'The Amazing Spider-Man' is a fantastic update to the franchise

By Jeffrey Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, July 3 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone star in Columbia Pictures' "The Amazing Spider-Man."

Columbia Pictures

Related: 'Amazing Spider-Man' goes in a little different direction

Sony’s decision to reboot the Spider-Man franchise only a few years after the last Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire film has been met with skepticism from the beginning.

However, fans can rest easy.

Although the story of a nerdy kid bitten by a radioactive spider might seem overly familiar at first, director Marc Webb’s take on the character more than justifies the movie's existence. “The Amazing Spider-Man” presents arguably the best on-screen version of Peter Parker to date, thanks in large part to a star-making performance by Andrew Garfield, even as it departs from both the original trilogy and the comics in a number of significant ways.

This time around, Peter Parker — more social outcast than science nerd — still struggles with the absence of his parents years after they left him to the care of his aunt and uncle. Peter’s desire to find out what caused his parents to disappear eventually leads him to the Oscorp laboratories, where he meets the renowned herpetologist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a colleague of his father’s working on a secret project. This meeting inadvertently sets in motion a series of events that endow both individuals with extraordinary abilities and threaten Peter's budding relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).

Even though there will always be people who prefer Sam Raimi’s version of the web-slinging hero, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is, in many ways, an improvement.

Webb (“(500) Days of Summer”) deals with the inevitable overlap of the two origin stories in a smart way, though, by generally avoiding too many instances of direct comparison. Iconic scenes and elements that were handled well in Raimi’s 2002 film either don’t appear at all or are completely reworked and presented in new ways. In other words, don’t expect to see an upside-down kiss between Gwen and Peter, but their first romantic scene is packed with meaning of its own and may well prove to be just as iconic.

Without question, though, the most amazing part of the new movie is, pretty appropriately, Spider-Man himself — Garfield. The British thespian — who, in spite of his relative youth, has already received plenty of acclaim for roles in movies like “The Social Network” and “Never Let Me Go” (both from 2010) — really knocks it out of the park, giving a phenomenal performance as both the awkward teenager and his wisecracking alter ego. Like Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Garfield perfectly inhabits his character — and that’s no faint praise.

Aside from Garfield, the rest of the cast is also remarkably solid. Ifans (“Notting Hill,” “Anonymous”) is alternately sympathetic and threatening as the film’s Jekyll-and-Hyde villain, and supporting performances by Denis Leary (Diego from the “Ice Age” movies) as Captain Stacy, as well as Sally Field and Martin Sheen as Peter’s aunt and uncle, help anchor the film.

Of course, the emotional core of the movie is the love story between Peter and Gwen, who is played by the charming Stone (“Easy A,” “The Help”). Even relegated to the role of love interest, Stone manages to bring her unique combination of instant likability, intelligence and wit to the character. She and Garfield also have an effortless chemistry — perhaps because they are a real-life couple, as well.

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