My spider-sense is telling me that we’ve seen this one before… Just ten years after the first Sam Raimi movie, Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) has taken up the reigns of the beloved arachnid franchise. If you think that having a director named “Webb” (!!!) is reason enough for this reboot, I won’t contradict you; but if you need something more, read on to see if he’s spun a good tale…
The good news is that Webb’s indie roots have infused The Amazing Spider-Man with a fresh indie vibe, setting it apart in tone from the original trilogy. It’s much less epic than either The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises (the two competing superhero movies of the summer), telling a simple origin story of how Peter Parker becomes the man behind the mask. The result is that the human elements of the film, rather than the superhero bits, really shine out; and the acting–apart from Chief of Police Stacy–is absolutely superb. (Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben and Sally Field as Aunt May are stand-out stars, bringing an incredible emotional weight to the movie.)
This emphasis on the human side of things is evident from the fact that Peter does not get bitten until over a third of the way into the movie. Giving more time to Peter Parker and less to Spider-Man, though, turns out to be a good thing. Seventeen years old, Peter loves to saunter around with his hood up and a skateboard at his side. He gets bullied, he has a silly crush on a girl in his class, and he’s smart yet also naive. Most importantly, he’s a complex and likeable person. The biggest strength of the Peter/Spider-Man character across all formats–the fact that, unlike Batman or Superman etc., Peter Parker is an everyman who we can all relate to–is wonderfully portrayed here.
Andrew Garfield, sporting awesome gravity-defying hair, brings just the right amount of vulnerability and charm to the role, confirming him as the perfect replacement for Toby Maguire. Emma Stone plays a much stronger lead female role as Gwen Stacy than we saw from the original trilogy, and the two bring a genuine chemistry to the screen together (Webb’s previous directorial position clearly coming into effect!). Both actors look a lot older than their character’s seventeen years, but it’s a niggling issue at worst.
The bad guy, Dr. Connors, played by Rhys Ifans, is an interesting character, but his transformation into the Lizard also signals a transformation into genre tropes. As a villain he’s heavy handed, and doesn’t reach the potential that the Lizard from the comics could.
The film’s visual effects are great: Spidey flips around the screen like a juiced up acrobat; the Lizard’s limbs grow and melt away realistically; and the web-shooters that Spider-Man uses are fun and flashy weapons. Simpler things like the clothing and set design of regular characters and places (such as Peter’s bedroom) are equally brilliant, creating an absorbing world that these characters can believably inhabit.
Unfortunately though, the big action sequences fall a little flat. The Lizard is big and strong and Spidey spends most of the fights running away from him. It’s not particularly tense and it ends up being formulaic. They’re not bad scenes per se; they’re just nothing we haven’t seen ten times before in similar movies.
All in all, The Amazing Spider-Man is a good movie. It’s a refreshingly human take on this familiar story, but the Spider-Man action sequences aren’t as exciting as they should be. Unfortunately, it will undoubtedly emerge as the weakest of this Summer’s superhero triumvirate, but if you can stomach more spandex it’s definitely worth seeing. Expect a strong sequel 🙂
3 out of 4 stars