‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ Earns Title With Great Cast, Direction
To say that indie director Marc Webb (rightfully so with that last name) was a fitting choice to bring the much loved, but heavily admonished, Spider-Man franchise back around to its small, human roots is a severe understatement. After the announcement of the Sony Pictures reboot (instead of the originally planned 4th and 5th films, continuing Sam Raimi’s story with Tobey Maguire and Kirstin Dunst) just 5 short years after our friendly neighborhood web-slinger bowed out with the critically panned (somewhat unfairly so) Spider-Man 3, I found myself a tad catatonic concerning a seemingly unnecessary restart when we recently witnessed the character’s genesis onscreen less than a decade ago. Granted, Raimi took some liberties with the story, much to many a fanboy’s discontent (Nolan did the same with Batman Begins, more on this in a bit), but nonetheless made it work; for at least 2 films and depending on who you ask.
Fast forward a few months and the more I paid attention to the info being released about the film, including various interviews with writers, producers and a handful of insightful features with the talented and intelligent Webb, himself, the less skeptical I became and actually managed to amass a fair amount of excitement in my geekdom; much of which came with the casting of extremely gifted actors Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Emma Stone (The Help, Easy A) as Peter’s original love interest, Gwen Stacy. Then, the casting announcements that followed only added to it; with actors Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen and Sally Field joining the fray. it was going to be difficult for them to go wrong. Needless to say, I’m delighted that any initial skepticism I had was eventually wiped out in my initial viewing last night at the midnight screening (we forewent the screener in favor of being fans again for 2 hours and change, seeing it with people as excited as we were…instead of the sometimes overly critical media/press crowd).
We’re not going to sit here and rehash the story for you, as you should know it well. If you don’t, go back and watch Raimi’s films or read the comics. The only difference here, and this is where Nolan’s influence on franchise reboots came into play, is Webb and company went the route of showing us what we hadn’t seen…Peter Parker’s abandonment by his parents, leaving him with his “new” family Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). The same way Christopher Nolan filled us in on Bruce’s disappearance, the 7 years training and becoming the man who would eventually don the cape and cowl, we find Peter Parker with a legitimate reasoning for the massive emotional chip on his shoulder, justifying this film’s darker, less sensationalist tone. That’s the real difference here, though we feel as if it were almost a side note. People turned their noses up when the mention of Spider-Man’s ”untold story” popped up in the teaser poster’s tagline; but I maintained optimism. The inclusion of this sub-plot is a welcome addition, and one that can be carried through into sequels, but it seemed as though it were rushed through – almost as if they wanted to get to the action, fully aware that we’ve seen everything that came immediately after. I suppose that they will expand upon it as a major part of Peter’s story throughout, just as Bruce’s parents death was the catalyst for his actions, Peter’s parents dismissing themselves from his life is his.
Speaking of our protagonist, British actor Andrew Garfield absolutely owns the role. He plays Peter as much more of an outsider than Maguire’s strictly uncool, nerdy take (not to say Tobey wasn’t great…he was). This Peter is a somewhat cool, hipster teen, merely in a more socially awkward fashion. When he throws on the spandex as our hero, he’s as witty and snarky as ever…and also wildly confident when he doesn’t have the good student, schoolboy facade to keep up. He is highly intelligent, emotional, detached and updated for today’s adolescent world, dealing with the issues of the average teen. He brings an incredibly human side to the role, especially where the inner struggle is concerned. I venture to say Webb had a lot to do with this, because at the heart of this epic blockbuster is a small indie film, where story and characters matter. No amount of CGI can change what we can or can’t relate to as viewers. We still have to feel something via the story’s characters, otherwise we aren’t drawn in enough to vest ourselves firmly in what’s happening onscreen. Webb does a phenomenal job of this, particularly in regard to Peter and Gwen’s relationship. Garfield and Stone have phenomenal chemistry and it is ultimately what drives the film. At the core, Peter and Gwen are really the same person, with similar values and interests, and their several awkward but sweet exchanges really allow this film to take full flight. Stone is a fantastic actress and proves her worth time and again throughout the film’s 2 hour and 15 minute run time.
That brings us to Spidey’s foe/mentor Dr. Curt Connors (played beautifully by Rhys Ifans, Anonymous), who also brings a great deal of humanity (both sides) to this character. One of the great things about Spidey’s villains is that they’re all incredibly tragic in some form or fashion, often products of their own ambition or circumstances; which ultimately allows us to empathize with and feel sympathetic toward their cause. Here, we feel that way for a bit, until the morally sound (with unwavering integrity for a time) Doc Connors begins to fall victim to his desire and eventual physical dependence upon the reptilian, cross-species serum he’s developing to rid the world (and ultimately himself) of degenerative diseases and handicaps. Needless to say, this goes horribly wrong, when his moral obligation to a proper scientific approach to any new health-related development (complete proof via animal testing, prior to human trials) is challenged by the higher ups at employer OSCORP, who retrieve the serum and hand him his walking papers (yes, that OSCORP), sends him over the edge with madness and onset insanity. Thus, he becomes the first human trial to freakish results, which sets his full-on agenda into motion, where he hopes to “cure” NYC. We won’t spoil it for you.
Of course, our (Police-labeled “vigilante”) hero has to stop Doc Connors before he succeeds in his plans, which launches us into the film’s climactic third act. The battles between these two are absolutely stellar! One of the best examples of this is how the true nature of the two species play into how Peter and Connors each function. Look for one scene where Spidey crawls the entire length of Connors and does what spiders do best with their prey. It’s an awesome thing to behold. Maybe as much is the fact that Connors retains his intelligence when in his “other” form. Not only is he an absolute brute, rivaling Peter in agility and speed (think Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2) but he is still a scientist at his core and Webb shows us this on several occasions. Make no mistake, this ain’t the Hulk from The Avengers, this guy can do major damage when he wants…and he’s on par intellectually with Peter. So, the two prove more of an even match when pit against any of the villains we’ve seen thus far, across the 4 films.
Ultimately, I was completely engaged and delighted watching this film. The 3D is absolutely spectacular and the POV is something that adds a completely different dimension to the action. Frankly, I don’t know how the original trilogy missed both of these boats the first go-round. Each lend themselves so incredibly well to the idea of Spider-Man, in general. To find that they also did a large majority of the stunts with practical wire work, bringing a sense of authenticity to the city-slinging, was also very welcome. It is very apparent and brought us in closer to what was happening on screen, making it easier to suspend disbelief, relate and vest. While many of the beats were the similar and gave an “oh, I feel like I’ve seen this all before”, with in-the-know fans, you can only step so far away from the general cannon. Amazingly, it didn’t bog the film down too much. The cast and Webb bring enough of a different tone and feel to separate it from the previous 3 films, and it is their relationships that plant this film firmly in the ground. A very gripping, worthy, welcome reboot. Marc Webb…welcome to the show, buddy. *Applause*
We’re Super-Geeked About The Amazing Spider-Man, 4.25/5 Taped Glasses
P.S. Be sure to stay after the credits for a surprise!