The Amazing Spider-Man Directed by Marc Webb
Written by James Vanderbilt
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Denis Leary
Sony | Columbia Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 138 Minutes
Release Date: July 3, 2012
Who would have thought a Spider-Man film without Mary Jane Watson, Norman Osborn, and J. Jonah Jameson would end up being the web-slinger’s definitive adventure? With Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man, the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler is taken “back to formula” with a spectacular reboot.
When Joel Schumacher’s 1997 film Batman & Robin completely destroyed the Batman franchise, it took Warner Bros. eight years to resurrect the caped crusader. It took a colossal, rubber-nippled failure to give birth to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and I think we can all agree it was worth revisiting the Batman mythos.
Similarly, Sam Raimi’s 2007 movie Spider-Man 3 ruined Marvel’s most popular (and profitable) superhero series beyond repair. The reason comic book characters like Batman and Spider-Man have survived for decades is because they are constantly re-imagined by new writers and artists. It took Ang Lee’s underwhelming Hulk to bring us The Incredible Hulk, which ultimately led to Mark Ruffalo’s excellent portrayal of the character in The Avengers.
There will always be an interest in these heroes as long as the writers and directors involved remain faithful to the source material and honor the spirit of the characters. Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) does just that by focusing on Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and his interpersonal relationships. Most comic book movies use relationships as a way of segueing from one action sequence to another, but in The Amazing Spider-Man, there is real weight and reverence given to Parker’s interactions with those around him.
Garfield is spot-on as Peter Parker. He effortlessly exudes the shy, awkward, wisecracking genius of his comic counterpart in a way that Tobey Maguire never could. The ‘secret origins’ storyline of Peter’s father as an OsCorp scientist (and his parents’ subsequent mysterious death) gives depth to his relationship with mentor Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) and the “radioactive” spider responsible for his gifts and curses.
There’s also the family drama with Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), struggling to decide when and what to tell Peter about his parents. In Raimi’s trilogy, Parker isn’t affected by the loss of his parents – but here, he is defined by it. He’s just a kid, with serious abandonment issues, and he wants an explanation for his parents’ sudden disappearance and death. He digs too deep and uncovers things that should have stayed buried in the past – which makes him responsible not only for Uncle Ben’s death (as always), but Connors’ transformation into The Lizard.
The wonderful Emma Stone plays Gwen Stacey, Parker’s first girlfriend and all-around awesome female character. Complete with her trademark boots, skirts, and headbands, the blonde-banged Gwen is more than a damsel in distress or mere love triangle bait. She’s an emotionally mature companion to Peter, someone who can provide comfort and care when he’s beaten up. And she’s intellectually on the same level, making Pete the second smartest kid in his class – gotta love that.
Gwen’s father, Captain Stacey (Denis Leary) represents yet another relationship with Parker and Spider-Man. To Stacey, Spider-Man is a masked vigilante that is seemingly sabotaging the NYPD’s investigations. Peter has to juggle his relationships with Gwen and her father, as well as his responsibility to Aunt May and his family all while dealing with Curt Connors increasingly aggressive attacks on the city.
The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t all character study, though. The action sequences are fantastic – a seamless combination of practical and special effects that brings Spidey to life in a way that Raimi’s films failed to do. There’s a sloppy, improvised style to Spidey’s movements that feel natural – like there’s a real teenager under the spandex exploring his newfound superpowers.
The first-person shots of Spider-Man swinging through the city are equally impressive, and in IMAX 3D you’ll feel completely immersed in the action as Spidey frantically attempts to escape The Lizard’s razor-sharp claws. I really hope Marc Webb is on board to do the next Spider-Man films, as I can’t imagine anyone else carrying out the Gwen Stacey story arc. His emotional, relationship-heavy storytelling is a perfect fit for Spider-Man – and this is a great first entry in a new franchise that has tons of potential.
While ultimately I think The Amazing Spider-Man is the web-slinger’s best film yet – I must admit I miss Rosemary Harris as Aunt May and J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson – perfect casting choices that can’t be improved upon. It’s going to be hard to top Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock too, but hopefully the creators choose new and interesting villains like Kraven or Electro before revisiting the first trilogy’s baddies. Then again, it would be awesome to see an actual Green Goblin (not some guy in a green motorcycle helmet) and a real Venom (not Topher Grace) eventually.
I hope people give this film a chance. It’s hard to say if The Amazing Spider-Man will get the attention it deserves or if it will get lost in the shuffle of a superhero summer already occupied by The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. If Spider-Man 3 is this generation’s Batman & Robin (and it is…), then Webb’s reboot is Marvel’s Batman Begins, a second chance for a hero that deserves further exploration.