By Linc Leifeste | July 3, 2012
Director: Marc Webb
Writers: James Vanderbilt (story/screenplay), Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves (screenplay), Stan Lee, Steve Ditko (Marvel comic book)
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Chris Zylka
Okay, let’s get it out of the way. In a cinematic climate already bursting at the seams with superhero movies, the film-going audience is in need of a Spider-Man reboot about as much as Travis County needs another hipster import. It was only ten years ago that Sam Raimi directed the generally well-regarded and financially successful Spider-Man, followed by the obligatory sequels in 2004 and 2007. Sure, that series ended on something of a disappointing note with the third installment falling a bit flat with both critics and audiences but the plans were still there for a Spider-Man 4 before it all hit the skids. So the decision was made to just start fresh with a new director, a new lead, and a new (old) origin story. Not an ideal scenario, and I’d contend not the smartest choice, but if you can get past the requisite resentment about being treated to one of the most well-known superhero origin stories one more time, The Amazing Spider-Man is a solidly entertaining summer blockbuster.
The latest version of Peter Parker is played by Andrew Garfield and for my money his teenaged Parker is a lot more appealing and even more importantly, more believable, than Tobey Maguire’s version. He’s not a bad looking guy, he’s tall and lanky but he manages to carry himself in such a way that you feel like he just recently had a growth spurt and hasn’t yet grown into his height. He’s shy and awkward, his best friends appear to be his skateboard and his camera and he’s incessantly bullied by muscle-bound jock Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka). Garfield does an admirable job of imbuing his Parker with a sense of melancholic isolation, the source of which is revealed to stem from his parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) abandoning him (for his own protection, apparently) at a young age after a break-in at their home, leaving him in the care of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) and dying mysteriously in a plane crash soon after.
A chance encounter with a long forgotten briefcase of his father’s which has been stowed away in the basement leads Peter on a quest to Oscorp and the lab of the legendary one-armed Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), home of cutting edge scientific research on the cross breeding of human and reptilian DNA combined with the worst security in the history of the modern world. As well, in an odd twist of fate, beautiful Gwen Stacy, the high school classmate of Parker’s wildest dreams and daughter of NY City Police Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), happens to be Dr. Connor’s assistant. Soon, Parker has unfettered access to the inner workings of the lab and it’s not long before he’s been bitten by a radioactive spider and begins to exhibit spider-like symptoms.
Parker seeks out Dr. Connors to discreetly learn more about the nature of his plight but it seems Dr. Connors doesn’t have much time to spend on Peter as he’s under a strict deadline to advance his work before his benefactor’s health fails. With partial success at having lab rats regrow missing appendages, Connors is informed that the trials will be moved to human subjects, possibly at a veteran’s hospital and without the patients’ consent. When Connors objects, he is fired but allowed to spend the rest of the day in his lab unsupervised. So, of course, he does what any white-coated Hollywood scientist would do and injects himself. And thus is born…The Lizard!
Okay, so the plot isn’t the tightest ever but then we are talking comic book material here so I’ll cut it some slack. What the film does extremely well is two-fold. It gets the human interactions and emotions right and it looks amazing. Even if it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, I felt invested in Parker and his struggles with being bullied. Repressed childhood memories of longing for the attention of the beautiful girl and not knowing how to respond when I got them were stirred by Peter’s interactions with Stacy, which were imbued with a youthful romantic chemistry. As well, Peter’s loss of his beloved Uncle Ben was more powerfully conveyed this time around than in the Raimi version. And visually the film is a success; Spider-Man’s suit has never looked so amazing and the birds-eye shots of Spider-Man swinging across New York are exhilarating.
For my tastes, watching the journey of Peter Parker’s transformation into Spider-Man carries a lot more weight than the obligatory climactic battle at film’s end with the fate of the entire city of New York (yawn) hanging in the balance. There’s a great subway scene early on where Peter is awkwardly first coming to (suddenly sticky) grips with his newly discovered strength and agility and nearly destroys a subway car in the process. His initial clashes with street hoods and petty criminals are a blast to watch, especially the scene where he takes down a car thief and presents the best on-screen version of the smart-aleck wise-cracking Stan Lee-era Spider-Man of my idealized memory. And speaking of Stan Lee, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this film features, by far, the best of all of the Stan Lee cameos to date.
Of course the film doesn’t end with such small human interactions but with Spider-Man and the incredibly large and incredibly deadly Lizard fighting an epic battle on the rooftops of New York, the implausible outcome of which is never in question. And lest you haven’t learned by now, you should stick around the theater while the credits roll so you won’t miss the hint of what to expect in the next installment of the Amazing Spider-Man story. Hopefully wherever director Marc Webb takes this story in the future he’ll find a way to keep some focus on Parker’s development into adulthood and the growing pains he experiences as both a young adult and a new superhero and not just on bigger-than-life battles with colossal super-villains.