Despite all marketing evidence to the contrary, The Amazing Spider-man justifies its existence through sheer quality and delivers one of the best treatments of the character to date.
A reboot of the previous Spider-man films, the Amazing Spider-man retells the origin of Peter Parker and his journey to become the titular character. Peter (Andrew Garfield) is an awkward teen dealing with being bullied at school, an unrequited affection for Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and struggling with the deaths of his parents when he was a child. A discovery made while helping his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) clean up water in the basement leads him to his scientist father’s lab and former partner Dr Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans) who is interested in Peter’s insights into the genetic splicing experiments he is carrying on from where Peter’s father left off. In the process of snooping in the lab, Peter is bitten by a genetically altered spider which gives him spider like powers including the ability to stick to walls, super strength, enhanced reflexes and a spider sense that warns him of danger. Trying out his new powers leads to Peter shirking responsibility which leads to Uncle Ben being shot and killed by a robber. This sends Peter into a quest for vengeance that finds him trying to find the man who killed his uncle while dressed in a luchador inspired costume. This puts him in opposition to police Captain Stacy (Dennis Leary) the father of Peter’s new girlfriend. As all this is happening, Conners uses an algorithm from Peter’s father’s notes and is pressured by employers Oscorp to start human trials. He injects himself and turns into a half man half lizard creature which drives him crazy in a Jekyll and Hyde sort of way. All of these disparate storylines crash together and Spidey has to deal with all of it.
So okay, Sam Raimi’s Spider-man 3 was only five years ago. It was dogshit mostly due to studio interference and led to the conflict that resulted in the studio cancelling Spider-man 4 and deciding to do the reboot. Regardless of how bad the third installment of that series is it is still jarring to see a reboot this early. It is no secret that the reason for this reboot was to allow Sony to retain the rights to the character. Because of this it is really easy to be cynical about this film and to dismiss it as nothing more than a business decision. Frankly, because of the marketing of the movie and some out of context scenes, I was convinced this would be a nightmare that completely missed the point of the character. I was really wrong.
Aside from some nitpicking, the Amazing Spider-man just nails it in every way possible. Director Marc Webb has proven here that not only is he great at character and story moments but also an excellent action director. The action in this movie is phenomenal and perfectly captures the way Spider-man moves and fights in a way that we have not seen in live action treatments up to this point. The webswinging, which is largely practical as opposed to CGI, looks phenomenal and the CGI work that is there meshes pretty flawlessly. The way the camera moves and how the shots are captured shows an expert hand that is surprising from the guy who made (500) Days of Summer. I was pretty blown away by just how good everything looked and how expertly the action was staged and performed.
From a character standpoint, all of the principles are portrayed perfectly both from a performance stand point as well as a story standpoint. Andrew Garfield gives us a Peter that doesn’t look so much like a nerd but who has a brilliant scientific mind, a good heart and a habit of having his ass handed to him by bullies. He is also very conflicted and feels abandoned by his parents who dropped him off with his aunt and uncle before going off to die in a plane crash. Martin Sheen absolutely kills as Uncle Ben and really gets to the emotional core of the character. His scenes are moving and emotional and when he is ultimately killed it is heartbreaking. Sally Field likewise turns in a heart wrenching performance as Aunt May who loses her husband and is struggling not to lose her nephew as well. Emma Stone gives us a Gwen who is every bit as capable and smart as Peter is and who is not in constant need of rescue. It is really refreshing to see this and makes their relationship a delight. Dennis Leary is perfect casting as Captain Stacy and stays away from any stand-up comedy to deliver an earnest and powerful performance. Rhys Ifans handles Dr Conners descent into madness and mutant lizard very well and keeps from chewing scenery while delivering a performance that allows you to understand where he is coming from.
Along with these great performances, Webb allows the story enough time to play out in order to establish relationships and provide proper motivations. Where Raimi’s first Spider-man skipped past Spider-man’s early exploits through montage, Webb lets us see Peter learning how to be Spider-man and gives us a lot of him fighting street crime while searching for Uncle Ben’s killer. This is really helpful because when you see these little moments it shows you how he is prepared for the big ones and those big moments feel earned rather than a function of the need to move the story forward toward bigger explosions.
There are some nitpicks, however, as good as this movie is. I have a problem with some of the costume changes, particularly giving his boots rubber soles that should effectively nullify any foot stickiness he might enjoy. I also felt that the pacing was a bit off in the later parts of the film where the final conflict is dragged out artificially in a clumsy and silly attempt at beefing up the drama. Some of the story and character beats seemed too cribbed from Raimi’s movies such as Connors having to try his formula on himself to prevent having his research shut down and then talking to his Lizard alter ego as if it is a separate character in his mind. I could have done without that stuff so soon after Raimi did it but it still worked here so I am willing to let it slide a bit.
Conclusion [9.0 out of 10]
I thought I was going to hate this movie going in and I was very pleasantly surprised by how it turned out. Some people may have problems with the changes between this treatment and the Raimi films but I think that pound for pound this is closer to the comics in tone and delivery if not necessarily the letter of the story. I still like the first two Raimi pictures but this is like Tim Burton’s Batman vs Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. They are both valid takes on the character but with different tones and emphases. It is very hard to argue with the depth into the characters Webb digs out here and I think that gives this film the edge. It is hard to imagine an open minded Spider-man fan not finding a ton to love here. This movie should definitely be seen in a theater and if you have access to IMAX 3D I highly recommend that format. It looked pretty amazing and I was not disappointed.