The undeniable sense of déjà vu lingers when watching the first half of The Amazing Spider-Man. Despite Columbia Pictures’ tagline of “The untold story begins,” we are stuck with very much the same origin seen in 2002. While the similarities (and there quite a few) can be frustrating, it’s the minor differences that make it more than just a rehash of Sam Raimi’s film. The Amazing Spider-Man may require a suspension of memory to go the price of the movie ticket and popcorn, but it is a welcome entry to Marvel’s now long line of great superhero films.
Most of the world is familiar with the story of Spider-Man: a nerdy teen gets bitten by a special (genetically engineered) spider and acquires superhuman strength and arachnid-like abilities such as being able to climb walls. While enjoying his new powers, Peter Parker’s uncle (who raised him) is killed by a thug, shaping his moral code and heroic identity. Honoring his uncle and his mantra of responsibility, Parker chose the tough path of using his abilities to help others. Only in this all-new origin, writers James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves added Peter’s parents into his back story to make things interesting. While there is plenty of intrigue behind the mystery of the disappearance of Peter and Mary Parker, there is more disappointment with the abandonment of the plot midway through the film (obviously saving more for the sequel). But all is forgiven thanks to a remarkable cast and a director on the rise.
Andrew Garfield raised eyebrows with his stellar performance as Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, and the British actor continues to impress donning the red and blue tights. Garfield’s performance of a shy, angst-ridden geek gives Peter Parker a soul, and it is most visible when alongside Gwen Stacy (played by the adorable Emma Stone), who was the highlight of the film. The Amazing Spider-Man benefits greatly from the duo’s off-the-charts chemistry, which gives Peter and Gwen a natural innocence rarely seen in Raimi’s films. Tobey Maguire played the role of a emotionally-angst Spider-Man very well, but failed to create a spark with Kirsten Dunst. Garfield and Stone are so charming on screen, the iconic upside-down kiss from the 2002 film seems like a distant memory.
It’s no coincidence The Amazing Spider-Man is a romance layered with drama and action. Director Marc Webb (such a fitting name), who directed the great romantic comedy 500 Days of Summer, delivers a love story behind the facade of a superhero film. Rather than amaze the eye with visuals and action (Rhys Ifans was good, but CGI Lizard was not), he chose to reel the heart in with Peter’s search for an identity and his feelings for Gwen Stacy. Webb also gets the best of the supporting cast, especially Dennis Leary. The Irish-American actor shines in a bulletproof vest playing playing Gwen’s father, Captain George Stacy. Leary nails the multidimensional role of paternal, protective father/police captain and really helps build one of the film’s best story arcs.
This Spidey reboot may be too soon for the general audience, but fans of the superhero will find plenty to enjoy in The Amazing Spider-Man. While the plot is riddled with holes and abandonment, Webb is able to string together (get it?!) just enough to successfully reintroduce the beloved superhero. It may fall short of Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 (still the best), it definitely helps forget the damage caused by Spider-Man 3.