THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN Review

Spider-Man has always been one of my favorite super heroes, but not because I was ever an avid fan of the comic books. In fact, I've never really been a comic book reader at all but instead became more enamored with the damaged teenager who is blessed with the responsibility of great power through the Saturday morning cartoons of the 90's. Why Peter Parker connected with me more than any other super hero is likely due to the same reasons he connected with every other awkward kid who found things more interesting in the classroom rather than on the basketball court. I like to think the movie studios have chosen to reboot the webslinger's franchise because it is a timeless story that follows a well worn path but does such a good job of hitting those points and driving home the message of how with great power comes great responsibility. Now, while it is obviously due to the fact that Spider-Man is a hot property and a guaranteed money maker that, if they let it sit for too long, will lose its value. I still choose to believe that somewhere in this diabolical plan to make more money someone just wants to tell a good, fun story that the teenager in all of us can relate to and fulfill those hopes we were never quite capable of. When the plans for a fourth entry with Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire and crew fell through it didn't take long for Columbia Pictures to round up a new director and cast to reboot the franchise. While many were upset there would be a new version of a story we'd seen a mere ten years ago the reboot has been smart enough to distance itself by striking its own chord with an approach that differs from the Raimi version by adapting to a more modern audience. How much could change in a decade? Enough for this reboot to be fully justified in my humble opinion.

Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), Aunt May (Sally Field) and
Peter (Andrew Garfield) discuss a piece of Peter's past.
From what I gather this latest telling of the Spider-Man origin story is based more in the realm of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic series which coincidentally was also a reboot of the origin story of our famous protagonist. In the reinvention process Peter Parker is still a whiz kid high school student that is bitten by a spider, but it is not that of a radioactive arachnid but instead a genetically altered spider that has been part of ongoing experiments at the Oscorp corporation. You may recognize the Oscorp name from the Raimi series, but that baddie from the original is only mentioned in passing here. His company simply serves as the setting for something much more interesting to develop between the young Parker and a seasoned scientist named Dr. Curt Connors who was a partner in research with Parker's absent father. While the previous trilogy spent no time investigating Peter's parents director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) and his writers have integrated his parents as a crucial part of the mythology. It becomes apparent that there was something fishy going on within the walls of Oscorp and though in the latter half of the film the storyline concerning the Parker's is dismissed in favor of Spider-Man vs. Connors alter ego, the lizard, there is plenty left open for what will likely be several more films and maybe even a tie-in with those other Marvel heroes that were recently parading around New York City (wink, wink).

Spider-Man and his new found love Gwen Stacy
(Emma Stone) embrace their roles in each others lives.
The Amazing Spider-Man does well to hit the marks that it needs to while not re-visiting the overly familiar aspects of the origin story. The Daily Bugle and J. Jonah Jameson, Peter as a photographer, the death of Uncle Ben, and especially Mary Jane Watson have all been either cut completely or play a minimal role in the reboot. While the likes of Martin Sheen and Sally Field serve well as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, it is relative newcomer Andrew Garfield who will be the talk of the town once everyone realizes he has not simply rehashed the Tobey Maguire role, but has re-invented it for a re-envisioned telling. Peter Parker is not necessarily a geek in the commons sense of the word, but more an outcast. He is not at the mercy of the popular girl, but is instead falling for a sweet classmate portrayed by the charming Emma Stone who, when she shares the screen with Garfield, oozes a chemistry hard to capture so naturally on screen. Like Chris Nolan's reboot of the Batman franchise, Webb has constructed a film where the person inside the mask is just as engaging as the hero. For the first hour of the film we are focused solely on the development not only of Parker and his new found powers but his developing relationship with Gwen Stacy (Stone). There relationship while critical to the plot also serves as motivation for why Peter is able to see more clearly what his purpose might be. Why he was in fact blessed with such abilities and in turn responsibilities. There is also a lovely rapport with his aunt and uncle that has some wonderful moments of non verbal communication. The way in which Webb captures these human moments is critical to the overall success of the film because at nearly two and a half hours the film could have easily slipped into several action pieces stacked on top of one another. Instead, those elements are saved for the final act while up to that point servicing the story in a way we feel really justifies the actions of those involved in that big, climactic, showdown.

Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) tests out a new genetic
enhancement serum on himself.
While I had a few issues with the film throughout (the pacing in parts, spots of corny dialogue, and heavy reliance of CGI in the third act) I was more surprised with how much I appreciated what the makers had attempted, and for the most part, succeeded in doing here. Webb has allowed a gritty, more realistic tone to influence the look and feel of his Spider-Man world but does not resist the slight cheesiness of the actions taking place here. I mean, when it comes down to it this is about a guy in spandex who is fighting another guy that through the cliched circumstances of science experiment gone wrong turns into a large, angry reptile. The actor that is Rhys Ifans though completes a largely difficult task of making that ridiculous description of a role seem all the more plausible than it likely has any right to be. There is also some nice work here from Dennis Leary as Gwen's police captain father but it is Garfield and Stone that will make even the biggest of doubters reconsider their initial thoughts of a new Spidey so soon after the scars were healing from Raimi's disastrous third outing. In that fact also lies the reasoning I have had no issue with the idea of rebooting the series since day one. It would have been hard to come back from such a massive success of a film where the majority's response was mostly negative. It would have taken a lot to restore trust with the Spidey faithful and in the end this was likely the best choice for the future of any Spider-Man feature incarnations. I hate to even bring up the previous trilogy so much as The Amazing Spider-Man is more than capable of standing on its own two feet, but it is an inevitable comparison. Lucky for us, the quality of this reboot will likely make that comparison one that will soon fade and allow this re-telling to be treated exactly as it should be: an artist's interpretation of a story that deserves to be explored.