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.
Unfortunately, “The Amazing Spider-Man” does have a few problems. The Lizard’s nefarious scheme — which, naturally, threatens all of New York City as supervillain plots tend to do — feels pretty clichéd and underdeveloped within the context of the film’s not-insubstantial 136-minute run time. Even though the bulk of the story rightly focuses on Peter, it would be a nice change of pace to see a superhero movie (aside from 2008’s “The Dark Knight”) that treats its villain with the same intelligence and care as the protagonist. Instead, the audience is spoon-fed exposition during one scene that features the kind of contrived computer simulation that only exists in Hollywood movies.
Likewise, the film’s CGI can be kind of hit-and-miss at times. For a lot of people, the most glaring of those CGI misses will end up being the Lizard himself. His basic design sacrifices the look from the comics in favor of something infinitely blander.
Unlike the majority of action-heavy movies these days, however, the fight scenes between Spider-Man and the Lizard manage the nearly impossible feat of remaining engaging in spite of the fact that they’re almost entirely computer generated.
Overall, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a genuine blast with plenty of excitement and humor to balance more dramatic elements.
If “The Avengers” and now “The Amazing Spider-Man” are any indication, at least, it feels like the superhero genre is finally hitting its stride after a decade of inconsistent attempts to capture the feel of comic books on the big screen. Neither film is without a few minor problems, but they are easily two of the best summer blockbusters in the last decade.
"The Amazing Spider-Man" is noticeably darker in tone than any of Raimi's movies, but it's balanced with humor and the clearly identified moral lessons so intrinsic to the character of Peter Parker. Parents should be aware, however, that while its content is generally mild, the film does contain a few scenes of violence that might be deemed too intense for younger viewers, including a brief, but relatively bloody glimpse of an act of rat cannibalism.
A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.
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