by Raymond Bellinger
Ok, so before I can start reviewing Marc Webb’s new film The Amazing Spider-Man, I must first mention what is in the back of movie goers minds everywhere: Sam Rami’s 2002 film Spider-Man.
Now as most of you know this summer’s Spidey flick is a reboot of the fabulously successful Sony Pictures franchise. Audiences are seeing a retold version of Peter Parker’s original story and how he took to swinging around Manhattan in a tight red and blue suit – but this time with an added spin revolving around the mysterious disappearance of Peter’s parents. What has some viewers and critics worried is seeing the same movie that Sam Rami’s directed a decade ago; that this film is simply an attempt to cash-in on the previous success of the franchise.
I’m here to squash those fears.
Sure, in order for this to be a successful reboot there are several elements of the Sam Rami film, as well as integral story elements to the Spider-Man mythos, that must be retold in this summer’s blockbuster. That being said, this is nowhere near the same film you saw in 2002. Sam Rami’s direction, while great and notable for bringing superhero movies back into vogue, had a very distinct style reminiscent of early Spider-Man comic books. It was a wide-eyed and colorful interpretation of what made the early comics great. Full of adventure, fun, and heart, the first Spider-Man film, as well as its sequels, was a motion picture piece of pop art.
In The Amazing Spider-Man Marc Webb works hard to find a more realistic and subtle approach to the classic tale.
The film opens with young Peter Parker playing a game of hide-and-go seek. Suddenly calamity strikes and Peter’s parents are forced to skip town, leaving the young boy in the care of his living Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Jump forward a decade and we see Peter Parker, all grown up, in high school representing the noble yet ignored social outcast. In the quest to find out more about his parents’ mysterious disappearance and death Peter must track down Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), the scientist who worked hand in hand with his father. Then—whoopsies—after snooping around the secret Oscorp lab, Peter is bitten by a super powered spider and gains awesome powers. During Peter’s ever-increasing spout of self-discovery and burgeoning work with Connors, tragedy strikes when his Uncle Ben is shot and murdered. A guilt ridden, and also super-powered, Peter recklessly takes up a crime fighting persona to find his Uncle’s killer. At the same time his work with Connors takes a new and terrifying leap forward.
But you know that already, don’t you? You know the story. You got the gist. Why should you go see this movie? Well, first lets start off with the performances. This movie is just chalk-full of talent. Andrew Garfield brings a distinct lovability to Peter Parker, whose character has been given a much needed 21st century personality lift. While Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker had a certain undeniable charm, Garfield injects the role with all of the wit and tragedy that the character has been known for during its last five decades in print. While already a celebrated actor, Garfield lends so much to the character of Peter Parker, the sad and lonely teenager that we all know, that must stand up when weaker men fall. Garfield constantly reminds viewers that Peter is not a saint, but human.
Emma Stone, who plays the beautiful and intelligent Gwen Stacy, is not only incredibly talented but also too damn cute to ignore. She is neither a femme fatale nor a damsel in distress, but rather the bright and self-sufficient woman the character has always been. With Stone in the role of Peter Parker’s first love, she brings all of these elements to the table and more. The two together bring intense chemistry that will leave you smiling, or crying, in all of the right moments. These kids just click.
In fact, all of the performances are strong across the board. While it is easy for an actor to bring comic book style camp to a role, all of those attached to this film really bring their A-game. They destroy preconceived notions of what a “comic book movie” is and deliver that which is at the heart and sole of superhero stories: humanity.
Marc Webb’s direction also soars, well, for the most part. It should come to no surprise that Marc Webb was also the director on 500 Days of Summer, and brings here his expertise on indie dramedies to slow down the pace and allow for a deep study on these iconic characters. Marc Webb has something that Sam Rami never had and that’s the promise of a sequel. Rami’s first Spider-Man movie suffered from existing within a large time frame. You see Peter become super, make friends, graduate high school, attend college, and eventually defeat the bad guy all in one movie. Rami never knew he was going to get a sequel. He didn’t have the luxury to slow the hell down. In Webb’s film this isn’t an issue. It is apparent that Webb, as well as screenwriter James Vanderbilt, really wanted to focus in on the characters as ordinary people first, establish who they are, then really throw some cool superhero stuff at them. Because of this, viewers are allowed to see a film interpretation of more modern comic book storytelling ala Brian Michael Bendis or J. Michael Straczynski. It is a more mature, subtler, and ultimately more moving character piece than most superhero movies, nay most movies, try to be.
My only argument here would be that perhaps Webb’s strong suit isn’t directing action scenes. With the exception of the stunning climax, most of the action scenes lack the tension that should exist in this sort of movie. Spider-Man moves with all of the grace and strength you would expect him to, but nothing ever quite matches up to the Time Square scene in Spider-Man or the astounding elevated train sequence in Spider-Man 2. However, Webb does still handle the action with style, infusing and equal amount of creativity, humor, and thrill into these scenes.
So, while there may be some similarities to the Spider-Man movie you saw a decade ago, there is nothing to fear. Under the care of a delicate creative team and stellar cast we are introduced to a new kind of Spider-Man movie and the anticipation of a promising franchise. One that opts for smaller moments and relationship building set in front of a large action set piece. While Rami’s Spider-movies really taught us now remarkable people can be ordinary, Webb’s film teaches us how ordinary people can be amazing.