Directed by: Marc Webb.
Written by: James Vanderbilt and Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves based on the comics created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
Starring: Andrew Garfield (Spider-Man / Peter Parker), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Rhys Ifans (The Lizard / Dr. Curt Connors), Denis Leary (Captain Stacy), Martin Sheen (Uncle Ben), Sally Field (Aunt May), Irrfan Khan (Rajit Ratha), Campbell Scott (Richard Parker), Embeth Davidtz (Mary Parker), Chris Zylka (Flash Thompson).
Let’s get this out of the way off the top – no, there was no reason, other than money, to reboot the Spider-Man franchise just 10 years after Sam Raimi kicked it off, and just five years after his trilogy came to a terrible finish. And yet, despite this fairly indisputable fact, I have to say this: The Amazing Spider-Man is a much better first chapter for a superhero franchise than Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was back in 2002. I always felt that Raimi’s first chapter was too cartoony for its own good and yet despite that tone cartoony tone that most of the movie had, he tried to make it serious at the end, and that really didn’t work. It was fun the first time through, but I have tough time watching it today. Spider-Man 2 remains the best Spider-Man movie made to date, because Raimi nailed the tone, and had a better villain. Spider-Man 3 was an embarrassment. So yes, while I do not think that The Amazing Spider-Man was necessary, or even the best Spider-Man movie to date, it gets this series off to a promising start.
The movie starts fresh, with high school student Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, far too old for the role, but you either role with that or let it distract you the entire movie), still reeling from his parents deaths years before, and living with kindly Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). He discovers some of his father’s old research, and seeks out his old partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) to try and get some answers. Connors is trying to find a way to regenerate cells – specifically his own arm. He works for Oscorp (who we all know is run by Norman Osborne, who will eventually become Green Goblin), and under immense pressure to have a breakthrough – which Parker unwittingly gives him. And when Connors, desperate to produce results, uses himself as a test subject, things go horribly wrong. It is on his initial trip to see Connors that Parker stumbles into a restricted area of his lab, and of course, gets bitten by a radioactive spider, which will eventually turn him into Spider-Man. And of course, Parker also falls in love with a girl at school – not Mary Jane Watson this time, but Parker’s other great comic book love – Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), whose father is of course a cop, on the trail of the new vigilante Spider-Man.
The story, of course, bares an awful lot of resemblance to Raimi’s Spider-Man, with really just a different villain and love interest being the main differences. But while the story hits many of the same story beats as the original film, it is still a different film in many ways than the original. That is because Marc Webb and his writers’ strike a consistent tone throughout. This film is darker than the original Spider-Man, and I prefer my superheroes to be darker, more brooding. In Raimi’s Spider-Man, I thought the turn to darkness in the final reel felt awkward and forced (it was necessary to setup Spider-Man 2, but didn’t work on its own terms), whereas in this film, it is the rare lighter moments that feel out of place. It is clear that Webb and company is going for something closer to Christopher Nolan’s Batman series – from using a more minor villain in the first installment, so they can concentrate on Parker’s journey, and not worry about doing a more beloved villain enough screen time (which was another problem with Raimi’s first film – using Spider-Man’s main villain, Green Goblin, as the villain in the first film), to making Stacy the love interest (who, if they follow the comics, is doomed). Webb and company want to take Spider-Man seriously – and in this first installment they mainly succeed. Garfield is good at brooding, and makes Parker a more believably conflicted hero than Tobey Maguire was. The great Emma Stone, with her wide eyes, is perfectly cast as Stacy, who can melt your heart with a glance. And while, it’s mainly a throwaway role, Rhys Ifans is in fine form as Connors, a tragic figure, who doesn’t really want to do what he does, but cannot help himself. The action sequences are also well handled, but never take over the whole movie. This remains a movie about Peter Parker and his transformation more than a special effects extravaganza.
The Amazing Spider-Man is, in short, a good superhero movie – and shows the potential of where this new Spider-Man series can get to. There are certainly flaws in the movie – at nearly two and half hours, the movie drags at times, and repeats itself somewhat during its middle portion. As was inevitable, there is still a sense of been there, done that about the movie – yes, as I have pointed out throughout the review, it differs from the original Spider-Man, and improves on it, but the movie never really rises to the level of greatness. As we have seen in many superhero series before – from Richard Donner’s Superman, to Tim Burton’s Batman to Bryan Singer’s X-Men to Christopher Nolan’s Batman, and yes, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, the first movie in the series is often more setup, and less payoff. In all of those cases, it was the second movie in the series that was truly great. Here’s hoping that the pattern holds this time around – because while this isn’t a great movie, I think this team can make one.