Jul 04, 2012|
(USA) Directed by Marc Webb. Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field. Category IIA.
Arriving just five years after the completion of Sam Raimi’s original screen trilogy, the reboot of the “Spider-Man” franchise seems to owe its existence more to the studio’s strategic commercialism than genuine enthusiasm. But thanks to a solid screening, a wonderful cast led by Andrew Garfield and the distinctive approach of director Marc Webb (aptly named) that injects a tasteful blend of coming-of-age and romance into the otherwise action-driven blockbuster, “The Amazing Spider-Man” delivers most of its promised “amazingness” with edge, humor and sensitivity.
The arachnid superhero’s origin story told here doesn’t stray far away from the 2002 “Spider-Man,” but traces further back to his early childhood, when a four-year-old Peter Parker is entrusted to Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) by his parents, who then mysteriously disappear forever. Fast-forward to the present, Peter (Garfield) is now a skateboarding high-schooler, a massive nerd with a passion for science and photography and a crush on his brainy beauty of a classmate, Gwen Stacy (a blonde Emma Stone). Father’s old genetics research papers lead Peter to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), dad’s former professional partner and the head scientist at Oscorp. And during a tour at the corp’s state-of-the-art lab, a genetically-altered spider takes a bite and gives Peter life-changing powers.
In the script co-written by Alvin Sargent (“Spider-Man 2 & 3”), Steve Kloves (the “Harry Potter” series) and James Vanderbilt (“Zodiac”), the protagonist is not exactly the insecure and sweet-natured shy guy as portrayed previously by Tobey Maguire. Here, we see a darker and deeper side of Peter, who’s struggling with school bullying, adolescent angst, romance and family mysteries, but isn’t afraid of standing up for himself. He’s even something of a prickly loose cannon before his rebelliousness is chained by a sense of responsibility. With his boyish charm and marvelous talent, British actor Garfield dazzles through his nuanced performance, bringing both the socially awkward outsider and the web-slinging crusader to life while providing most of the film’s gags.
The scribes also made a wise decision in taking their time to depict Peter’s transformation. Though the superhuman abilities come instantly, to explore and adapt them—both physically and psychologically—isn’t an easy task. Finally, it takes the murder of Uncle Ben by a street thug to ripen the schoolboy with his new found tricks into a masked (and unitarded) vigilante known as Spider-Man, and serious battles await when Connors unleashes his gigantic and destructive reptilian alter-ego, The Lizard.
The action sequences, though some will consider them few and too late (the three big set-pieces all happen in the second hour), are exhilarating. Cinematographer John Schwartzman lensed the film with a Red digital camera, which gives the frames a glossy quality; smooth shots of Spider-Man swinging through the peaks and canyons of New York’s cityscapes appear as beautifully choreographed dance solos in the air. On the other hand, the 3D effects are pretty much unnecessary. That could be because Webb, whose winning study of human traits and relationships made his debut “(500) Days of Summer” a critical darling, was more interested in crafting an emotionally involving film than a bombastic piece of eye-candy, and judging from the result, he can’t be faulted for that. The only big production misstep is made by James Horner, whose uneven score appears in almost every scene and lacks a tonal consistency.
A parade of veterans including Sheen, Field, Ifans and Denis Leary (playing Gwen’s police dad) make up an outstanding supporting cast. It’s also delightful to see that Stone’s Gwen is presented not as a screaming damsel in distress but an intelligent and strong young woman, not unlike the quick-witted and immensely lovable actress herself (my inner lesbian is about to take over). As usual, Marvel fans can look out for a funny cameo by Stan Lee and a mid-end-credit teaser for the sequel (you know the drill, geeks!). If you’re disappointed by Spider-Man’s recent absence in “The Avengers” (for one, Spidey isn’t a founding member of the line-up; and more importantly, the character’s movie rights are owned by Sony and not Marvel), you’ll be glad to know that his own screen saga is almost equally excellent.