Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

Much like the rest of pop culture savvy America, I was highly perplexed when the announcement came forth several years ago that Marvel’s prized Spider-Man franchise was to be entirely rebooted back to square one. This, after all, was a serious money maker for Sony Pictures and Marvel, and found itself among the most highly regarded blockbuster series in the last decade. Despite its lackluster third film, it had even seemed as if a fourth Spider-Man film by Sam Raimi was inevitable. The reasons for an entire reboot remain murky, but now that it is upon us, the question becomes, was it worthwhile? Despite covering many of the same narrative threads that defined 2002’s original, The Amazing Spider-Man actually makes the case on several levels for its protagonist’s fresh bite.

To begin, one might experience some major deja vu setting in as The Amazing Spider-Man runs its course for the first hour. Comparisons with Peter Parker’s first cinematic introduction are inevitable, from the troubles in high school, to the awkwardness with girls, to the discovery of powers etc. Those minor conflicts and plot points remain narrative obligations, and the key midpoint reversal here is precisely the same as it was ten years ago. What sets this film apart you ask? A great deal as it turns out, and it starts squarely with the casting of Andrew Garfield, whose performance as Peter is easily the film’s greatest asset. His Parker is nerdy without being dorky, occasionally awkward but never weird, witty but never a full-on charmer. Though he is written as a deeply flawed yet human character, Garfield expresses Parker’s insecurities with such offhanded subtlety that it rarely feels like he’s acting. There’s moment that occurs during a low time for Parker near the middle of the film, and Garfield provides it with such pathos that few other actors his age might have been able to touch upon.

Of course, the other key ingredient here is Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, the intelligent blonde bombshell who has her eyes set for Peter. It doesn’t take long for the chemistry between them to get going, and the banter between both manages to be more memorable than even the film’s action sequences. They make a genuinely great couple, and they make their scenes feel quite genuine and largely free of the beat-for-beat moments expected of cliched romance stories. The rest of the cast is uniformly strong here as well, particularly Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben and Sally Field as Aunt May. Once the film frees itself from the obligations of getting Parker from the high school hallways to swinging through the urban canyons of New York, we get to the business of the plot, which involves Oscorp’s Dr. Curt Conners connection with Peter’s father. In addition to Conners’ eventual transformation into the Lizard, the film suggests that Peter’s spider bite might not have been an accident, but a matter of destiny. Regardless, the remainder of the plot functions fine for what it needs to be, and also integrates Spider-Man’s investment in the struggle with the Lizard quite nicely while also laying foundations for a larger tale to tell (Did you know they make sequels to these things?).

Following (500) Days of Summer, this is only Marc Webb’s (yes, maybe he was hired on the basis of his last name alone) second directorial effort, and he actually makes a fine fit for the material. The Amazing Spider-Man draws less from the candy colored palette and opts for darkness and shadows, an increasing trend present in superhero films drawn to realism. However, Webb’s web slinging story is best grounded by the script, which occasionally dips into obligatory thematic passages about responsibility and duty, but never gets preachy. As demonstrated in his first film, Webb has a solid eye for composition which pays off better for character scenes than it does for the set pieces. His take on the action sequences isn’t as effortless and free flowing as one would hope for, nor is there consistent editorial coherence to always make sense of what is occurring from shot to shot. On occasion, the film even intercuts to point-of-view shots which feel excessive.

It occurred to me that the real reason for this reboot ultimately lies with demographics. It has been five years since the last Spider-Man film was released. What this means is that there are now five year-olds all across the world who have never witnessed Spider-Man on the big screen, which is the key that studio executives are now realizing. Therefore, for better or worse, the superhero film is here to stay, and frankly, it seems to be following in the exact same steps as the comic books upon which it is based, for they too reboot themselves and follow new narrative routes when their tales grow stale. A name like The Amazing Spider-Man can easily come off as a bit pretentious, and though this first new film might not entirely live up to that title, it does show the seeds of amazing potential.

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~ by romancinema on July 3, 2012.

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