New 'Spider-Man' amazing, charming
Posted July 1, 2012
The story is certainly familiar, but The Amazing Spider-Man (*** out of four; rated PG-13; opens Monday in select theaters, Tuesday nationwide) is not a mere retread.
As a new chapter in the superpowered arachnid saga, it stands on its own quite nicely, focusing more on human emotions than on a panoply of special effects.
Audiences get a better understanding of why brainy Peter Parker became the super-hero — not just how. A bite from a genetically altered spider kicks off his transformation, but the desire for justice and the impetus for heroism came from seminal events in Peter's personal life.
It's not strictly a reboot or even a prequel to the first Spider-Man, out in 2002. This version adds illuminating plot points, improving on what has gone before.
One of the major reasons it works so well is the gangly charm of Andrew Garfield in the lead role. Where Tobey Maguire in the original Spider-Man trilogy was earnest, Garfield's Spider-Man is whip-smart and likably cheeky, with an undercurrent of teenage angst.
And then there's the tale of young love. The casting of Garfield as Spidey and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy is inspired. He's appealingly awkward and boyishly handsome. She's radiant and self-assured. Together they set off sparks. There are no forced theatrics, no upside-down kisses, just unadulterated chemistry.
A scene in which Peter goes to Gwen's house for dinner is wryly funny, amid the realization that her father (Denis Leary) is the chief of police and Spidey is at the top of his most-wanted list.
This is a star-making turn for Garfield. With an impeccable American accent, the British Garfield embodies the nerdy Parker, the anguished fatherless teen and the cocky super-hero in equal doses.
Director Marc Webb showed how to weave a witty romance without resorting to cliché in the exhilaratingly clever (500) Days of Summer. His sensibility works well here. While Sam Raimi, who directed the preceding Spider-Man trilogy, had some great moves (and some misses), Webb has a more subtle style with more investment in the emotional arc of the characters.
The film opens with an eerie flashback in which Peter's father (Campbell Scott) finds his office ransacked. He and his wife pack up 7-year-old Peter and send him to live with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen).
A decade later, Peter finds his father's briefcase and seeks to understand his parents' disappearance. He tracks down Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), his dad's partner, who is working on regenerative studies for OsCorp. Peter sneaks into a research lab and gets bitten by a radioactive spider.
Ifans brings humanity to the role of a kind scientist who becomes a lizard marauder.
The climactic face-off between Spider-Man and The Lizard drags on too long, and Spidey's perilous leaps and dangles are not enhanced by the lackluster 3-D. His movements are more naturalistic, and less kinetic, than in Raimi's movies, but still captivating.
Told winningly, The Amazing Spider-Man is as much a coming-of-age story as a crime-fighting action saga.
Latest in Entertainment