The Amazing Spider-Man
No spiderweb is ever spun the same
Spider-Man may keep his familiar mask in this series reboot, but under Marc Webb’s direction and Garfield’s and Stone’s charming performances, a new web is spun.
I’ll be the first to admit that an update of the Spider-Man franchise just five years after the previous web-slingin’ superhero series is early. When I first heard the news however many years ago when The Amazing Spider-Man was announced, I was cranky I would be deprived of more sequels to the terrific Sam Raimi series. With the Raimi series unjustly ending on a low note, a lot fell on director Marc Webb’s shoulders to redeem everyone’s (read: my) favorite superhero on the big screen, while making it stand out from the original. Webb had a very difficult web to spin, no pun intended (maybe a little intended). If the timing hadn’t been so rushed, comparisons between the two film series wouldn’t be half as ruthless. It was the movie’s responsibility to remain faithful to the beloved comic series’ tasty recipe while adding new ingredients to the mixture, and Raimi, with the help of infectiously likable Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, succeeds.
Naturally the premise shares many similarities to the Raimi series, which I already described here. The main difference this film has from all other Spider-Man adaptions is the inclusion of Peter’s (Garfield) parents, Richard and Mary Parker (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz). Viewers are intentionally left unaware of the arcane Parker parents’ exact backstory, adding a new, ominous sense of mystery. We do know Richard was involved in a highly confidential experiment with Oscorp, a genetic laboratory located in New York. Peter’s parents inexplicably vanished when he was a kid, leaving him with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen and Sally Field). Peter grows up not knowing what happened to his parents, and pining away after class valedictorian and Oscorp intern Gwen Stacey (Stone).
The movie takes place during Peter’s senior year in high school. When he finds information linking his father to Oscorp, he sneaks into the building to investigate, and ends up in the laboratory hosting a collection of many genetically mutated spiders. One creeps into his shirt and bites the back of his neck, and soon Peter begins to undergo the usual symptoms associated with his metamorphosis into Spider-Man. One major difference, however, is Peter’s reliance on the use of a machine built in to his spandex costume to shoot webs, rather than generating them directly from his wrists.
I decided I approved of Garfield as Peter Parker about five seconds into the movie, and decided I loved him within the next ten minutes. Garfield’s version of Peter is still victimized by school bullies and still loves photography (pretty sure all Peter Parkers must fill those requirements), but he is far from soft-spoken nerd Maguire so cleverly played. The latest reincarnation is rarely seen without his faithful skateboard, skating in the halls between classes, and has enough gall to stand up to Midtown Science High School’s resident bully, Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka) even before he is mutated. Garfield manages to portray new Peter’s character in a single facial expression in the film’s opening scene: “Hi, I’m Peter Parker, I’m a nerd and I have no clue who I am right now, but I’m not going to let anyone else know.” I didn’t need much more convincing to ‘like’ his Facebook fan page.
Slowly becoming aware of his newfound abilities, Peter defends the city from crime as often as he can, interfering with police captain George Stacey’s (Denis Leary) agenda. Fed up and mistaking him for an evil-doer himself, Captain Stacey sends five hundred policemen to capture the red and blue vigilante (“Five hundred? Isn’t that a little excessive?” Peter wonders), a plot point that juxtaposes beautifully with the fact that Peter is now dating his own daughter, Gwen.
The arrival of human/reptile abomination The Lizard (the movie lacks a James Jameson to create witty nicknames, I guess) puts Peter’s physical and mental prowess to the test, as he must outsmart the entire police force and shape-shifting Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) to save the city, protect Gwen, and come closer to finding the truth about his parents.
Besides Garfield and Stone, the movie’s strongest point is the sense of a grittier, more reality-based New York City the movie takes place in. While the Raimi series utilized a suspension of disbelief-heavy comic book atmosphere, The Amazing Spider-Man creates most of the film’s action from Peter interacting with the city around him. We see him crash into outdoor cafe tables, spider-crawl across fire escapes and laundry lines, and use conveniently placed construction equipment to swing through the air. The criminals he encounters are also more common than seen in the Raimi series, as he begins by tackling car thieves and street gangs. Webb also uses camera angles from Peter’s point of view as he perilously swings through the sprawling city, a genius decision that makes you feel like you’re the one trying to save New York City. I think I smell a new Orlando attraction.
I have a feeling that, come 2014 or so when the sequel comes out (because a sequel is definitely happening), Webb will take even more risks to separate this adaption from all others and mollify the whining critics. I completely trust Garfield and Stone to make it worthwhile. “Peter Parker, if there is one thing you are, it’s good!” exclaimed Aunt May. Here, here.