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The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

| July 3, 2012 | 0 Comments

Walking into The Amazing Spider-Man, my heart wasn’t exactly filled with enthusiasm.  Why, I thought, do we really need a fourth Spider-Man movie only ten years after the original?  When the movie was over, I wasn’t any closer to an answer, but I was filled with gratitude for the effort.  This is a different kind of movie than any of Sam Raimi pictures, it is darker, earthier and has – I’ll admit it – a better leading man.

The best contribution that this installment makes is that it tries to find a tone of reality as a base so that the fantastical stuff seems more astounding when it occurs.  This isn’t a fourth Spider-Man movie, but a reboot, a do-over that does what it does very well.  Here is a movie that explores what it might really be like for a guy to gain superpowers through a genetically-altered spider.  This isn’t a jokey film, nor is it cartoonish.  Based on its darker tone, I think it is trying to do for Spider-Man what Batman Begins did for Batman.  It doesn’t succeed nearly as well, but the result is still a very entertaining movie.

The storyline of the movie is already familiar.  It follows Peter’s story in much the same way as Sam Raimi’s popular 2002 film, but with much more focus and maturity.  Peter, we learn, is the son of a genetic scientist who died in a plane crash along with Peter’s mother.  Raised by his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and his Aunt May (Sally Field), Peter is no more or less ordinary than a thousand other kids his age.  He’s skinny, lanky and socially awkward.  That’s clear enough when he stumbles through trying to ask out his pretty classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).

The best scenes in the movie involve Peter discovering his new powers, especially when he is accosted by thugs on the subway and angers one of the crooks when his sticky hands tear the blouse off of the man’s girlfriend.  Armed with these new powers, Peter goes on a quest of vengeance after his uncle is killed by a robber in a crime that Peter himself inadvertently causes when he doesn’t act quickly enough.  That causes some collateral damage that forces him to realize that with great power . . . well, you know.

Peter’s acts of vigilantism turn him into one of New York’s most wanted, especially from the agitated chief of police (Denis Leary) who just happens to be Gwen’s father.

Meanwhile, a certain Dr. Conners’ experiment to re-grow his severed arm using the DNA of a lizard goes horribly wrong (DNA experiments in the movies NEVER bring good news).  The drug reacts with his system and turns the good doctor into a 12-foot lizard hell-bent on unleashing a gas into the populace that will turn the citizens of New York into his unholy minions.

All of this just sounds like, more or less, a walkthrough of most every other superhero movie, but what is new here is that the movie tries to take this ridiculous material and treat it with a degree of seriousness.   It handles the action scenes in a way that have gravity and don’t feel like just special effects overplayed on a backdrop.   The movie is evenly-paced, and spends time developing the characters so that we know what’s at stake during those scenes.  And they are quite good, none better than a scene early in the film in which Spider-Man has to save a young boy from a burning car that is hanging off the Williamsburg Bridge, trying to talk the kid into climbing up out of the back of the car.

Central to the movie’s success is the new leading man, Andrew Garfield, an actor that I have noticed before in fleeting glances in pictures like The Social Network, and Lions for Lambs.   Here he plays Peter Parker as a lonely kid with an under-bit smile and a believable awkwardness.  He’s a good looking kid, but he’s no Adonis.  We could easily believe that he is in high school and his slouching manner leads us to believe the during a scene in which he tries to strike up a conversation with a girl, stuttering and mumbling and laughing at just the right moments.  Garfield is more ordinary than Toby Maguire, much more down-to-earth and – I thought – much more believable.

I appreciated so much of The Amazing Spider-Man that it is unfair to carp about the details that didn’t work.  Yes, the villain seems a little stiff, and the film boils down to a standard action climax, but there are so many good things here that you find yourself willing to overlook them.

The Amazing Spider-Man was directed by the ironically-named Marc Webb.  What he has created here is a film that isn’t content to just be a brand name, but is a well-made and very worthwhile entertainment.  As I said, it seems that his approach is to make as much sense out of Spiderman as Chris Nolan did out of Batman.  Making a film that good would be a sight to see.  Webb doesn’t completely succeed but I appreciate the film that he has made.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.