The Amazing Spider-Man
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Those were the first words out of my mouth when walking out of the theater following a screening of The Amazing Spider-Man. The film, a reboot of the property that saw three previous movies under director Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire, so drastically changes the feel of the franchise that it's almost unfair to compare the two. Nonetheless, that is bound to happen at first glance. Once you see this film however, you'll be saying the same thing I did.
Director Marc Webb set out to tell a new origin story in The Amazing Spider-Man, but rather than focus on the origin of Spidey (though that is present here), the lens was firmly pointed at Peter Parker himself. The film makes a point of starting with Peter as a young boy, looking at the mysterious circumstances of his parents' disappearance that led to him being raised by the famous Uncle Ben and Aunt May. The film's villain, The Lizard, is also tied intrinsically to Peter. In this new universe, Dr. Curt Connors (the Lizard's pre-reptilian identity) was a close colleague of Richard Parker, Peter's father, as the two worked together at Oscorp. This tight connection of Peter to every main plot point — his parents, his surrogate parents, his relationship with Gwen, his relationship with Connors, his connection to Oscorp — is central to the entire film, and firmly changes the tone. Perhaps the better title borrowed from comics would have been Peter Parker, Spider-Man.
Luckily, with the tight focus on Peter and his relationships, Webb never falters. The pace stays strong and the focus on Peter only makes the somewhat scarce action sequences all the more exciting. More than exciting, they are also more powerful, as you care much more about Peter, the man behind the mask, than ever before on screen.That, of course, is due in no small part to Andrew Garfield. Let's get it out of the way: Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are in an entirely different class of actor from Maguire and his leading lady Kirsten Dunst. This is Broadway to the Kankakee, IL playhouse, the New York Yankees to the Lansing Lugnuts. Garfield is without question the best Peter Parker and the best Spider-Man that's appeared in any multimedia, be it television, video games, or film. His Peter Parker is awkward, gangly, and acts like a real teenager. That's never more apparent than in the quiet scenes featuring Peter and Gwen. Garfield and Stone, under the direction of Webb (who of course pulled from his expertise after 2009's (500 Days) of Summer) have such a perfect chemistry, and a give and take that's rarely seen in genre films. The duo never once seem like they're reciting lines, instead being wholly invested in every scene. Any other pair of actors, and these scenes would have dragged, and I'd be complaining that there wasn't enough Spider-Man. Instead, Garfield and Stone left me wanting even more of the depth their relationship brought to the film. Then there are the Spider-Man scenes. This Spider-Man is intelligent, he's instinctual and sometimes borderline hot-headed. He's passionate, and perhaps most importantly, he's funny. Yes, Spider-Man actually quips while fighting this time around. He uses the spider aspect in some incredible and creative ways as well, fitting the theme of genetic modification and the power of instinct.
That power is seen in Rhys Ifans' pair of characters as well. "Pair" because Curt Connors and his alter ego The Lizard are essentially two different people, with The Lizard slowly taking Connors over in a much more psychological way than your average superhero villain. It is fascinating to watch Connors go insane inside the Lizard. As more of the Lizard's instinct takes over, Connors desire to help people gets twisted and perverted, just as his appearance is twisted and perverted.The supporting cast, including Martin Sheen, Sally Field and Denis Leary, all do their jobs ably, which is primarily to be sounding boards and propellents for Peter (and to a lesser extent Gwen). Sheen's Ben Parker is brasher, more no-nonsense, and more of a dad than we've seen in the past. Field's May will break your heart more than once, and helps make Peter Parker a much more real person on screen. Leary draws much of the comedic relief, but also provides a parallel for Gwen that helps flesh her out. The way all the characters in this film, from a young boy in distress to a mysterious figure in the shadows, come together to strengthen each other and the overall plot is amazing. Stan Lee also has without question his funniest cameo yet — unessential but fun nonetheless.
The Amazing Spider-Man, through expert direction and writing, spot-on acting, and a wholly new tone for a superhero movie, proved why a reboot needed to happen for this franchise. The world now, versus even 10 years ago, is a different place, but the problems facing humans, especially teenagers, have remained essentially the same for the five decades of Spidey's existence. Capturing Peter Parker's personality, giving him real relationships, and then making Spider-Man feel more like the comic book character turned out to be exactly the right thing to do. With strong setup for the future, lenity of drama, and the right balance of fun (and funny), The Amazing Spider-Man puts the 50-year-old webhead back on track for a long and happy future of theater dominance and quality.
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