Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man
The Charlotte Observer
By Lawrence Toppman
The Charlotte Observer
If you wonder what constitutes a movie generation in this time of super-accelerated change and ever-shorter memories, “The Amazing Spider-Man” has the answer: 10 years.
Tobey Maguire and director Sam Raimi created their version of Spidey in 2002, following that origin story with two sequels. Now Andrew Garfield and director Marc Webb reboot the tale with a different heroine, villain and sensibility.
Did we need another Spider-Man this quickly? Debatable. But if you wanted a new interpretation – especially one where story and action stay in the right balance – this is it.
The most crucial change comes in the main character. Maguire’s Peter Parker was mopey; you got the sense he wanted mainly to be left alone, to get through high school unobtrusively while mooning over neighbor Mary Jane (who remained a dull character, little more than a scream queen).
Garfield’s Parker bristles with energy; he has no hope of belonging to any clique but is eager to find a way to prove himself with a camera or an equation. (This is a sort of mini-prequel, so he hasn‘t started shooting for The Daily Bugle.)
He, too, yearns for a girl: Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who’s his intellectual equal and a fellow student at Midtown Science High School in Manhattan. She happens to be the daughter of the police captain (Denis Leary) in charge of capturing Spider-Man, which proves awkward for all three.
Director Webb (“500 Days of Summer”) makes the kid’s transformation into Spider-Man more of a funny metaphor for adolescence than Raimi did: Peter discovers his new strength, speed and adhesive powers on a subway car, which he accidentally dismantles while disarming attackers – apologizing all the while – and inadvertently tugging the sweater off a beautiful woman.
This Peter responds with giddy merriment to his new abilities, like a teen who discovers he can sing a whole new range of notes after his voice changes. Yet he retains vulnerability, especially around Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen and Sally Field), when he discovers his gifts bring him no closer to social acceptance.
Marvel Comics has always given more depth to villains than rival D.C., but scientist Curt Connors’ case is especially poignant. Unlike Norman Osborn, whose egomaniacal experiments in the 2002 “Spider-Man” turned him into Green Goblin, Connors (Rhys Ifans) means to help all of humanity with his research in cross-species gene-splicing.
One of the spiders in his care bites Peter, transferring all sorts of traits. Connors, hoping to restore his missing arm, takes a lizard serum he plans to give to disabled people everywhere; it transform him into The Lizard, a monstrous reptile with human intelligence, but even then he doesn’t completely lose sight of his humane goal. (Connors works at Oscorp, Osborn’s global research corporation, so we can expect to see the Goblin in a sequel.)
Writers James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves do a few daring things. For once, a superhero’s girlfriend quickly learns his identity, as she’d be likely to do. We’re allowed to infer a few things without being sure of them, notably the fate of Peter’s dead parents. Although the narrative frequently pauses for action scenes shot in excellent 3-D – as it ought to do – Peter’s detective work matters almost as much as his battle skills.
The writers also try to skate past small, dumb mistakes and silly coincidences. In the sequence where Peter infiltrates Oscorp, Gwen just happens to run its program for high school interns; Peter can pass himself off as an intern because the security badges have no photos; and he can enter a top-secret area, create havoc and leave without triggering any alarms.
Such gaffes and coincidences might rankle in a lesser film, but Webb makes his action debut with such flair that we don’t dwell on them long. He doesn’t simply aim to blow our minds with action sequences; he tries to satisfy us visually, viscerally and emotionally. Even people who fondly remember the “Spider-Man” of a decade ago may decide he has.