Wednesday, July 4, 2012


It is certainly debatable whether or not we needed a reboot of the "Spider-Man" franchise ten years after the first film and just five years after the most recent one. But if we are going to receive a "Spider-Man" reboot, then I'm glad it's this one. From director Marc Webb (fitting last name, right?), "The Amazing Spider-Man" is essentially a remake of Sam Raimi's original "Spider-Man" (2002). But that's to look at it in the most basic sense, which wouldn't do Webb's version justice. He presents a re-imagining of the web-slinging hero's origin story, a more emotionally invested and comprehensive back story as to what happened to Peter Parker's parents and what ends up motivating him to don a mask and start fighting against criminals. And while Raimi's "Spider-Man 2" (2004) is the best of the Spidey movies, this one comes in a close second.

Peter Parker is played by Andrew Garfield ("The Social Network," "Never Let Me Go") whose name is going to blow up after this movie. After being mysteriously left behind by his parents, he comes into the care of his Uncle Ben and Aunt May, played exquisitely by Martin Sheen and Sally Field as loving parental figures. Peter stumbles across his dad's old briefcase filled with brilliant scientific work, a clue into his past and why he fled. The documents lead him to a skyscraper housing Oscorp, your everyday comic book science corporation working on potentially dangerous cutting-edge technology. There Peter meets a genius scientist, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), his dad's old lab partner. Together they were working on cross-species interbreeding, hence the availability of a toxic spider to bite Peter and change his life.

Even after Peter's transformation, the movie is smart to keep focusing on his personal story for a solid hour, especially focusing on the blossoming first love between him and his female classmate, Gwen Stacy, played by the always delightful Emma Stone ("The Help," "Easy A"). Gwen's father is the police captain (Denis Leary) who's skeptical of Spider-Man busting crooks. Gone are the days of civilians submitting photos of Spider-Man to the local newspaper. Now to catch a glimpse of him, all you have to do is watch a viral video on the internet. Peter is still a photographer, yes, but it's more of a vintage hobby. It's a cultural update that makes sense. But even with video evidence of Spider-Man serving the people, the police captain is not convinced.

Soon a larger threat than just petty criminals emerges. Dr. Connors, desperate to grow back his missing arm, experiments with lizard genes and gives himself a disastrous transformation. He morphs into the ultra-strong and violent-minded Lizard who seeks to make all men equal in the worst way possible. Lizard proves a formidable villain, but he feels limited to being, well, simply a large, angry reptile. The action sequences to follow are all well-choreographed, easy to follow and make sense for the narrative. The effects are great, and the CGI is never overdone. Watching our web-slinging hero swing through the Manhattan skyline is breathtaking with swirling camera angles and stunning lighting. Some purposeful 3D shots are used such as a first-person Spidey view, which are a fine touch, but as usual the technology makes an otherwise vibrant picture too dark.

"The Amazing Spider-Man" will wow audiences in terms of its spectacle, its moving grace and swift blockbuster appeal, but what audiences will most take away from it is the experience of a first-rate romance. This is only Marc Webb's second feature, which is an impressive feat all its own, his first being the indie love story, "(500) Days of Summer." With that experience, he's able to infuse the Peter/Gwen relationship with quiet magic and a hint of modesty to let his actors shine.

The chemistry between real-life couple Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone is lively, effervescent and adorable in all of its teenage high school shyness. Stone gives Gwen a compassionate and charming allure while Garfield's awkward skateboarding Peter is a creation all his own with perfect nuance. This includes when he's in Spidey mode being smart-mouthed and snarky with criminals much like in the original comic. The actor's spindly limbs and slim yet sturdy frame, as well, are an ideal fit to the limberness and agility of Spider-Man. Individually these two gifted actors make their characters something wholehearted. And together? They're an absolute dream.

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