The Amazing Spider-Man
Director(s): Marc Webb
Writer(s): James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz and Chris Zylka
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Jul 3, 2012 - Wide
The Amazing Spider-Man reboots a franchise which saw its last installment in 2007. While it might seem a bit redundant to revisit the origin story just a decade after 2002’s Spider-Man, armed with a new lead, Andrew Garfield, and a new director, Marc Webb, this version adds some humanity to the story that was missing before.
The film begins with a prologue that shows a young Peter Parker and his parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) after an apparent nighttime break-in. His parents drop him off at the home of his Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen and Sally Field) and head off. Young Peter never sees his parents again.
Fast-forward to his teenage years and Peter (Andrew Garfield) is a skateboarding outsider who shoots for the high school yearbook. When he tries to stop a bully and gets beaten up, his bravery catches the attention of classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Meanwhile, Peter discovers his father’s old briefcase, learning that ol’ dad was researching cross-species genetics with Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) who works at OsCorp, one of those giant mega-corporations that only exist in the world of superheroes and supervillains.
Since Spider-Man’s been around since 1962, we all know what happens next. Peter gets bitten by a radioactive spider, gains the ability to climb walls, loses his uncle and becomes a web-slinging crime fighter. This could all be one giant mishmash of CGI effects and super-fast action scenes but the appropriately named Webb, who directed (500) Days of Summer, has the benefit of working with a script and a group of actors that take this film to another level. This is a superhero film, a summer blockbuster, that has moments that make it feel like a smaller, quirky, character piece.
Garfield portrays Parker with the right amount of attitude that you’d expect from a teenage superhero. He can be cocky about his new abilities, overconfident in his web-slinging travels and “aw shucks” shy when he talks to the girl of his dreams, Gwen. He’s taking classes by day, fighting crime by night, and when he engages in a debate about Spider-Man’s actions with Gwen’s police captain dad (Denis Leary), he has the petulance of a do-no-wrong teen confronting an authority figure.
Emma Stone’s Gwen isn’t just superhero arm candy. Sure she’s prone to wearing minis and thigh-high boots, but she’s top of her science class, has a gig at OsCorp assisting Dr. Connors and has the backbone to stand up to her NYPD father. Again, Stone’s performance is in tune with both ends of the spectrum, whether she’s involved in fighting a madman in an action scene or trying to fight the urge to kiss Peter in the film’s quieter moments.
Rhys Ifans’s Dr. Connors also captures the plight of comic book villains with feeling, starting off as a man with a noble mission who finds that his experiments drag him into a world of madness-fueled violence. Even casting Sheen and Field as Ben and May gives acting chops to what could be tossed aside as less important roles. The love and support Sheen’s Uncle Ben gives Peter acts as an honest foundation to the crime-fighting path he undertakes. The readers of comic books have always known the depth was in the stories, but too often the film adaptations have turned the comics into cartoons, but that’s not happening here.
Though it has only been five years since Spider-Man 3, the CGI effects have advanced enough that Garfield’s Spider-Man appears more realistic and subject to the laws of physics than the previous incarnation. In the previous Spider-Man films, it often felt like the scenes in costume were pulled out of a video game, while here we feel like Spider-Man is a person with three dimensions. Speaking of three dimensions, the film is in 3D, although except for a few moments in the action scenes, it does feel like Webb was still getting comfortable with the technology. That’s not a quibble, it’s just that it did feel at times like the glasses weren’t needed.
Webb has successfully balanced real characters and emotions with the action-packed scenes we’ve come to expect from a major summer release. Though a studio rebooting a series so soon may seem unnecessary — except to their bottom line — the surprising result is the birth of a new series we’re looking forward to following.