The Amazing Spider-Man
Just five years after the last "Spider-Man" installment, Sony has decided to reboot the franchise, though it was successful enough the first time around. While this might seem strange (it really is), "The Amazing Spider-Man" actually succeeds on many levels, and in a few, even surpasses expectations.
As it goes with superhero stories, the first is always the "origin" story. How did a sixteen-year old boy go from being a picture-taking high school geek to saving the city one thug at a time? Here Peter is played by Brit Andrew Garfield in a more subdued and less "showy" way than Tobey Maguire did which not only serves the film well, but also fits in with the times.
After an extended opening where a young Peter (Max Charles) is playing hide and seek with his father, a break-in occurs and he is swiftly taken out of the family home by his parents (Scott Campbell and Embeth Davidtz) and brought to stay with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen.) There he grows up with little knowledge of what happened to his parents who left him and never returned.
Years later, he is a skateboarding teenage photographer who is bullied at school by a guy named Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka) and has no luck with the ladies, despite being a tall drink of water. When he finds an old briefcase of his father’s and discovers a secret file and newspaper clipping of a former co-worker of his dad’s, he goes on a mission to talk to the man.
He sneaks his way into Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans) high-tech research institute where he discovers his school crush Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) is an intern at the facility. After a "meet cute" scene, Peter sneaks off to a secret lab only to find a room filled with glowing spiders making webs. After a little whoopsie, the spiders land on Peter and he inadvertently carries one out with him. We all know what happens after that.
Let’s face it, the Spider-Man story is now very familiar and "The Amazing Spider-Man" does have a bit of a "been there, done that" feel to it. Therefore, I’ll refrain from further plot details so some of the proceedings will remain as a surprise. Suffice it to say that there will be a villain in the form of a giant lizard man, epic battles and rescues on buildings and bridges, and a romance straight out of the best indie rom-com.
Thankfully, director Mark Webb ("500 Days of Summer") and screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves skim over some of the more familiar details so we don’t see an elaborate costume making sequence or "I think I’ll become a superhero" moment. It just is, and the film is better for it. In fact, there are a lot of things better than the original Sam Raimi’s films which, in their own right, were fairly good. (Okay, not the third one.)
The reboot is much more emotional, starting with Peter’s relationship with his aunt and uncle. Field and Sheen play it just right, without overreaching the "wise old parent" tone and being the type of guardians any kid would want to have. This benefits the film when Uncle Ben is killed (not a spoiler since its part of the Spider-Man legend in all incarnations) which occurs almost an hour into the film. Because Webb allows us to spend time with him, we actually hurt when he is killed and we ache for Peter’s loss.
In that vein, his relationship with Gwen Stacey plays like a modern romantic comedy. It’s adorable, sweet, believable, and charming. (Remember, Webb directed "500 Days of Summer"). We root for these two kids to be together and Webb lets us get to know them. He slows the movie down for moments at a time for us to watch these two fall in love.
And if you think it would be impossible to match the upside down kiss Maguire had with Kirsten Dunst in the original, well, they’ve come up with a clever variation that’s just as fun.
As for the look of the film, it’s gorgeous and vast. The action scenes are fun and seamlessly integrate CGI into real stunts. Peter’s first dealings with his newfound powers on a subway are clever and hilariously fun. And when he starts using his abilities to fight crime, Webb allows Garfield to play Peter as the teenager he is - a cocky jokester.
Which brings me to Garfield. He truly is the best thing about "Spider-Man." His ability to get the audience to connect with him is amazing and genuine. With Maguire I felt I was watching him discover his abilities and save the world. Here I felt like I was going along with Garfield for the ride, not standing outside of him looking in. For a relative newcomer to general American audiences, that is no small feat.
The only slight misstep is the villain. Known as The Lizard, the creation is fun to watch, but it’s not as threatening as I’d had hoped and therefore not as compelling a villain as the film needed. Because everything else is so top notch, the movie needed to have a weightier bad guy. Regardless, the action and fight scenes between the two are visceral and there is a genuine sense of suspense that has you gripping your seat.
As summer superhero blockbusters go, this is a worthy addition to the crowded marketplace. Whether audiences will embrace it over the Raimi versions, only time will tell. But there is a surprise after the credits, so it certainly looks like there will be a Part 2. And I’m not gonna lie - I got a little excited at the prospect.