Culture

Doing everything a “Spider” can

spiderman

The Amazing Spider-Man

dir. Marc Webb

Release Date: Jul 03, 12

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Like virtually everybody else, I rolled my eyes quite a few times over when I heard that the Spider-Man franchise was already being rebooted. The hope was that, after the fiscal success but general public and critical failure of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, the franchise would disappear for a good few years ala the Batman movies until time had washed away the bad taste and another filmmaker could attempt to put a fresh spin on the franchise. The skepticism continued when Marc Webb had little more than an awesome surname pun on his side to attempt to re-tell the origin story of Peter Parker only a decade after Raimi’s first film hit theaters. Though his debut feature (500) Days of Summer was wonderful, he didn’t seem like the likeliest candidate, especially when early footage suggested a Christopher Nolan-esque, darker rendition of the story.

With that preamble out of the way, I’d like to apologize on behalf of every doubter, because The Amazing Spider-Man delivers the best rendition of the character to date. The film calls a do-over on the origin story, sticking closer to the comics (no more magical web powers from the spider bite, mercifully) while putting a fresher spin on Peter’s relationships and inner turmoil. Peter lost his parents as a boy when his father Richard’s study was ransacked one night, prompting them to leave Peter with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) before disappearing; eventually, they would turn up dead in a plane crash. As an angsty teenager, Peter (Andrew Garfield, wonderfully twitchy and halted) has to deal with not only a wealth of secrets suggested when he finds his father’s briefcase in the basement, but also the struggles of teenage life, chief among them his unrequited fixation on the lovely Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).

The film doesn’t go to overly convoluted pains trying to distinguish itself as a new saga; Peter still gets bitten by a lab-engineered spider, and he still loses somebody close to him (a scene renewed by its shockingly abrupt  nature), which inspires him to put on a mask and become Spider-Man. What really distinguishes Webb’s film is the focus on Peter as human being with new powers over Peter as superhero; when he develops Spidey senses, he’s absolutely terrified, and Webb plays them at first as being akin to an amphetamine binge. Trying to put the pieces of his new gifts and his father’s untimely demise together, Peter fatefully turns to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who’s continued work on the venture he started with Peter’s father, a serum that could give humans the ability to regenerate limbs and self-cure major illnesses. Pressured by Oscorp executives to begin human tests, Dr. Connors uses himself as Patient Zero and ends up turning himself into The Lizard, with superhuman strength and a truly warped moral compass.

That there are a series of big encounters between Spider-Man and The Lizard is inevitable, but the way in which the film parses them out makes The Amazing Spider-Man a breath of fresh, well-paced air in a blockbuster climate that increasingly values explosion-drenched, deafening catharsis over setpieces that serve to keep the story moving. (Even The Avengers, fun as it was, eventually fell victim to the former.) The sequences also escalate, starting with a daring bridge rescue that recalls Raimi’s first film while serving as a testing ground for both superhumans’ new gifts, and moving right through a vertigo-inducing showdown atop a skyscraper. A superhero movie this character-heavy lives and dies by the performances, though, and everybody answers the call. Garfield is a far cry from Tobey Maguire’s overly buff boyishness, instead playing a convincingly bookish misfit displaced from any real sense of origin and driven to find it on his own. Ifans is one of the best superhero movie villains in recent memory, moving even as he goes progressively more insane, and Stone’s Gwen Stacy is a perfect foil for the new Peter, bookishly attractive with an incredibly endearing sarcastic streak.

The Amazing Spider-Man also boasts a surprising clarity of focus. Though some may well be put off by the deliberation with which the origin story unfolds (the big action doesn’t really get going until nearly an hour in), the patience pays off. It’s rather exhilarating to see, in this summer of so many underwhelming tentpoles, a movie that actually remembers to be a movie even as a giant lizard creature is talking about biogenetics and flipping cars. For the first time in a while, you’ll actually want to see more sequels, to see Garfield lose his neuroses and become a more assured man when he can protect his city from whatever new and inhuman being awaits him, to see if he and Gwen will make it. This is everything that the comic book movie can, and hopefully one day will, become on a more frequent basis.