When Sony first announced their plans to reboot the Spider-Man franchise, just five years after the largely-lauded final chapter of Sam Raimi’s wall-crawler trilogy, mass hysteria broke out among film and comic fans. I try to keep a realistic mindset about such things, but Iíll admit that even I had trouble putting my faith in a fresh take on a classic comic hero.
I grew up loving Spider-Man; he was the first hero that felt like a real person to me. Director Marc Webb’s interpretation of Spider-Man (and his alter ego, Peter Parker) gave me everything I was looking for in a big-screen return for this highly relatable, and very human, man in tights.
Let’s start with Andrew Garfield: Where Sam Raimi’s Peter Parker (as played by Tobey Maguire) was more of a weirdo outsider, I found myself rooting for Garfield’s version of the character almost immediately.
Webb builds up the character slowly, but gives us plenty of substance to latch onto before the action starts swinging. I found that I was enjoying the experience of becoming invested in Peter Parker and his supporting cast, including his parents Richard and Mary (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) and his beloved Aunt May and Uncle Ben (played effectively as modern seniors by Sally Field and Martin Sheen.)
Peterís parents didnít play a considerable role in the comic world until the 1990s, which wasnít exactly a watershed period for creative storytelling in comics. Their inclusion here helps give some real depth to Peterís psyche, and adds an impressive layer to his relationship with May and Ben. Field and Sheen fully inhabit their roles as Peterís surrogate family, and the drama and warmth in their storyline is quite affecting.
The end result of all this character work is a Spider-Man who puts on his mask, but doesn’t disappear behind his superhero persona. I never felt like Tobey Maguire came across with as much connectivity, and certainly did not provide an endless stream of jokes during his action sequences. These are small details to some, but they’re everything to a fan of the wall-crawler.
Speaking of action sequences, I cannot express to you how truly AMAZING the movements and appearance of Spider-Man are on the big screen. Every time our webhead swings into action, I was truly excited. This is truly a comic book made real, right before your very eyes.
Spideyís trademark grace and agility donít come naturally, though; the brainy Parker has to learn to use his newfound abilities, and Garfield gives us the sense that he is truly enjoying every moment of it.
Webb dispenses with Mary Jane Watson (and thankfully, Kirsten Dunst,) choosing instead to offer us a more traditional romantic interest played by the radiant Emma Stone. This is a Gwen Stacy that everyone will fall in love with: She’s beautiful, sheís whip-smart, and you get the impression that she doesn’t need to be rescued by her superhero boyfriend. Iíve been a fan of Emma Stone since Superbad, and I firmly believe that sheís well on her way to well-deserved mega-stardom.
Gwenís father, a police captain on the trail of our friendly-neighborhood masked vigilante, is played with annoyed concern by Denis Leary, and watching Spidey (and Peter) get under his skin is good fun.
I was cautiously optimistic about the movieís Big Bad, the Lizard (played with controlled madness by Rhys Ifans,) mainly because the CGI chores for a talking lizard-man are considerable. I’m happy to report that the villain is more than passable in his reptilian form, and the characterization was spot on. Once again, this is where relationships are an important part of the film’s vision. Marc Webb did not invent the connections between these characters, but he wisely chose to play them with heart and realism, rather than drawing connections for the sake of keeping the story dramatically compact for the mass audience.
3-D isnít going away anytime soon, so I consider it a victory whenever a filmís protrusion beyond the screen doesnít make me want to flinch. Iím still not ready to love the 3-D experience, but I wasnít bothered by its inclusion here.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is a triumph for the comic movie genre, and proof positive that the occasional quick relaunch doesnít have to be a creative (or, hopefully, financial) disaster. There are plenty of Easter eggs in the film, and theyíre tantalizing; letís hope that the inevitable sequel swings even higher.