Directed by: Marc Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of action and violence
Once again, the Spider-Man story has been rebooted. Toby Maguire and the rest of the previous cast are gone, replaced by Andrew Garfield (aka the other guy from the Facebook movie) and a new crop of actors. It’s easy to approach this film with resentment — after all, why retell the Spider-Man origin story yet again, only ten years after the last time?
Thankfully, the team behind “The Amazing Spider-Man” seems to have gone all the way back to the drawing board, and started fresh. All the familiar elements are here — the spider bite that grants special powers, the absent parents and fond aunt and uncle, the red and blue suit, and so on — but there are some new and different elements threaded through them. To give one small example, they’ve gone back to the idea that Peter Parker has to build his webshooters rather than somehow growing them.
Since “The Amazing Spider-Man” is an origin story, most of the plot is taken up with giving Peter his powers, his burgeoning romance with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and his development of the Spider-Man persona. He does have a villain to fight, of course, once he’s mastered his abilities and fine-tuned his methods a bit. The Lizard, a mutant mix of man and reptile, eventually makes his appearance and Peter has to figure out a way to defeat a creature that regenerates limbs with ease. The Lizard’s diabolical schemes aren’t terribly original, but you don’t go to a superhero movie for creative plotting, you go to have fun and watch superpowered people beating each other up.
Garfield’s Peter Parker is a delight. He has the gangly, somewhat awkward look of the high schooler Peter is at this point, and handles both snarky and shy with ease. He’s also believable as a remarkably gifted young man. Garfield is aided by the solid script, but he also brings a lot of skill to the table. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is a heroine worth rooting for — she’s both intelligent and brave, for a start. The script does dip into melodramatic territory at times, and Gwen’s characterization gets more stereotypical when that happens, but by and large she’s more enjoyable than a lot of movie superheroes’ girlfriends.
The melodramatic interludes are definitely the film’s weakest point, because they’re so unnecessary. Spider-Man doesn’t have to be an angsty superhero. Batman? Yes. Your choices with him are pretty much camp and angst, and that’s it. But Spider-Man? He’s a geeky high school kid who likes to deliver goofy one-liners while taking down bad guys (there is nowhere near enough of this in the movie, but there is some). Sadly, someone seems to have decided that angst is a necessary component of all superhero tales, so we have to have things like the standard “the hero must break up with the girlfriend to protect her” nonsense.
Thankfully, the rest of the film is awesome. The scenes with Peter exploring his powers are a lot of fun, and capture both the excitement and the unintended comedic consequences of powers like super strength. Computer effects have come a long way, and the scenes with Spider-Man swinging his way through the city look amazing, and the fight choreography is often inspired. Watch for a moment when Spidey lives up to his name by scuttling around and around an enemy, covering him in webs.
If you’re a die-hard fan of the Raimi Spider-Man movies, you might want to stay away from “The Amazing Spider-Man,” but if you can set those films aside and come to the theater with fresh eyes, ready to have some fun at the movies, you’re in for a treat.