker Sr.'s son) Dr. Connor seems reluctant but eventually allows him inside. This leads to a series of meetings between the two of them where Peter reveals he has read much of Dr. Connors work and has taken great interest in his "rate decay algorithm" (a bit of a flashy phrase designed to wow the tech-savy viewer) which apparently was a hindrance to the cross species hybridization research that Dr. Connors was involved with. This seems to have been the obstacle that had prevented progress of his father's work and we soon learn that Bruce's father was the genius and visionary of the project - pushing it far beyond what their critics both at the company and in the outside academic world thought was possible. None the less though the "rate decay algorithm" was insufficient in its current form to allow for complete hybridization to occur without killing the subject (i.e. rat). Parker however reveals that he believes he has found a solution and shows Dr. Connors some revised version of the formula that Connors agrees is a good candidate to yield a complete solution. Thus Dr. Connors invites Parker to become a laboratory assistant of his and they begin a series of computational clinical trials conducted using a holographic interface into a mainframe supercomputer. Parker begins to test his theories using the supercomputer by iteratively attempting to splice human and lizard DNA -the idea being that since lizards can regenerate lost limbs (tails) this adaptive mechanism could be transferred to humans as well. We also learn of Dr. Connor's personal connection to his research - a missing arm which he hopes to regenerate and later succeeds albeit at a price.
Later on in the film we learn more about Dr. Ratha - he is the supervisor of Dr. Connors' research which has apparently been supported by OsCorp for almost three decades. Dr. Ratha has been growing increasingly impatient about pushing the research into "Phase III" clinical trials - i.e. on live humans so as to help save the CEO Norman Osborne's life - oddly we never meet this person. When he learns of the progress Dr. Connors has been making with his new apprentice he begins pressuring Connors to perform Phase III trials at the Veteran's Hospital no less (more on this later). Connors refuses and Dr. Ratha reminds him of what happened to his father during a similar episode in the past (we can only assume the worst at this point). Connors looks visibly stunned but does not yield and refuses to move on to Phase III until Phase II has been completely finished to his satisfaction. Dr. Ratha then says to have his staff and stuff packed out the following day as he would be shutting down the lab ASAP. Later on we see Dr. Connors looking desperate and suddenly reaches for the serum he and Parker had worked so hard to create - Dr. Connors goes for broke and inoculates himself with the serum hoping it will regenerate his lost limb. Later we see him convulsing at his desk, writhing in pain and passing out only to reawaken later to see his missing arm suddenly regenerated looking almost embryonic in appearance. At first he is ecstatic and makes a phone call to connect with Dr. Ratha but then he finds out Dr. Ratha is already on his way to the veterans clinic with a dose of the serum himself - something which Dr. Connors must prevent. Dr. Connors calls a cab as he continues to metamorphasize with strange scales and other patterns beginning to emerge in his appearance and he aggressively orders the cab driver to the veterans hospital which of course takes them across the Brooklyn Bridge....
Prior to this point in the film we had seen glimpses of Parker slowly becoming Spider man - experimenting with his newfound abilities to produce spider silk. He's created technology that can direct the silk through a sort of miniature gun attached to his wrist. He also perfects his costume all while chasing crime and trying to track down the criminal that killed his uncle Ben. Finally Peter is invited to Gwen's place where he meets Gwen's father (played by Dennis Leary) who happens to be the police commissioner of New York - Captain Stacy - and is dead-set on finding and arresting the new-found vigilante dubbed "Spider-Man". He and Peter get into a heated debate which Gwen finally interrupts - later on they are on their balcony where they share their first kiss. However this scene is interrupted by her mother who informs her that her father must see her - he has apparently been called onto duty for an emergency evacuation of the Brooklyn Bridge which seems to be under threat of some kind (I believe they refer to a possible terror attack if I recall correctly).
This is the point were Connors has fully transmogrified into a Lizard-Man. The Lizard carries some of Connor's traits (i.e. he recognizes his human identity as Dr. Connor's) but sees humans, including himself, as weak. He is a raging beast and goes on a rampage looking for Dr. Ratha by tossing cars over the Brooklyn Bridge (which appears to have been traffic-jammed) as he looks for Dr. Ratha - at this point presumably for no other reason than just to settle the score. Eventually Spider-Man arrives on the scene (having received the distress signal) and struggles to save the cars the Lizard has tossed over the edge including that of a young boy. This is their first encounter and it should be said that the Lizard Man is perhaps the creepiest and scariest villain of all time - everything he does is calculated but aggressively motivated and his superhuman strength is matched only by his supreme intellect (mind somewhere in there is Dr. Connors).
Later in the film Spider-Man suspects Connors is the Lizard, and unsuccessfully confronts the creature in the sewers after seeking advice from human-Dr. Connors at his lab on how to track reptiles to which Connors replies humorously that reptiles can be "extremely aggressive" when confronted. Connors then becomes enamored with his lizard form and moves his laboratory into the sewer where eventually Parker gives chase and they battle even more intensely as they both discover the extent of their super-human strengths. Later on the Lizard learns Spider-Man's real identity and attacks Peter at school. The police hunt both Spider-Man and the Lizard, with Captain Stacy also learning Spider-Man's real identity.
By the end of the film The Lizard plans to make all humans lizard-like by releasing a chemical cloud from OsCorp's tower. Spider-Man eventually disperses an antidote cloud instead, restoring Connors and earlier victims to normal, but not before the Lizard fatally gouges Captain Stacy to death. The dying Stacy makes Peter promise to keep Gwen safe by staying away from her. Peter initially does so, but later suggests he may see her after all.
On a deeper level I feel this film is discussing the ethical dilemmas of genetic engineering and I believe it is being released to desensitize the population to this particular topic. Bear in mind that we are already beginning to see signs of a wave of unregulated genetic engineering in the world we live in today. Recently it has been revealed that we are moving far beyond merely tampering with agricultural biology and the genetics of our food crops - we are now fully into the realm of interspecies hybridization programs of the very nature being discussed in the film. Think I am kidding? Watch this...
In the first video we learn of research being sponsored by Fidelity Investments into genetically engineering goats to mass produce spider's silk - literally right out of the film itself! In addition it proposes producing massive genetically engineered salmon that grow twice the rate of normal salmon (i.e. up to 10 times the normal size). The second video discusses mapping the entire human genome project - all of this sponsored through Fidelity Investments.
A certain internet pod-caster who's name I won't mention has dubbed this "Genetic Armageddon" - i.e. the crossing of the rubicon where by we are no longer just attempting to increase mere crop yields but massively transforming the biological foundations of all species through hybridization programs - a sort of warp speed of evolution where the end goal is neither fully known nor understood. Sadly, none of this illegal and it seems the law has yet to come up to speed with the biotechnology that is being produced. Its as though the companies are attempting to desensitize the public to the existence of these programs before they fully understand their risks and any attempt is made to outlaw or even regulate them. Apparently someone, somewhere has already decided that this is our collective future, like it or not!
I was also struck by a scene where by Dr. Connors had videotaped himself declaring that humans were "weak" and his research was in fact a gift for all humanity that he alone would reveal. Clearly the implication is that the reptilian portion of the human brain (literally that portion of our brain that is run by our lower cortex areas) has latent powers and is more aggressive, dominant and persuasive than our more evolved mammalian/human prefrontal-cortex. In fact many studies have suggested that psychopathic individuals have much larger cerebral cortex's and highly underdeveloped frontal cortexes allowing them greater capacities for taking aggressive but calculated risks, lying, manipulation, lack of sexual inhibition but most of all lack of empathy for other humans and inability to experience shame for their behavior. The Lizard Man, in my mind, seemed to embody these traits.
All in all this was a very powerful and salient film with a timely release date of the summer of 2012 - I give it 4 stars out of 5. My next film to review is of course the one we have all been waiting for this summer: "Batman, Rise of the Dark Knight" with Christian Bale. That film will come out later this summer and looks to be another blockbuster with even more symbolism and cultural overtones regarding our current economic and political crisis in the US....