Directed By: Marc Webb
Reinventing yourself is a hard thing to do. People get pigeonholed into certain expected types and when they try to break free it often results in public revolt. The Amazing Spider-Man is attempting to do just that as aims to give a new spin on classic hero. The Spider-Man movies redefined comic books films as tent pole franchise hits. Everything seemed to be going their way until the catastrophe that was Spider-Man 3. Spider-Man 3 was a huge financial success but a critical nightmare. You could easily argue that Spider-Man 3 is the most disappointing comic book film to date. With such a large outcry the studio felt it had no other choice and decided to completely reboot the franchise. Now that much publicized reboot has hit theatres. Some wondered if it could escape from the overwhelming shadow of Raimi’s films to become its own entity. In the end it doesn’t completely make you forget what came before it does make you curious to see where it can go next.
A lot has been made of the fact that this was retelling Spider-Man’s origin once again, but the truth is this is really telling the origin of Peter Parker. In this Peter is still in high school trying to get through life like any other teenager. At times he’s the object of ridicule but he’s not a complete outcast. I enjoyed the fact they didn’t overdo Peter’s geeky persona. You see it there but it’s not in your face and obvious. A lot of that is due to the performance of Andrew Garfield. Garfield is able to sell you on his intelligence but doesn’t sacrifice his dignity in the process. He is equally as effective when he puts on the tights. Much of that is due to his physical nature. His lanky physique and stature lends itself greatly to the character of Spider-Man. His movement is natural and we can easily buy him as the wall-crawler. For me it’s one of the best overall superhero performances I have seen in awhile. Garfield doesn’t start off with radioactive blood however. Peter begins down that road after discovering his father’s old briefcase in his Aunt and Uncles’s basement. The trailers make it seem like the main focus will be Peter discovering the mystery surrounding his parent’s disappearance. In reality that plot is used to get the story moving and is forgotten after the first twenty minutes. When digging through the briefcase Peter learns his father used to work with Oscorp scientist Dr. Curt Connors. In a search for answers Peter sneaks into Oscorp, relatively easily, to see if he could find further clues to what his father was working on. He stumbles upon a research facility where they are studying the use of radioactive spiders. Like one would think he is bitten by one of these spiders and is given the gift of superpowers. Along with his new power Peter establishes a new friendship with his father’s former partner Dr. Connors. Connors is currently working on a formula that will transfer animal DNA into humans in hopes it will help cure diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer, and even allow humans to regrow limbs. An ability Connors is envy of as he has lost one of his arms. With Peter’s help he is able to finish the formula that has been eluding him for years. Even with this new breakthrough his employer Oscorp is unsatisfied with his progress. Before they completely shut down his life’s work he uses the formula on himself. The side effects are dire however as it turns Connors into a deadly man-sized lizard who terrorizes the city of New York. Feeling responsible for the creation of the lizard Spider-Man vows to stop his evil plans no matter what the cost.
When watching this film it’s nearly impossible not to conjure up memories of the first Spider-Man. If you are able to escape from those thoughts there is a great deal of originality to be found. For one it really develops the character of Peter Parker and the relationships to the people around him. Unlike the other films you see how the absence of his parents has impacted his life. At the same time you see how important his Uncle Ben and Aunt May have been in shaping his moral fiber. This time around Uncle Ben is played by Martin Sheen and Aunt May by Sally Field. Sally Field fits the role of the heart of gold aunt quite well, and Martin Sheen comes off us the uncle everyone wishes they could have. He has a gravitas to him and you see the effect that has on his relationship with Peter. In addition this is able to establish a strong romantic bond between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey played by Emma Stone. With the director of 500 Days of Summer at the helm it doesn’t come as a surprise the romance in this actually works quite well. Gwen and Peter feel like a real high school couple with the awkward approach they have with one another. It was played up bit at times but considering everything that was surrounding their relationship it was understandable. Their dialogue is realistic as they attempt to define their feelings towards one another. Nothing is easily communicated and you see them tripping over one another as they attempt to get over those early butterflies.
Being a big summer blockbuster people go in wanting to see their action. Some may be turned off by the slow pace and the length it takes for the action to get going. Personally I didn’t mind and enjoyed observing this world form. Though pacing wasn’t an issue the story’s progression was. There were some major issues as it became muddled in plot and tended to reverse in onto itself at times. Once it got through those issues the progression and action began to pick up. Except for the subway sequence is Spider-Man 2 the Spider-Man films haven’t really been known for their amazing action set-pieces. This really isn’t any different. There were a multitude of smaller sequences that were well done and used Spider-Man’s powers in new and different ways. The CGI on Spider-Man was rather fantastic and his movement had a strong physical weight to it as he made New York his plaything. In fact the visuals altogether were well handled especially the updated costume. It looked like a nice mixture of the Spider-Man 2099 meshed with the classic look. The design tied together well with the films overall color pallet. Even the Lizard, which looked less than impressive in the trailers, looked fine on the big screen. I did have issues with the development of the Lizard character. While the origin is straight out of the comics the implication was a bit messy. Easily the hardest part of doing a superhero origin story is development of the villain. It rarely works and always feels tacked on. This again suffers from that curse. Performance wise Rhy Ifans is fine as the lizard and even better as Dr. Connors. Unfortunately the script does him a disservice. His end game is never clear and the overall motivations are nonexistent. With superhero films so prevalent there is this need to infuse over the top stakes into the final climatic battle. If an entire city or world isn’t in peril the danger isn’t strong enough. I don’t buy into this mindset and think the small personal battles can often be more thrilling. The moments leading up the final showdown were more gripping then the actual final fight sequence. There was this moment where an emphasis was put on distance that was magnificently handled. Some may violently disagree due to the level of corniness involved, but if you are able to buy in you will appreciate what it’s trying to be accomplish. Once we got to the final moments my investment began to slip. The fighting came off as more of the same and the attempt at an emotional payoff feel flat. Sadly it was a rather lackluster ending to an otherwise engaging film.
The Amazing Spider-Man had a lot going against it before a single frame was shot. Rebooting such a large franchise so shortly after it began is a strange choice to make. Overall it could have done more to distance itself from the original Spider-Man films, but seemed to operate in a world where those movies never existed. In a way it’s like revisiting an old friend from your past. A lot of what you remember is still there , but at times you feel like you are dealing with a completely different person. Who better to feel like an old friend then your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man? If you were going to compare this to the other Spider-Man films, which everyone will, I would have to say I enjoyed it more than the first film not nearly as much as the second. Of course based on the fact this review isn’t laced with expletives you can tell it’s much better than the third. I first thought that the reboot idea was the wrong way to go, but consider me converted. Watching where the Amazing Spider-Man franchise will go next has me a lot more intrigued than I would have been waiting for Spider-Man 5, 6, and 7. Here’s hoping they just don’t reboot this again in five years.