The summer opener of 2002 was Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’ and I remember walking out of the film feeling disappointment. According to Rotten Tomatotes, the critical aggregator states that I was in the 10% minority of critics who did not recommend the movie. But, given that 90% of the critical population endorsed it, was there a need for a reboot? As a critic, should I dock this latest version points for being a quick turnaround piece? Or should I view it on its singular merits? ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ is a significant improvement upon Sam Raimi’s original, and the second best of the four existing Spider-Man films (with Spider-Man 2 still being the best of the bunch).
The story – Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a teenage outcast, raised by his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). He is bullied by Flash Thomspon (Chris Zylka) and has caught the eye of Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). She is the head intern for Dr. Kurt Connors (Rhys Ifans) at a biotech firm called OsCorp. Peter is interested in Kurt’s findings since he worked with Peter’s late father and may have the answers to some of Peter’s questions. Cross has a missing arm, and his scientific interests relate to cross-species genetic splicing. Peter sneaks into Oscorp, finds himself in a lab and ends up being bitten by a genetically mutated spider. You can guess what he becomes as a result of this. Gwen’s father, Captain George Stacy (Dennis Leary) is on the hunt for this masked vigilante, known as Spider-Man. Hm, this could complicate matters between Peter and Gwen. But, there are even bigger things to worry about when Connors juices on an experimental serum which transforms him into a destructive lizard-man. Realizing his cross-species state, he decides to release a chemical cloud from the tower of his corporation which would turns all humans into human-lizards. It’s up to Spidey to save the day.
There is an emotional hook to ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ which made this picture a more resonating experience than I was anticipating. The origin story takes up the first half of the film and is presented much more clearly than the first time around – we understand exactly why Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man. The picture isn’t just wall-to-wall noise – there is a story and the film takes its time to develop its characters. Andrew Garfield has much more dramatic range than Tobey Maguire, and I enjoyed his rebellious spin on the character. Emma Stone, as always, is likeable here and the two have a very nice chemistry. My only minor complaint is that Garfield (at 29 years of age), and Stone (24) look too old to be playing high school students. “This” Peter Parker is a photographer, but I don’t think he’s employed by The Daily Bugle. Actually, I don’t think The Daily Bugle was even referenced here. This picture is directed by Marc Weber, whose previous directorial effort includes the romantic comedy ‘500 Days Of Summer’ (which made my Top 10 List of 2009). In that film, he proved he was a very good director of actors.
But, does he know how to construct action sequences? The exaggerated set pieces in the original Spider-Man prevented me from giving it a positive review. If you can reference a few scenes from the DVD/Blu-Ray, take a look back at the way Spidey swings between buildings in the streets of Manhattan, and you’ll notice they lack conviction – he looks like a cartoon character, he just moves too fast; there isn’t the weight of flesh and blood. Technology has come a long way in ten years, but Weber gets it right here. He understands that CGI action needs to be slowed down in order for the viewer to derive detail. This makes the fight scenes involving Spider-Man easy to follow. The film’s single best sequence involves Spider-Man rescuing a boy from a burning car – unlike most 21st century CGI-heavy films, you can explain in a step-by-step manner what the actions between the two characters are. The actions involving the lizard, however, are a little more chaotic and incomprehensible, but the clear framing and editing of Spidey’s actions compensate for this.
Despite my misgivings of its existence in the first place, I’m happy to report that ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ is a very enjoyable summer blockbuster. I look forward to what the cast and crew do with the sequel to this new installment. Truth be told, they have big shoes to fill, given what Raimi did with ‘Spider-Man 2’. But, for now, let’s celebrate this victory. Thanks to all involved. I had a blast!
– Jerry Nadarajah