Director: Marc Webb
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Studio: Marvel Entertainment
We could debate from now until the zombie apocalypse whether the moviegoing universe really needed a reboot of Spider-Man only a decade after the first Spider-Man web-spinner starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and only five years after the studio called an abrupt halt to the Sam Raimi–directed franchise with Spider-Man 3. A perfectly enjoyable do-over, The Amazing Spider-Man — budgeted at somewhere near $220 million — is pretty much an as-expected spin on the mythic Steve Ditko/Stan Lee Marvel Comics series that inspired the original flick, except it’s often better acted and its special effects are all grown up. Hurling us back to day one, the origin story–heavy movie, directed by Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer), gives us Andrew Garfield as the orphaned, kicked-around high school dweeb-turned-vigilante Peter Parker and the equally special Emma Stone as Peter’s first romance, the pretty brainiac Gwen Stacy.
While action fans may get antsy, the flick is especially good in the character-driven opening that takes its own sweet time detailing awkward Peter’s tragic childhood loss of his shadowy, secretive parents (Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz) and his tricky relationship with their surrogates, a loving aunt and uncle, played by Sally Field and Martin Sheen. Even more potent is the oddball sizzle and warmth of the relationship between twitchy, vulnerable, James Dean-esque Garfield and the nimble, funny, utterly irresistible Stone. Both bring refreshing, quicksilver intelligence, charm and openness to their roles. When angsty, snarky Parker gets his first taste of his death-defying superpowers leaping off skyscrapers, clinging to the sides of buildings and careening around Manhattan's steel canyons, Garfield makes his character’s joy, triumph and ego tripping believable and relatable. Not only does he make the role completely his own but he also gives a performance with star quality spray-painted all over it. There’s also strong stuff from the resourceful, fully committed Rhys Ifans as armless scientist Curt Connors, whose initially well intended experiments turn him into a gigantic, angry lizard and who then hatches plans to make Manhattan’s entire populace his scaly companions.
As good as Ifans is, though, he’s undercut by some hokey CGI effects, and his beastly self’s silly taunts sound straight out of a B-Grade ’40s flick. Denis Leary is on firmer ground playing Stone’s cranky, conservative police chief father; he’s big fun. Where the movie stumbles most is in its vertigo-inducing 3D action sequences that roar and thunder without deepening the goings-on or being in tune with its sweet-spirited, hip sense of poetry. The less said about a cringe-worthy sequence in which the high-flying Parker shouts out a tired, clichéd callback to Midnight Cowboy, the better. Although less than amazing, The Amazing Spider-Man is still plenty good enough to deliver big grins, thrills and a welcome tug on the heartstrings.