Title: The Amazing Spider-Man
Directed By: Marc Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary, Chris Zylka, Irrfan Khan
Director Marc Webb couldn’t have taken on a tougher challenge. Not only does he opt to make the leap from modest comedy to massive CGI blockbuster, but he does so with an almost entirely beloved franchise that wrapped a mere five years ago. However, when the odds are against you like that in this industry, solid filmmaking is really all you need to make a moviegoing experience worth it, even if it’s an experience you’ve been through not too long ago.
As a young boy, Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) parents left in a hurry, leaving him in the care of his Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Sally Field and Martin Sheen). Now in high school, Peter’s dealing with typical teen troubles like crushes and bullies, but the fact that his parents never gave any explanation for their disappearance still eats away at him. When he happens upon his father’s old briefcase, Peter finally might have found the clue that could lead him to answers about his parents, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), his father’s former partner.
After weaseling his way into a tour of Dr. Connors’ laboratory, Peter gets turned around and winds up coming in contact with a radioactive spider. He thinks nothing of his spider bite until he realizes he now has incredible physical abilities allowing him to climb walls, spin webs and stop criminals. Meanwhile, Dr. Connors is in a panic as his boss is threatening to shut down his operation. Desperate to see if the serum he’s working on could help him regrow his amputated arm, he takes it himself and it’s successful – in a way.
If you’re a fan of the Sam Raimi films, or perhaps just a couple of them, The Amazing Spider-Man will require a bit of an adjustment. While the stories do deviate quite a bit, ultimately, this is still the tale of a boy who’s bitten by a radioactive spider. In Webb’s version, the effects of Peter’s parents’ disappearance is far more prominent and that element is quite successful. The transition from Raimi to Webb becomes a little rockier when it comes to Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).
If you’ve never read the Spider-Man comics, what we get in 2002’s Spider-Man is the original origin story and much of that story revolves around Mary Jane Watson. While Stone puts on a fine performance, there’s something particularly jarring about completely switching gears and believing that Peter has an entirely new crush, regardless of whether or not Gwen came first in the source material
However, once you’re fully entrenched in this new Peter Parker’s world, Garfield absolutely runs away with it. Garfield doesn’t merely play Peter Parker, he is Peter Parker. It’s a tough sensation to put into words, but you can actually see Garfield slip away and give himself entirely to the character. It’s tough to believe he’s as feeble and helpless as Toby Maguire’s Peter because Garfield isn’t nearly as geeky and is extremely charming, but that’s part of the reason The Amazing Spider-Man works; Garfield makes his Peter feel like a fresh character while still exhibiting all of the facets we know and love about Spider-Man.
While Gwen Stacy isn’t as dynamic of a character, Stone does an excellent job at giving her enough pizazz to make her memorable. Unlike Garfield, Stone’s success comes from doing what she does best and letting her natural habits come through in her performance. For some that may be understandably distracting, but it also can make Gwen more than your average superhero movie leading lady. She’s got spunk, conviction and a very natural sense of humor. Ifans successfully blends Dr. Connors’ human qualities with the Lizard’s villainous nature, but there are missed opportunities on both ends. He’s a rather cut and dry character, playing the cliché scientist when necessary and flipping on the evil switch when in Lizard form, but a few more powerful moments between Peter and the human Dr. Connors could have made the battles between Spider-Man and The Lizard far more tense. It’s also proposed that Peter feels responsible for turning Dr. Connors into the Lizard, but that merely pops up via one or two lines of dialogue and isn’t given nearly enough time to make it a believable through line.
But this is an instance where flawed details and illogicality are superseded by the fact that this is a well-made Spider-Man movie and it’s a blast to watch. There are some incredible sans-CGI fight sequences early on in the film featuring Parkour-style movements that will absolutely blow your mind. Some of the computer-generated fight sequences that kick in later on are noticeably cartoonish, which is clearly primarily due to the lizard, but by that point director Marc Webb has already made you feel as though this world is real and that’s all that’s necessary to brush aside the unbelievable elements and simply enjoy The Amazing Spider-Man for what it is.
While it’s still tough to say that we did indeed need another Spider-Man movie, it’s a thrill to confirm that nobody could have done it better than Webb and Garfield. The Amazing Spider-Man may not be quite as good as the 2002 film, but it’s not that far off.