The Amazing Spider-Man (***½)

Right off the bat, let me get one thing straight. I have no problem with ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ existing. Aside from ‘Spider-Man 2’, I never really fell in love with Sam Raimi’s webslinger trilogy. I like the first one enough, but #3 was a real let down, so I didn’t look at this reboot of the franchise as a huge transgression or anything. I just wanted it to be good, and luckily for me (and everyone else out there), Marc Webb is able to match and sometimes exceed Raimi with this new tale. As a superhero origin story, it’s only slightly above average, but as a coming of age tale, it’s rather remarkable. Webb was hired to take the sensibilities of the romance in ‘(500) Days of Summer’ and apply it to a comic book film, and his direction, along with the screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves is successful in doing that. They can only do so much though, as they needed to pick the right actor to play Peter Parker and Spider-Man. That’s the real home run of the film, as Andrew Garfield is pretty much the definitive Parker/web slinger. The entire movie is well casted actually, and it’s a credit to Webb that almost all of his choices pay off. Yes, about half of the movie covers the same ground as the original ‘Spider-Man’, but it’s all done in a slightly different fashion, and I found myself preferring this way in almost regards. It’s not perfect, but it’s ridiculously satisfying.

This is still the story of how Peter Parker (Garfield) becomes the masked hero known as Spider-Man. As a boy, he saw his scientist father Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) and mother Mary (Embeth Davidtz) rush to leave him with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) after a break in at their home. Peter’s dad was working on something big, and someone wanted it, so for Peter’s protection he’s left in Queens while they catch a plane. The plane crashes, and Peter grows up into a moody teen still wondering why his parents are gone. He’s got a crush on Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and surprisingly enough she seems to like him too. A chance discovery of his father’s old briefcase with some documents leads him to seek out Richard’s old partner Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a brilliant scientist working in genetics at Oscorp. While there, Peter stumbles upon a room full of mutated spiders, and when one bites him, he finds himself gaining the powers of an arachnid. Initially he uses the powers for fun, but when Uncle Ben is murdered, he seeks revenge. Being a genius as well, he creates a web shooting system, then a costume, and goes off in the night to begin fighting petty crime. He has bigger problems though, as the documents he showed Dr. Connors leads him to accidentally mutate into a giant monster known as the Lizard. With Gwen’s father Captain George Stacy (Denis Leary) hunting both the Lizard and Spider-Man, Peter needs to keep her safe and eventually the entire city. In broad strokes, we’ve seen this tale before, but it’s done so well that you won’t mind one bit.

Andrew Garfield is just terrific as Peter Parker. He may look a pinch too old to be in high school, but he gets the performance just right. He avoids making him one note and gives us a complex Peter, which leads to a Spider-Man that fits the comics perfectly. He also has an insane amount of chemistry with Emma Stone (not surprising since they’re now dating), who’s great here as well. Their scenes together are the best in the movie. While they’re terrific, early on Martin Sheen threatens to steal the show. He’s so good here you keep hoping that the fate of Uncle Ben will be different from you know it has to be. He almost walks away with the first half of the movie. Sally Field is very good as Aunt May too, giving Peter’s core a real sense of family. The entire cast does a lot with their characters, in fact, with Rhys Ifans not giving us a standard bad guy, Denis Leary not giving us a bumbling cop, and Campbell Scott suggesting a lot to come with just a scene or two. The rest of the cast includes Embeth Davidtz, Irrfan Khan, Chris Zylka, C. Thomas Howell, and of course the obligatory cameo from Stan Lee. This movie is all about Andrew Garfield though, and he’s more than up to the task.

I don’t think anyone doubted that Marc Webb in the director’s chair meant that the Peter/Gwen scenes would be good, I just don’t think we expected them to be this good. Webb has really made this a superhero character study above all else, and I applaud him for that. When it comes to action scenes, he doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel or anything, save for a wonderful scene of Spidey saving a kid from a car dangling off of a bridge, but he does display a confidence there that I think some of us were skeptical about (he also handles the 3D well, in case you were wondering). His pacing is terrific, and he lets the film breathe perfectly, leading to you not noticing that this film is over 2 hours and 15 minutes long. The action scenes could be more unique, but that’s more due to the script focusing on the characters more, and I have no problem with that. Scribes James Vanderbilt (originally intended to write ‘Spider-Man 4’ before turning in the first draft of this instead), Alvin Sargent (a veteran of the last two ‘Spider-Man’flicks), and Steve Kloves (of the ‘Harry Potter’ franchise) get the characters right and build up to the action, though it can be argued that they don’t pay enough attention to the villain and leave too much dangling for future installments. This may frustrate some, but it was a welcome change for me. This is actually the first superhero film that more women than men may enjoy. It’s a coming of age story and a romance first, and an action movie second.

Overall, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ could be the best reboot of any franchise to date (yes, I know that ‘Batman Begins’ exists…they’re 1 and 1A in my book), though time will ultimately tell in that regard. Everything you know and love about the wall crawler is still there, but it’s grounded in a bit more reality and given a different route to take going forward. Yes, it may seem like a rehash to some, and the villain isn’t exactly A-list, but these are small quibbles. I sure hope that Marc Webb stays on for the sequel, as he’s got something special here with Andrew Garfield wearing the tights. I highly recommend this summer blockbuster, as it’s a great time and offers something a bit different than usual!

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!