[rating=3]Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field,
Director(s): Marc Webb
Writer(s): James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves, from a story by Vanderbilt, original comic by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
The Amazing Spider-Man is a much better film than Spider-Man 3. The Amazing Spider-Man is not as good as Spider-Man 2, but the two films do share some strands of DNA. One of ASM’s screenwriters, Alvin Sargent, worked on the screenplays for both previous Spidey movie entries; he is joined byZodiac alumni, James Vanderbilt and perennial Harry Potter screenwriter, Steve Kloves. Director Marc Webb and the screenwriters build a compelling Spider-Man film that is more emotionally truthful to the source material than it is the minutia.
Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man is an incredibly likeable character. He’s a science geek with a penchant for photography and he’s a tad socially awkward – he’s a misfit. He has a crush on Gwen Stacy but doesn’t say anything, yet he’s willing to stand up to Flash Thompson in the schoolyard (much to his bottom lip’s regret). Mind you, this is all before the spider bite that changes Peter’s life. He’s start as a promising character that develops well as the movie progresses. It takes some time to get to Spider-Man, but Peter’s journey is an interesting one.
In The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter revels in his newfound powers differently. He doesn’t get into wrestling of variety TV shows – no, he shows off a bit at school. He also spends a lot of alone time, trying to get a grasp on his newfound abilities.
When Uncle Ben’s death occurs, it has a tremendous, but subtlety different effect on Peter than audiences have seen before. Peter is an angry teenager. He’s just lost his father figure as a direct result of his own irresponsibility. This loss drives Peter to find the thief that took Ben’s life, and it segues perfectly into Peter’s career as a costumed super hero. Unlike previous Spider-Man origins, the costume comes after Ben’s death and not before. It’s a subtle alteration, but a damn strong one.
The audience gets to follow Peter’s train of thought as he lashes out and hunts for Ben’s murderer. Peter’s journey through the stages of grief overlaps with the birth of Spider-Man. Peter comes up with his costume, invents his webbing and web shooters and figures out how to stop his mentor turned foe, the Lizard all while mourning Ben.
Peter makes a lot of mistakes throughout the movie, but he learns from them and strives to do better, no matter how tragic the outcome. That’s what makes Peter Parker who he is. It’s why he’s lasted for 50 years.
Rhys Ifans gives a layered performance as Dr. Curt Connors (even when he transforms into the Lizard). Connors is a mentor for Peter’s scientific mind but also serves as a new connection to Peter’s father. Connors comes across as truly fond of Peter before the whole “injecting himself with Lizard serum business.” He challenges both Peter and Spider-Man and both characters are stronger because of it.
Something else that sells this film is the level of detail in the background. Curt Connors wears a wedding ring, hinting at future appearances of his wife and son. Flash Thompson evolves in the background from a jerk into a much friendlier acquaintance to Peter. And then there’s Peter’s burgeoning relationship with Gwen Stacy – it’s a young love story in a story marred by tragedy and coming of age. Marc Webb knows star crossed love and his relationship with Gwen sets an anchor.
Sally Field’s Aunt May gets shortchanged the most as this story is about Peter and the arc of his story is heavily reliant on fathers. There’s his father, Richard Parker, a secretive man who left Peter with May and Ben when Peter was 4 years old. There’s his surrogate father, Uncle Ben, who was murdered. There’s Peter Parker’s mentor, Dr. Curt Connors, who turns into a giant evil Lizard. And then there’s Spider-Man’s mentor, Captain Stacy (Gwen’s police captain father) who is at first, a foil for Spidey but also provides a context for how the police view the wall crawler’s actions. That doesn’t leave much room for May Parker.
Similarly, Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy suffers a bit from the dominant arc. Stone is a great Gwen Stacy. She’s beautiful, whip smart and brave. Gwen is the love of Peter’s life. There’s a hint of the tragedy that’s coming for her. Since she died in the 70s, Gwen never got updated the way MJ and Harry and Flash have. The character has been preserved in a time bubble. That said, while she’s not quite the Gwen of the comic books, she is Gwen Stacy.
The Amazing Spider-Man is a fun superhero movie that lives up to its predecessors and delivers an interesting Peter Parker. It’s rife with sequel possibility and even foreshadows future tragedy for the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man (but that’s a discussion for another time). Until then, do what comic book fans have done for 50 years – enjoy yourself some Spider-Man.
Run Time: 2 hrs., 16 mins.