Runtime: 2 HR, 16 MIN
Director: Marc Webb
Writers: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Dennis Leary, Irrfan Khan, Sally Field, and Martin Sheen
The Amazing Spider-Man is being released exactly ten years and two months after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and just sixty-two months after the release of Spider-Man 3. That’s not a lot of time; if a five year old saw Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man in the theater he’d only be fifteen now and the franchise is already being rebooted. Is two franchises and four films in just over a ten year period too much especially considering just how many comic book films are released every year?
Hopefully most you know enough about Spider-Man to render providing too much of a synopsis moot. Peter Parker is an awkward high school wannabe photographer with a crush on one of his classmates. He is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains the superhuman strengths of a spider and decides to use his uncanny abilities to fight crime. Unfortunately a lonely, one armed scientist that transforms into a giant lizard wants to kill Spider-Man and eradicate the human race.
If The Amazing Spider-Man has one thing working in its favor it’s that it is a much better film than Raimi’s Spider-Man in almost all respects. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Spider-Man films nor am I a big fan of the character himself; I’ve always thought he was a bit dull and essentially Marvel’s answer to Superman (nerdy guy that works a newspaper, has girl issues, etc.). I avoided the mild temptation to revisit Raimi’s first film and set my expectations rather low for the reboot and was pleasantly surprised by the resulting film.
Marc Webb’s vision for Spider-Man is darker and gritter than his predecessors. Gone is the campy sense of humor along with the ‘rubbery’ special effects and the ultra-clean New York City with its sickeningly sweet post 9/11 USA glamour shots. In its place is a palatable sense of danger with arresting visuals that does a much better job of sucking the audience into the web slinging action instead of making you feel like you’re watching someone else play a videogame.
Tobey Maguire was never my biggest complaint about Raimi’s Spider-Man films; he is a great actor and he’s starred or co-starred in several films I adore but the screenplay’s of Raimi’s films never did him any favors. Conversely the new Peter Parker played by English transplant Andrew Garfield is given a little more to do. Garfield’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man doesn’t reinvent the wheel, he’s still a love sick, nerdy photographer at heart but he comes across as edger and less “white bread.” Strangely Garfield feels more in touch with playing a teenage Peter Parker than Maguire despite being almost thirty by the film’s release date compared to Maguire being twenty-six when Spider-Man premiered in 2002. A lot of that could be attributed to the fact that by the time Maguire got around to playing Spider-Man he had played the college/young adult role many times over including The Ice Storm, Pleaseantville, The Cider House Rules, and Wonderboys whereas Andrew Garfield is still a bit of an unknown commodity.
The remaining cast of The Amazing Spider-Man is well utilized. Emma Stone’s portrayal of Gwen Stacey isn’t given a lot to do but she’s charming and has good chemistry with Andrew Garfield. Spider-Man’s two main foils come in the form of Rhys Ifans as the one armed Dr. Curt Connors and Dennis Leary as Captain Stacey who is not only trying to apprehend Spider-Man but also keep Peter Parker from his daughter Gwen. Ifans makes a sympathetic and conflicted villain but his story and motivations fall short of greatness as his role decends into a poor man’s “Phantom of the Opera” tale. Not faring much better is Dennis Leary who isn’t given much to do aside from look angry. Martin Sheen and Sally Field play Uncle Ben and Aunt May respectively. I couldn’t help but think that Charlie Sheen’s life might have turned out much differently if Martin would have given him the same talking to that he gave Peter Parker.
Marc Webb weaves an entertaining story that has a deeper back story and more natural dialogue between its young stars than Raimi’s trilogy. The action is more intense and the film’s grittier feel serves it well as it feels more in line with a Christopher Nolan comic adaption than say a Fantastic Four type of film. That’s not to say that The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t have its pitfalls; there’s a very cheesy ‘Footloose’ style montage that feels very out of place and worst of all this film doesn’t cover much new ground that the previous films also didn’t cover. The film’s message of “With great power, comes great responsibility” is so worn out at this point you could of walked in forty-five minutes late and not missed a beat if you’ve seen 2002′s Spider-Man.
The Amazing Spider-Man is being released in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D. The film features no dedicated IMAX footage but it was shot in 3D with RED cameras so it is not a post-production conversion. Generally I thought the 3D was excellent and was surprisingly un-gimmicky considering the source material. Your mileage may vary on how effective the IMAX experience is since it is a conversion and the picture won’t fit the screen completely. Nevertheless the shots of Spider-Man swinging through the city were impressive despite it not being shot in IMAX.
I went into The Amazing Spider-Man with low expectations based possibly unfairly on another series of films and a general indifference for the main character. To my surprise I became caught in the web of excitement spun by Marc Webb and I’m eagerly awaiting a sequel. Only time will tell if sandwiching The Amazing Spider-Man between The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises will doom this budding franchise before it can spin its web.