Coming just ten years after the dizzying excitement of the Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, and just five years after the eyeroll inducing schmaltz of Spider-Man 3, does the reboot live up to its arrival? The answer is (mostly) a yes.
First, the bad news: The Amazing Spider-Man contains a majority of the elements found in the Sam Raimi film – Peter Parker is a loser school kid in NY, Peter has the hots for his classmate, Peter gets bitten, Peter becomes Spidey, Peter overcomes the school bully, Peter loses his uncle, and Peter fights crime. There is precious little that the reboot brings to the table, some of which includes a glimpse of his parents. The good news is that The Amazing Spider-Man works despite the constant sense of déjà vu.
The slightly-okay story finds a young Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) being hurriedly placed by his parents in the care of Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Cut to a grown up Peter working with his late father’s old colleague Doctor Connors (Rhys Ifans) and finding love and a pesky reptilian ruffian with a master plan. The bulk of the film then becomes a series of action scenes and romantic cutaways in which Peter and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) effortlessly top the lame melodrama between Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. There is no upside down kiss under the rain, but there is an unexpected moment under a starlit balcony and a finale that puts a big twist on the bittersweet climax of the 2002 movie. Despite some clunky dialogue, the melodrama and romance here actually works – thanks mainly to director Marc Webb who brings the matured, assured handling of emotions from his (500) Days of Summer and makes his actors believable. Unlike the case in Spider-Man 3, Webb keeps The Amazing Spider-Man from becoming a string of hastily glued together boring ‘emo’ bits.
Best, however, is the charming Andrew Garfield in the title role – even though at times he looks hilariously old for a school kid. Garfield is a perfect leading man and apart from being a great actor he has a sunny, winning charisma that audiences (mostly girls) can cheer for. Peter here is faced with more heartbreak and trauma than in all three previous films put together, yet Spidey is more of the sarcastic wisecracking punk here – it makes for a nice change, and Garfield handles both the shades extremely well. Emma Stone is jaw-droppingly gorgeous to look at, and her Gwen is rather courageous instead of ditsy. There are enough little moments between Spidey and Gwen to make teens go awww and the older kids forget about the lack of chemistry between Maguire and Dunst. Sheen and Field here are the Hollywood versions of Alok Nath and Farida Jalal, and they even have those overtly dramatic facial expressions and cringe-inducing lines. Irrfan plays the Token Black Guy of the movie.
The Amazing Spider-Man was filmed in 3D, and there are instances when the investment seems to have paid off. Marc Webb seems to understand why we have put on the 3D glasses, and he offers enough immersive scenery to keep us wowed. When Spider-Man swings through the buildings, he takes you along with him. The downside is that there simply aren't enough swinging scenes. Which isn't to say that there are no other special effects – there are plenty and they are fantastic. There are some brilliant sequences, including one in a sewer that lasts quite a few minutes. One little scene at Peter’s school where a certain someone makes a cameo is probably the film’s best moment. There is also a 3D jump scare that might scare the hell out of you. The Lizard is menacing, and very intricately designed but frustratingly there aren’t enough still moments to make us appreciate the work that was put in to create the motion capture CGI beastie. When the action isn’t happening, Webb brings in his years of music video experience and throws in some rock music montage, but it sadly makes us yearn for Danny Elfman’s score from the Raimi movies.
As for the film’s intellectual quotient, well, it’s rather bleak. The Amazing Spider-Man is really just a setup for one familiar storyline to another, in 3D, and folks who would like to see something completely new would be severely let down. The climax hints at further adventures of Spider-Man, which means more webby coolness – that is more than welcome, but please let Gwen Stacy stick around, her eyes make me stronger and weaker at the same time, more than Mary Jane’s ever did.
(First published in MiD Day)