The Amazing Spider-Man
dir. Marc Webb
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Sally Field
Four out of Five Stars
Only ten short years ago, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man burst onto the screen, and though it was flawed, it gave us so many memorable moments, a sequel that is one of the best superhero films of all time, and a third film that is so poorly executed that it killed the franchise. Rather than continue in this universe, Sony decided to reboot the relatively young property and start all over; a risky venture, to say the least. New cast, new director, new imagining: but it all begs the question, “was it too soon?” The answer is a complicated one, but in the re-boot, this has paired an amazing character with a gifted young actor that is nearly a dream come true. Andrew Garfield fills his Peter Parker/Spider-Man with so much nuance and raw power that he carries- in some cases, drags- this film to greatness. NOTE: Spoilers to follow.
The answer to the question above is both yes and no. No, because the Raimi trilogy had run its course- after studio intervention destroyed what could have been a fantastic third entry, too much bad taste was left in the mouth of many spider-fans. Yes, because this script- while containing some amazing moments- goes too far out of its way to differentiate itself, and this is incredibly noticeable. For one, it doesn’t spend a great deal of time on the young Parker actually developing his powers, suit, or weapons, something that ends up hurting the film more than it helps it. The film quite frankly glosses his general acceptance of his powers to his full-out being able to use them- one can’t help but think this was deliberate, as Raimi spent a great deal of time with this, and it would’ve felt too much like a re-tread. Similarly, we don’t get to see as much of Peter at home with Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen and Sally Field, in wonderful performances). J. J. Jameson is nowhere to be found, but the film doesn’t really want for him, and does a nice job of paving the way for his entry into a sequel, now that Spider-Man has become a more public figure. Ditto Norman Osborn, but for a silhouette on a computer simulation (and possibly after the credits, still in silhouette).
That is not to say that all of these moments are not a welcome breath of fresh air. Unlike all three of Raimi’s films, this film does not make Parker’s love interest Gwen Stacy (a fantastic performance by the infinitely likeable Emma Stone) a damsel in distress. When Uncle Ben is inevitably killed, it happens similarly (as it is such a pivotal moment for Parker), but it is far more emotional in this film. Garfield, Sheen, and Field create such a powerful relationship in this film, and their friction and familial relationship is very genuine and does not seem contrived.
The film misuses and tosses away its villain in Dr. Curt Connors (another great performance by Rhys Ifans). His motivations are relatively meaningless and generic; he loses everything and goes mad. Replace him with anyone and give them similarly arbitrary motivations and you’ve still got the same film. His connection to Peter is much-teased in the various trailers and marketing for the film, but this is very misleading; this film actually has very little to do with Peter’s parents, teasing instead at a larger plot point in the inevitable sequel (half of this film’s marketing might as well have been for the sequel). Denis Leary plays Spider-man’s human nemesis in the film as Captain Stacy, and is excellent in the role. While playing the human thorn in Spidey’s side, he serves as an important reality check for Parker, that being that Spider-Man at this point in the film is actually quite selfish.
The film’s greatest triumph- and its biggest failing- is the script. The story by James Vanderbilt is full of amazing moments, but too many scenes are brief, too much is left unsaid, too much is not touched on. Peter shows he is a genius in the film, Gwen shows she is smart, but we don’t see enough of this. We don’t see enough of Peter’s relationship with Aunt May, especially after Uncle Ben dies. This Parker internalizes a great deal of his angst, however, and never comes off as anything but utterly convincing. Surprisingly the film’s action sequences are not its centerpiece; Marc Webb has done an amazing job of getting at the core of his characters and really understands how to reach their center, their innate humanity and beauty. Like his debut effort in 500 Days of Summer (itself an incredible film), Webb keeps consistent focus on his characters and allows the audience to really become invested in them, and they grow as the seconds peel away on-screen.
Ultimately, the true focus of the film- Peter Parker and his alter-ego- is rested squarely on the shoulders of the immeasurable Andrew Garfield. Between the script, Webb’s great direction, and Garfield, this hero is as richly-layered and beautifully realized as any that has come before him. Garfield plays him as detached and abandoned- as his Uncle Ben says, never really getting answers for anything. When he discovers his powers, he reacts to them awkwardly, and confused. When his uncle dies, he goes on a mission to find out who is responsible- not as a hero, not to save anyone, not to stand up for justice. He is simply out for vengeance, but as the film progresses, Parker comes to understand that his powers were meant for more than just revenge, and he realizes that he has to stop the rampaging Lizard. He progresses from young and awkward teen, to angry and detached vigilante, and finally into a hero. Garfield’s performance is absolutely riveting throughout: he glues every eye to the screen and takes the audience with him on every swing, every wall crawl, every step he takes. Few actors give better performances; fewer still in superhero films.
Webb’s new take on Spider-Man is as different from Raimi’s as Nolan’s Batman is from the Burton/Schumacher, and this is a welcome breath of fresh air. More, his Spider-Man’s wall-crawling and web-slinging feels more real, feels more natural, and looks better. If the quality of this first film is any indication, Webb and Garfield are only headed to much better places. A special kudo must be made for the film’s 3D, which is at once wonderful and not overwhelming. Even in the big effects shots, the film is never over-saturated with 3D, and it makes Spidey’s travels through New York City feel exhilarating. Four out of five stars.
By Nicholas Haskins
Be sure to check out the feature trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man by clicking here. Like my reviews? Please subscribe to them if so. You can also become a fanboy/girl and follow me on Twitter or book my face. Stay tuned in the coming week for a look back at Christopher Nolan’s Bat franchise leading up to the release of The Dark Knight Rises in a couple weeks!!!