You don’t have to be a fan of the comic book version of the character to enjoy The Amazing Spider-Man, now in theaters. If you saw the first major motion picture of the ‘wall-crawler’ back in 2002 you know the base elements of the story. That won’t change or lessen your ability to enjoy this re-boot of the franchise, directed by Marc Webb.
Andrew Garfield is the new “Peter Parker,” the smart high school student who lives with his “Uncle Ben” (Martin Sheen) and his “Aunt May” (Sally Field). He’s still the subject of ridicule at school by the stud athlete “Flash” and the requisite girl of his dreams is present in the form of “Gwen Stacy” (Emma Stone).
But this time Peter isn’t bitten by a spider on a field-trip. Instead he’s trying to learn more about his father’s work at Oscorp, involving cross-species genetics. His father had been working with Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) and Peter goes to see him. He encounters Gwen, who it turns out is the head intern working for Dr. Connors and while at Oscorp the fateful spider-bite happens. Unlike the initial film, this time it’s Peter’s mind and not his wrists that come up with the ability to shoot out webs, from a device he designs along with his costume (the scene where the costume is inspired is mildly amusing).
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Everyone knows that Uncle Ben is going to die because Peter failed to act, but this is paid off in a decent fashion and sets Peter off on both a quest for revenge and to stop crime in general. It is in his vigilante mode that he becomes the object of the attentions of Gwen’s father, police captain Stacy (Denis Leary), who wants to stop him.
Meanwhile, after his first visit to Oscorp, Peter decides to see Dr. Connors again, and this time gives him something he found in his father’s briefcase. That gift will enable Dr. Connors to go forward with his experiments in cross-species genetics. He’s under tremendous pressure to succeed from his employer and when he’s hesitant to engage in human trials, his authority over the project is stripped from him.
Oh, I failed to mention that Dr. Connors is on a personal quest to make his project work, because he has only one arm and he wants to take advantage of the ability of other species to regenerate their limbs. So when he appears to be losing his chance to make his ideas work, he experiments on himself and becomes a giant half man/half lizard. There’s the major foe for Spidey to battle against, and worse yet, his foe has plans to make the situation a whole lot worse by giving others the “benefit” of his research.
The action scenes are quick, but excellent. The expected ‘stuff’ involving Peter getting payback against Flash was handled with particular excellence, and gave Martin Sheen a few nice moments. Garfield is not that hard to swallow as the high school senior torn between getting revenge on the man who killed his uncle, while protecting others from an evil that he is at least partly to blame for creating. Stone is a bit more difficult to take as a high school girl, but she tries hard to make it work and it’s nowhere near as awful as the idea that Stockard Channing was able to portray a high school girl in Grease. Her acting is fine, she just seems a bit older and too mature to be that age.
The story is well-paced, with excellent visuals and keeps the viewer’s interest even when the action is not on display. Denis Leary is great as Captain Stacy. Die-hard fans of the original comic story will have a few minor objections to alterations in the storyline, but they are few and far between. We don’t meet Harry or Norman Osborne, but this won’t be the first film in this re-booted franchise either. There’s no J. Jonah Jameson or newspaper work for Peter, and the financial struggles that make the character so much more sympathetic in the comics are completely absent. All in all, this is a winning film. It gets big kudos for mentioning Steve Ditko (the artist who brought Stan Lee’s vision of Spider-Man to life on the written page) in the opening credits, and those are offset by the mention of the late Laura Ziskin being pushed to almost the very end of the credits.