The Amazing Spider-Man

Everyone seems to agree that a reboot of the Spider-Man series after a mere five years since the final installment of Sam Raimi’s big-budget trilogy is entirely unnecessary.  It is.  The revamped incarnation swinging into theaters exists only because of a failed attempt from Sam Raimi and his collaborators to lift Spider-Man 4 and 5 beyond the pre-production stages.  Tobey Maguire was back for the two-picture lock and everything seemed to be in place even though Spider-Man 3 left a sour taste in the mouths of fans.  Raimi refused to compromise on the story he wanted to tell which hurt Part 3 immensely, and eventually the director walked away entirely.  What was the studio to do?  Risk losing the rights to a multi-billion dollar franchise?  I think not.  Next stop: reboot train.

All joking aside, even though Amazing Spider-Man is a pure cash grab, the studio has given the reigns to a talented filmmaker who actually handles this $220 million opus with a deft grip on the material.  Marc Webb gave audiences 500 Days of Summer, one of my favorite films from 2009 and a highly entertaining and fresh romantic-dramedy.  My hope was that Webb would incorporate the richly drawn characters of that film and allow the same amount of emotional weight to encompass the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone).

This Spider-Man origin story treads much of the same waters as Raimi’s original film.  Peter Parker, an outcast high school brainiac/photographer, gets bitten by a genetically-altered spider in the Ocscorp lab only to be transformed into a crawling human arachnid with elevated senses and superhuman strength.  His Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) gets gunned down by a corner store thug that Parker fails to stop ahead of time.  Guilt permeates Parker and drives him to hunt down criminals on the New York city streets hoping to find the man responsible for his uncle’s murder.  In his spare time, the vengeful superhero investigates the disappearance of his parents involving Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a one-armed geneticist at Oscorp working on human and animal gene splicing.

When he’s not tracking criminals and delving deeper into Connors’ secrets, Peter romances Gwen Stacey, a spunky intellectual classmate and intern working for Connors who also is the daughter of the city’s captain of police (Denis Leary).  Unfortunately for Parker, Capt. Stacey seems more interested in capturing the menacing masked vigilante, Spider-Man and bringing him to justice than he is finding other criminals.  Peter must prove to the father of his newfound love that Spider-Man is a hero, not a villain.

I don’t think much could be done in the way of making a new Spider-Man feel ‘fresh,’ but the best thing about this reboot is the casting of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in the lead roles.  They bring a certain gravity to the characters that Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst never managed to in the previous films.  Maguire’s Parker was a textbook Hollywood-engineered nerd.  Garfield plays him as less a nerd and more of a brilliant outcast that would rather delve into research and his parents’ mysterious disappearance than run around a football field.  His transformation into Spider-Man makes him far more believable as he swings around the city fighting crime—out of a more personal vendetta.

The sparks fly between Garfield and Stone as well.  I wasn’t surprised to find that the romance between the two was much more layered and interesting than what Maguire and Dunst previously brought to the table.  Stone’s Gwen Stacey is resourceful, brilliant, and immediately caught up in her beau’s alter-ego.  She and Garfield’s characters operate on the same wavelength, making their romance the highlight of the film.

The web-slinging action never disappoints either.  When much of the hero-villain dueling reduces to standard brawling, as Rhys Ifans’ transformation into the giant crawling Lizard is completely standard-issue, the 3D action is nevertheless alarmingly good.  Forget about the questionable first-person viewpoints that looked like a tired video-game shown throughout some of the trailers.  These instances come briefly and effectively.  For the most part, Marc Webb knows what he’s doing with his characters, the big special effects, and the 3D usage.  The adversary and suspense may be lacking, but this Amazing Spider-Man is at least fully competent and ready for a bigger, better sequel as long as Garfield and Stone stick with the franchise.  Where does this one rank among other Spider-Mans?  Close to—but not quite as good as—Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, however, more enjoyable than Spider-Man and the ultra-lazy Spider-Man 3.

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