Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man
Length: 136 minutes
Release Date: July 3, 2012
Directed by: Marc Webb
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Stars: 4 out of 5
Released a mere 10 years after director Sam Raimi's take on the classic character in "Spider-Man," "The Amazing Spider-Man" reboots the series, giving it a darker edge and an emphasis on romance over super-heroics. Directed by Marc Webb, the film is an attempt to restart the Spider-Man film series in a similar manner to "Batman Begins" and "Casino Royale." While not quite as successful as those reboots of the Batman and James Bond films, "The Amazing Spider-Man" does contain some solid acting and a decent premise that sets the stage for future installments.
The plot of the film follows teenage Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), who lives with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) in Queens. After the disappearance of his parents (Campbell Scott, Julianne Nicholson), Peter has grown up a loner. Bullied at school by Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka), he is nonetheless a gifted science student with an eye on the beautiful Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). He finds an old briefcase belonging to his father containing notes from an experiment with an Oscorp scientist named Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). As he investigates Oscorp and Connors, Peter is suddenly bit by a radioactive spider leading him on the path to becoming Spider-Man.
One of the main differences from the previous Spider-Man trilogy is the tone. Gone are Raimi's cheesy asides, bright colors and awkward sentimentality. These are now replaced by a darker, more mysterious tone. The colors are muted even during the daylight scenes, matching the mood of Garfield's brooding Peter Parker. While not as oppressive as some of the darker scenes such as those in Tim Burton's Batman series, the tone is a very different take on the web crawler.
Garfield's take on Peter and Spider-Man is the best part of the film. Where Toby Maguire played Parker as an awkward nerd, Garfield plays up the bitter loner aspect of the character. He harbors anger over his parents, and the eventual death of his Uncle Ben, using it as a catalyst for his choices and his sense of responsibility. His Spider-Man is a wisecracking superhero that is more in line with creator Stan Lee's character in the '60s. However, it's his portrayal of Parker that is truly the heart of the film.
If Parker is the heart, then Gwen Stacy is the film's soul. Comic fans know how important Gwen is to the Spider-Man mythology, and Stone's portrayal of the character brings out everything that the fans loved about the character. While she was only a footnote in Raimi's series, here she's a love interest and a partner, actively helping Spider-Man instead of becoming a damsel in distress.
Just as important to Spider-Man is his supporting cast. Sally Field's portrayal of Aunt May is far different from Rosemary Harris' version in the previous trilogy. Field creates a young and spunky Aunt May, who nonetheless looks at her nephew with the right mix of worry and love. Her scenes with Peter, after he comes home from a night of fighting criminals looking bloodied and bruised, are heartbreaking. May sees the boy she loves like a son in pain. It's these small, character moments that make the movie shine, with Field making these scenes feel lived in. Her role is thankless, but it's crucial to the film's success.
Another perfect bit of casting came with Dennis Leary playing Captain George Stacy. The character is skeptical of Spider-Man, and Leary takes the role to a number of unexpected places. Fans of the classic Spider-Man tales will love the nods to the character's history as well as hints of what could be in store for the Stacy family.
Unfortunately, the weakest part of the film is its villain. Scientist Curt Connors becomes the Lizard after using an equation created by Peter Parker. While it adds to Parker's sense of responsibility and guilt, Connors' character can't help but feel like a second-string villain, especially with constant references to Norman Osborne, better known as the Green Goblin. While neither Osborne nor the Goblin show up on screen, the film feels like a tease to a bigger and better showdown. Ultimately, Ifans gives it his all, but the character feels underdeveloped.
Director Marc Webb, whose only other film credit is "(500) Days of Summer" does a great job, especially with the scenes involving Peter and Gwen. The relationship, which was so important in the comic books, is crucial here, and his choices of Garfield and Stone for the main roles was a masterstroke.
Ultimately, the film sets up a solid foundation for the rest of the series. While it's not as fulfilling as it could've been, it is a faithful adaptation of the source material. It will be interesting to see where Webb and his crew take the characters in inevitable sequels.