It’s strange to be talking about a reboot of the “Spider-Man” franchise this soon. It’s been just 10 years from the debut of the first of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, which included the iconic upside down kiss from stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. With two sequels which were also big box-office successes, it wouldn’t seem like there would need to be a new version of the character. However, with a new creative team, new stars and a fresh take on the character, The Amazing Spider-Man makes a great case for standing on its own.
Fans of the Sam Raimi original film, and those familiar with the comic book, will know most of the plot coming in. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has grown up haunted by the memories of the disappearance of his parents, who’ve left him in the care of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Peter’s a bit of a social outcast at high school, though he’s not a pariah. He’s a talented photographer and bright student. But he’s also growing more curious as to what happened to his parents, and on a visit to Oscorp, where he sees crush object Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and meets his father’s former research partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), he stumbles on some of the bio-engineered spiders his father helped to create years ago. After he’s bitten by one of the spiders, he becomes stronger, more agile, and capable of crawling on walls and ceilings. He’s also suddenly more confident, but also more willful – a willfulness that leads to tragedy, one that affects the way he decides to use his powers moving forward. Meanwhile, Connors, who studied reptiles while the elder Parker focused on spiders, is attempting to find a way to regrow his forearm, to make himself complete and rid himself of weakness, all while being pressured to come up with a way to keep Oscorp founder Norman Osborn alive. When he tests and experimental serum on himself, he gets what he wants, but also something far worse, as he begins to transform into a gigantic lizard/human hybrid, who’s capable of overturning cars and many of the same wall-crawling abilities as Parker. Peter must learn to balance his new powers with his growing relationship with Gwen Stacy, dodge her father (Denis Leary) and his attempts, as a New York Police Captain, to capture the new vigilante, and capture Connors.
While some will approach the new film with trepidation, they should be happy to know that it really works, and that director Marc Webb and the screenwriters have created something that feels new. Garfield nicely balances the two sides of Peter Parker. He’s more than capable of doing the dramatic heavy lifting in the scenes that call for it, as he’s shown in The Social Network and Never Let Me Go. But he’s also adept at the action sequences and the witty fight repartee that Peter Parker’s known for. Stone is as charming as she is in nearly everything else she does, and she’s bewitching as Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s first love in the comic books. She brings a natural comic timing that really works in the role, and moves it beyond the typical action movie girlfriend type. Webb also does a nice job of providing a steady pace to the action sequences, in addition to the more dialogue heavy points. And some of the changes made to the traditional comic’s origin actually make more narrative sense, especially on film, than the way they’re traditionally presented.
On the downside, the choice of The Lizard as the ”Big Bad” for the first film in this new series is somewhat questionable. Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery isn’t exactly brimming with great choices for film villains, other than those already used in the previous version of the series, which Webb chooses, wisely, not to go back to quite yet. There’s also the problem that Ifans’ inherent decency makes him a difficult fit for a villain, especially one like this. While the idea of the thinking man becoming the unthinking animal works well in some cases, the change here is somewhat wanting, in part because we don’t know Connors quite well enough as his normal self.
On the whole, however, The Amazing Spider-Man is likely to exceed your expectations, if you’re a fan of the first iteration of the series, and provide a great time at the theatre for someone just looking for something fun in the summer. There’s real pathos and fun, and some really very winning performances.