From the first announcement of the project back in January 2010, fans had been understandably skeptical of a relaunch of the Spider-Man franchise. The ink had barely dried on Sam Raimi’s version of the webcrawler saga when Sony Pictures tossed the baby out with the bathwater, moving full speed ahead with a reboot, three well loved films be damned. From the onset, it looked like such a corporate move. “Raimi and Maguire are too expensive. The last one wasn’t loved by fans. LETS ACT LIKE THEY NEVER HAPPENED!” And even still, in the afterglow of the movie, I can’t disagree with that criticism – just 5 years after Spider-Man 3 and 10 years after the first Spider-Man kickstarted this superhero movie trend, did we need a new Spider-Man universe? While I can’t necessarily agree with the necessity, I certainly can say this – The Amazing Spider-Man is an absolutely successful relaunch of the franchise, and recaptures what I loved about the first two films in a more contemporary light.
Taking his cues from a mish-mash of the Ultimate Spider-Man comics universe and the classic 1970’s tales, director Marc Webb has created a universe for a Peter Parker of today. Much has been spoken about how Peter seems a bit too “cool” for his nerdy heritage, but Andrew Garfield’s interpretation of the character is appropriately awkward and guarded. We now live in a world where the geeks are “cool”, and while I understand the criticisms towards the characters new-found skateboarding skills and hipper wardrobe, Garfield makes his version of Parker believable as an intelligent young man who after losing his parents and being raised by his aunt and uncle, keeps everyone at a distance, whether with long sleeves and his hoodie up, or by viewing them through a camera lens. He’s matched perfectly by a radiant Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. I had felt that Bryce Dallas Howard’s version of the character was one of the few bright points of Spider-Man 3, but here, Emma Stone creates her own version of Gwen – a girl who is just as smart as Peter, warm-hearted, but much like Peter, has some damage of her own, with a strong police captain father (Denis Leary, absolutely nailing the role of George Stacy) who she never knows will come home in the morning. It is the relationship between Peter and Gwen that produces some of the movie’s best moments. Early trailers for the film seemed to indicate a Twilight-esq romance, but in practice, they’re both hilariously awkward with each other, and have an indelible chemistry that is a joy to watch unfurl. The full extended cast is a great joy, with Martin Sheen possibly being the best on screen interpretation of Uncle Ben (even if he doesn’t get to say the line), Sally Field providing a solid version of Aunt May, and shockingly, a really decent turn for Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka), a character I didn’t expect to be handled as well as he was.
With all that, you already have a great character drama, but that’s only half of the equation, even if it’s those elements where the film may be at its best. Such a key component to making Spider-Man work on film is the action, and I’m here to say that he’s never looked better. Using a mix of parkour-esq traditional stunt work with some minor CG enhancements, the movements of Spider-Man look natural yet improvised, , giving the action an appropriately frantic feel. Given that this is Marc Webb’s first action movie, you’d be understood if you were worried about how he’d shoot the numerous web-swinging sequences for the film, but he nails it. This features some of the more ambitious camera work of the series, and the use of 3D is (mark this down) actually pretty inspired. The Mirror’s Edge esq POV sequences actually work fairly well in practice (each are short and sweet), and overall, the action feels frantic yet never hard to follow. In particular, I really loved a sequence which took place at Midtown High, which just nailed the Ultimate Spider-Man feel. And it’s really great to see a version of Spider-Man who loves fighting crime, full of wisecracks and excitement punctuating every punch and web thwip.
That said, I’m not without my criticisms for the film. Rhys Ifans certainly portrays a solid, inoffensive version of Dr. Curt Connors, but sadly, once he becomes the monstrous Lizard, he’s reduced to a Willem DeFoe wannabe, even having a similar internal argument sequence. Furthermore, while it’s way better in motion, the Lizard design is still very odd, especially when he talks. And there’s a moment or two of unintentional hilarity – the “Peter Parker: Pro Skater” sequence seen in an online clip is somewhat cringeworthy (especially given it’s Coldplay soundtrack, I could see it becoming the Emo Peter dance of this one), and a moment with a half lizard/half rat is overdone. Oh, and while there is a mid-credit tease for a sequel (of course there is!), I really don’t like what it hints toward.
The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t a flawless film by any means, and it certainly hasn’t supplanted The Avengers as the top dog of the summer. However, it remains an enjoyable action adventure that resets the character in a world for today. Full of emotional heart, an incredibly solid cast, and some of the most comic accurate action yet, it’s an absolute win. No matter your criticisms going in, I feel like if you let it, Andrew Garfield’s new version of Spider-Man can and will win you over. Check it out this 4th of July.