Whenever I hear the words “reboot” or “remake,” I inwardly roll my eyes (sometimes outwardly) and sigh, thinking “really? How is this even necessary?” Such was the case when, awhile back, I read that they were “reimagining” Spider-Man. What was so wrong with Sam Raimi’s films that we needed to do a “take two?”
Even though I wasn’t all that thrilled about the prospects, I followed the casting news. A number of young actors were in the running, including Josh Hutcherson (Hunger Games). I remember his name because I dislike him so much, and thought that if he gets the role, I wouldn’t be watching. Another name floating around was Logan Lerman of Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief. I don’t remember the whole list – I’m sure that Zac Efron was there – but it wasn’t all that inspiring. And then, with the shock of a ninja attack, they announced that Andrew Garfield (Social Network) had landed the gig. Odd particularly because not only is he British but he’s also nearly 30 years old. I thought the point of replacing Tobey Maguire had more to do with his age – nearly 40 years – than anything else. Peter Parker is, after all, a high school student. Maguire may still be youthful looking, but if the franchise continues, you can’t have a 50-year-old Spider-Man.
So was the reboot a mistake? Was casting Garfield a total disaster? Absolutely not to both. In fact, I have to applaud everyone involved with The Amazing Spider-Man, because, in many ways, it improves upon the original.
From a screenplay by Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves, and James Vanderbilt, The Amazing Spider-Man begins with a young Parker playing hide-and-seek with his father (Campbell Scott). This innocent game soon turns menacing when we see that his father’s study has been ransacked; papers strewn everywhere. Upon seeing the mess, Richard Parker gathers together some belongings – including a hidden file – collects his wife and son, and deposits the latter at the house of Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). After some instructions and a tearful goodbye (his mother, played by Embeth Davidtz, is the only one crying), Peter Parker’s parents go into the rain and are never heard from again.
Next we encounter a high school age Parker (Garfield) as he’s hanging up a photo of the debate team. Within the next five minutes, we discover that he’s socially awkward, rides a skateboard, enjoys photography, has a crush on fellow science nerd Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and is the target of a jock bully who goes by the name Flash (Chris Zylka). Eventually, Parker discovers his father’s briefcase in his aunt and uncle’s basement. Inside, he finds a newspaper clipping on which is pictured his father and Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a herpetologist who believes he can make everyone in the world equal through transgenesis. (This means giving an afflicted patient genetic material from another species, thereby, curing degenerative diseases, and even, in Connors’ case, growing new limbs.) If you haven’t figured it out yet, Connors will become the film’s villain – The Lizard – after he experiments on himself.
What makes The Amazing Spider-Man such a laudable film is that it feels more “authentic,” for lack of a better word; it doesn’t feel like a comic book film. By the time we meet Parker, he’s already a pretty damaged person. Abandoned by his parents, he’s essentially an orphan without any sense of who he is or where he belongs. He’s angry, hurt, and lost. His transformation into a more confident, purpose-filled individual comes only after that fateful bite from a genetically altered spider; a creature that produces revolutionarily strong silk. Whereas in Spider-Man the transformation was played for laughs – Parker wakes up to find he has grown muscles and pubes – in The Amazing Spider-Man that same character has become almost spider-like. (In one scene, he catches a fly and then, it seems, has a difficult time not gobbling it down.) Endowed with strength and amazing agility, Parker grows in confidence. Unfortunately, in the beginning its cockiness and a desire to “even the score” with Flash. Only after his uncle is murdered and dies in front of him will Parker become more responsible and selfless.
Like Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man is an action/adventure with some romance thrown in for good measure. Thankfully that love interest is no longer the useless, wannabe actress Mary Jane, played with sickening sweetness by Kirsten Dunst; a throwback “heroine” who was always in need of a rescue. Instead it’s Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), an intelligent, strong, and competent teen who somehow has the guts to smack The Lizard in the head with a trophy. (If you see The Lizard, you will see how ballsy this move really is.) Whereas the love story in the original Spider-Man films made me wish I had a sick bag with me, this one is, again, more realistic. Both seem like giddy, nervous teens, and their chemistry is amazing. No wonder the actors have continued their relationship off set.
I’m a fan of Maguire, but looking back, I see his Spider-Man as a bit too goofy; too wholesome and sweet. Garfield, dressed in his dark hoodie and riding a skateboard, comes off as more psychologically conflicted; more angsty and reckless. When he goes out every night, looking for his Uncle’s killer, you get the sense that he has a death wish. Garfield gives a very natural performance; very honest. I believed that he was a high school student even though he hasn’t been inside those walls in more than a decade.
Supporting cast was also well chosen. Ifans isn’t a caricature of a villain, cackling maniacally as he incinerates cities. He’s a tragic figure; a guy who wants to be whole again. In the end, I felt sorry for him. Field is a fine actress, who had tears welling in my eyes on several occasions. Sheen should be labeled a national treasure. He’s such a genuine actor, and I’ve never seen him give a bad performance. Here he’s stern but fair; loving and supportive. He and Field are a match made in casting heaven. And, as always, there is a hilarious cameo by Stan Lee.
The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t a perfect film. At 136 minutes, it’s longer than it needs to be. During the dinner scene at Stacy’s house, I began checking my watch. I saw the film in 3-D and IMAX, but with the exception of a few “cool” scenes, neither of these “fancy” extras are necessary. If you see it, plain and simple, you won’t miss much. That said, there are a few wow moments, specifically when director Marc Webb shows the action from Spider-Man’s perspective. My favorite part of these films comes when the hero and villain are slugging it out, and The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t disappoint in that arena. The Lizard is a formidable and very big foe. I also love Spider-Man specifically for the webslinging scenes, and, again, in The Amazing Spider-Man there are some beautifully choreographed “flight” sequences. I always marvel at the acrobatic athleticism of this character. Another plus is the redesigned superhero costume, which I’m assuming came courtesy of costume designer Kym Barrett. Whenever I see the names Kym Barrett and Colleen Atwood, I know I’m in for a visual treat. The former designed costumes for The Matrix films; the latter typically works with Tim Burton.
The Amazing Spider-Man is definitely a must-see for superhero fans. The Lizard might be a bit too “creepy” for really young children, but anyone older than 7-years-old can probably handle it. My 9-year-old nephew clapped excitedly before and after the film, and on the way to the car kept practicing his own (imaginary) webslinging skills. He loved it.
As far as I am concerned, I came away from my initial screening thinking that Webb had made a far superior product to the original Spider-Man. After my second screening, I am even more convinced. I know that the Amazing Spider-Man will make a boatload of money, and that more Spider-Man films are on the horizon. At least I hope so.
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