I’ve been hearing and reading a lot of opinions about how people thought it was too soon for Sony to reboot the Spider-Man franchise. There’s an ongoing argument that not enough time has passed to warrant a Spider-Man reboot; Spider-Man was released in 2002 and Spider-Man 3 was released just a mere 5 years ago. Although I understand the argument, by not judging The Amazing Spider-Man solely on its own merit, a good number of people cheated themselves out of an enjoyable film going experience.
The Amazing Spider-Man had a number of hurdles to overcome to be thought of as more than just a cash grab by Sony. First, a director capable of creating a film that would stand on its own. Having only one feature film ((500) Days of Summer) on his résumé, Marc Webb was handed the task of directing. Following Sam Raimi was going to be a difficult task for anyone, let alone someone with so little experience. Although not a perfect film, I think Webb did an admirable job and made a movie that separates itself from what came before.
The best thing about The Amazing Spider-Man is unquestionably the cast. Andrew Garfield plays the part of Peter Parker/Spider-Man with convincing emotion, giving the character far more depth than Tobey Maguire ever did. Garfield has the look of a high school kid, and shows a range of feeling as a young man dealing with new-found abilities, surprising discoveries, and the usual problems young men in high school go through (i.e. parents, or in Peter’s case his Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and girls). Garfield makes Peter interesting and more than just a man behind the mask.
The adorable Emma Stone shines brightly as Gwen Stacy, and is far more than just the typical love interest. To compare Stone’s Stacy to Dunst’s MaryJane, from the original trilogy, would be a disservice to Stone. MaryJane was nothing more than a whiny love interest and often times a damsel in distress, where Stacy is extremely intelligent, charming and not afraid to mix it up. The scenes shared between Garfield and Stone felt real, and were full of emotion and that’s a testament to the talent of each actor.
Part of what made Raimi’s Spider-Man films so good was the well done usage of classic Spidey villains, with the exception being the forced inclusion of Venom in Spider-Man 3. The decision to use Dr. Curt Conners/The Lizard as the film’s villain was the right choice, and although it’s disappointing that Dylan Baker, who originated the role of Dr. Curt Conners in Spider-Man 2 and then played the part again in Spider-Man 3, was never given the opportunity to transform into the classic reptilian villain, the choice to cast Rhys Ifans was a good one. The under-rated Ifans, mostly know for playing the nutty roommate in the Hugh Grant/Julie Roberts film Notting Hill, plays the role of the disabled and determined doctor with a seriousness that makes the viewer feel his pain and torment.
As everyone knows the driving force behind Peter Parker becoming the heroic Spider-Man was the *****SPOILER***** death of Uncle Ben. The great Martin Sheen steps into the role, and immediately makes it his own. Sheen has a calming way about him, and as the elder statesman of the film helps set the tone that this is something more than just an action filled comic book movie. The relationship between Uncle Ben and Peter is father and son like, and is never more evident than when Uncle Ben has to go to school
Aunt May, the character most influential in Peter Parker’s life, is played by two-time Oscar winner Sally Field. Unfortunately, the character is the most underused in the film. As an origin film, I guess the disappointing amount of screen time can be over looked; however, with all due respect to Ms. Fields, Aunt May has a certain appearance and her youthful appearance works against her. I’m hopeful that going forward more time is dedicated to giving the character the proper wise, old age look, as well as strengthening the bond between Peter and Aunt May.
The most surprising performance comes from Denis Leary as Captain Stacy, Gwen’s father. Leary is mostly known as a comedic talent, but eight years on FX’s Rescue Me appears to have allowed him to stretch his legs. Leary gives arguably the best performance of his career as the tough-minded police captain and father; although I believe had I caught a high school kid in my daughter’s bedroom unannounced and with the door closed, I’d have been a little harder than just a disapproving look. Police Captain or not, I’d have put a world of hurt on the kid, but hey, that’s just me. As is the case with the film’s entire cast, the performance is emotion filled (something I can’t seem to say enough) and truly stood out.
Finally, it would be wrong of me not to point out a performance that will probably go unnoticed by most, but I feel it deserves mentioning. Chris Zylka’s performance as Flash Thompson is unheralded; Zylka humanized Flash more than he’s even been before, regardless of the medium. The role is a very small one, but it was enough to make me genuinely like the guy and understand the relationship between Peter and himself.
As I said earlier, The Amazing Spider-Man is not a perfect movie. While I understand the need to do something different from what came before, I don’t feel including Peter’s parents was necessary. Spider-Man’s origin is extremely well-known, instead of recreating the wheel or forcing something else to be the cause, why not just use flashbacks to tell the story; or just don’t tell an origin at all and move forward with the story.
As impressive as the special effects were, and the scene with Spidey “flying” through downtown Manhattan is visually beautiful, there was some letdown. The Lizard’s appearance was disappointing, and with CGI technology at the level it is today there’s no reason to believe it couldn’t have been much better. Additionally, there were problems with Dr. Conners/The Lizard’s reasoning for what he was doing. I understand his desire to “fix” himself, but how that turns into the desire to fix the entire city seemed a little weak; there were a few other plot holes but since the series is meant to be a trilogy, maybe the plan is to give answers down the line?
The biggest issues I had with the movie, however, was the lack of questioning that should have come due to Peter’s new found abilities. I realize that with superhero movies there’s a certain level of believability that’s to be accepted, but there’s got to be a line somewhere. When Peter starts hanging upside in an elevated train, shattering backboards during gym class, and bending goal posts with a tossed football, it takes away from the realism of the film. I realize they are small details, but it bothered me.
Shortcomings aside, The Amazing Spider-Man is an entertaining and all-around enjoyable movie. Aside from a few liberties taken with the origin, I’d be hard pressed not to say that this was better than the first film in the original trilogy. The movie is perfectly cast, the acting is top-notch and aside from my issues with The Lizard, the effects look fantastic. I don’t think you need to forget the original trilogy, and with it not being that long ago how could you? But if you keep those films in the back of your head and watch the movie with an open mind, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Age appropriate: 8+ (violence, and some scenes may startle younger children)
Award possibilities: maybe Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and/or Visual Effects…although it’s doubtful