Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-man.
Despite feeling a little soon for a full reboot of the series, being just 5 years since we last saw Tobey Maguire in the cowl, The Amazing Spider-man is a highly enjoyable superhero movie with only a few minor flaws. The makers could just as easily have continued the series with a new cast, the way James Bond used to do, instead of restarting it, but regardless of that, this is still a very entertaining film.
Although some of the details are different, this origin tale follows the familiar Spider-man story. High-schooler Peter Parker is bitten by a scientifically altered spider, causing him to gain spider-like powers of enhanced strength and dexterity, heightened senses and the ability to climb walls. He is then motivated to a life of crime fighting by the death of his beloved uncle. Along the way, he finds love and must eventually face off against a super villain who threatens New York City.
Andrew Garfield makes a terrific Peter Parker. He's 28 and clearly way too old to be in high-school, but then most high-schoolers in movies always look too old, so perhaps it's unfair to single him out for that. He plays the nerdy outsider quite well, even if besides being too old, he also seems a little too cool to truly be a nerd. Some of the movie's best moments are in the first half as we see how he gains his powers and learns how to deal with them.
The rest of the cast is equally good. Emma Stone plays Gwen Stacy, Peter's original love interest from the comic books. Like Garfield, Stone is obviously too old to be a high-schooler, but she looks the part, which is pretty much all that's required of her as the love interest/damsel in distress. Sally Field and Martin Sheen play Peter's Aunt and Uncle. Sheen and Garfield share a couple of nice moments together, despite the sappy dialogue that Sheen is given. Dennis Leary does a good job as the police captain and Gwen's father. Rhys Ifans is fine as the villain, but without really standing out.
One aspect of this version of Spider-man that is a definite improvement over Raimi's version is that when in costume, Spider-man seems less like a computer generated cartoon. This is most likely a combination of more shots with an actor actually in the costume, coupled with improvements in special effects in recent years. In any case, where it was blatantly obvious when Spider-man was computer generated in the older films, here the line is more blurred and it adds to the feeling of realism (if I can use such a word in a review of a superhero movie).
Like seemingly every other superhero movie released these days, this one does run long. Why they all feel as though they have to be epic-sized, I don't know. There are definitely scenes that could have been trimmed or more tightly edited, starting with the ridiculous scene with the construction workers and the cranes at the film's climax. At least there's only one super villain though, unlike the final Raimi Spider-man film which had three.
Ironically, the first half of the film, which covers much of the same ground as was covered in 2002's Spider-man, is actually the most entertaining half. Watching Peter come to terms with his powers is more interesting than watching yet another superhero do battle with yet another supervillain in the heart of a major city.
Comic books have a long tradition of rebooting heroes and altering continuity. It's part of the reason why I lost interest in reading them when I was younger. D.C. Comics used to explain it all by saying there were multiple earths with different versions of the heroes on each of them. That's the best way to think of this movie. A different, but similar tale of a boy named Peter Parker who became the amazing Spider-man.
Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone yucking it up on the set of The Amazing Spider-man
This is not just a reboot but a remake of 2002's Spiderman. The entire film takes place with Peter Parker in high school. He again gets beat up by Flash and later gets back at him. He is again in love with a girl in his class whom he has a hard time expressing his feelings for. Again the bad guy works at OSCORP and his powers come by using his own product. In one scene he is in his lair seeming to have an insane inner monolog with himself just as Norman Osborn did as Goblin. Spiderman again inspires some blue collar New Yorkers to help him out.
The film makers seemed to understand how similar the plots were so they threw in some superfluous details to seem original. Peter's parents are briefly shown in the first scene when, after feeling threatened, they drop Peter off at his Aunt's and Uncle's house and then run off. This makes little sense. If the people after his dad's information were so scary as to force them to go on the lam, why in the hell would they leave their only child with such an obvious choice as a relative? The threatening party could easily find him and use him as a pawn to get what they want from his father. The film could have skipped that entire scene and simply had Peter find his father's briefcase where Uncle Ben announces that it belonged to his dad.
Sam Raimi's Spiderman had a natural charm and wit about it, with Tobey Maguire soliciting plenty of empathy from the audience. Andrew Garfield is a great actor with plenty of charm but his Peter Parker seems like a contradiction. Sometimes he is the loner, cool skate boarder dude. Other times he is the nerdy camera guy. When a girl in school asks him to take a picture of her boyfriend's car I wondered when this film was supposed to be taking place. What girl in 2012 goes to high school without a picture taking cell phone? These days, you can easier borrow a cell phone than a pencil in high school.
The Amazing Spider-man has a darker tone than the 2002 version. Perhaps because of this, the film makers inserted some jokes to lighten the mood. At one point, Peter throws a football from the bleachers, hits and bends the goal posts, as the entire football team, staff and onlookers watch. When he first discovers his powers he is in a subway car with lots of people. Even a reporter from a network news show could discover who Spiderman really is if they put in the least amount of effort.
The only decent humor is provided by the gruff Dennis Leary as Police Captain George Stacy. He is pretty much filling in for the absent Jonah Jameson. When Peter has dinner at his house, Captain Stacy says of Spiderman, "This guy wears a mask, like an outlaw!" Peter awkwardly challenges that notion, "I think he's trying to do something maybe the police can't." An indignant Captain Stacy comes back with, "CAN'T?"
Even though it has a completely been there seen that plot, this movie will entertain from start to finish. Little kids may be bored as it takes at least an hour for Peter to don his costume. I think the only real problem it ran into is as Scott mentioned. The reboot came to soon. We all remember the origin. Adding details to distinguish itself did not help, they just slowed down the film.
Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield get close in The Amazing Spider-man.
Superheroes are the modern day equivalent of ancient Greek Gods. Their stories are timeless so it makes sense that there will be many different versions over the years. I do have to agree that this one comes a bit sooner than I would have expected but in my opinion it improves on the Sam Raimi version.
In my review for the 2002 Spider-man movie I wrote that I enjoyed the action scenes more than the scenes dealing with Peter Parker's personal life. The opposite was true this time around. Even though every plot device was familiar I got caught up in Peter's adventure as he discovers his newly developed powers and grows in confidence.
Credit Andrew Garfield, who makes a great Peter Parker. I thought his balance of socially awkward nerd and cool skateboarder kid was just right. Most people aren't so one dimensional that they belong in just one box. Plus in this modern high tech computer gadget era we live in the line between nerd and cool has blurred. He brings a bit of an edge to the role that makes his Peter much more interesting than that goody-goody version Toby Maguire played. And he shares a palpable chemistry with Emma Stone during their steamy kissing scenes (see photo). Something that was missing between Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst.
I have to agree with Scott about the absolutely ridiculous scene where all the crane operators help Spider-man out. I mean the Mayor has ordered mass evacuations, the streets are literally clogged with masses of panicking citizens fleeing on foot or in cars, and somehow these guys are able to maneuver these huge cranes into place along Seventh Avenue in a matter of seconds. Hell, why didn't someone just give Spider-man a lift to where he was going since it's so easy to get around?
This movie has a somewhat darker tone but it also has some very silly moments. The scene on the subway being one example of the latter, while Spider-man saving the young boy from a fiery death in a burning car hanging from the Williamsburg Bridge, is an example of the former. At this point any new version of Spider-man is going to seem superfluous, and yes it does run too long. Still for a movie that was completely unnecessary, The Amazing Spider-man is great escapist entertainment.
Photos © Copyright Columbia Pictures (2012)