- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
here has been a lot of criticism regarding Sony’s decision to reboot the Spider-Man franchise only a decade after the first film was released, and although it may seem silly to start from square one again after Sam Raimi did such a good job establishing the web-slinger’s cinematic universe, it was time for a change. As great as Raimi’s trilogy was (and for the record, I’m one of the few people who will actually admit to liking the third installment), rebooting the series has allowed director Marc Webb, who’s just as much of an inspired but risky choice as Jon Favreau was for “Iron Man,” to take Marvel's popular superhero in an exciting new direction.
One of the key differences in Webb’s version is that it broaches the subject of Peter Parker’s missing parents. Opening with him as a young boy, the film details how his mother and scientist father (Campbell Scott) were forced to go on the run – leaving Peter in the care of Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) – after someone breaks into his father’s office to steal top secret research files. Now a teenager, Peter (Andrew Garfield) starts asking questions about their disappearance and subsequent deaths when he discovers an old briefcase containing said files, which leads him to his father’s former colleague, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who hasn’t given up on the genetic research that they were working on a decade before. After Peter gives him the key to finishing his work (which involves splicing lizard DNA with humans to re-grow missing limbs), the one-armed Connors tests out the serum on himself... to disastrous results. Feeling responsible for helping create the giant lizard monster that Connors has transformed into, Peter must suit up as Spider-Man to stop him before he unleashes his “cure” on all of Manhattan.
You’ll notice that an important part of the story is missing from the above summary, but that’s because Spider-Man’s origin really isn’t all that different from the one we saw on screen ten years ago. Peter gets bitten by a genetically-altered spider and develops superhuman strength (among other things); Uncle Ben is killed by a petty thief; Peter goes seeking revenge in the guise of a costumed vigilante; and, well, you know the rest. The first hour plays out pretty similar to Raimi’s movie, and though there are some nice changes along the way (like the return of Spider-Man’s web-shooters and the "power and responsibility" speech), it’s hard not to feel a sense of déjà vu in the repetitiveness of it all. Granted, it’s completely necessary to re-tell the origin story because of how it ties into the new characters, but it probably didn’t need to be as drawn out as it is here.
Once the movie frees itself from those chains, however, it never looks back. The action scenes are entertaining, although a bit generic compared to Raimi’s more inventive set pieces, while the whimsy and camp of those earlier movies is replaced by the type of wise-cracking humor that the character is best known for. In fact, Webb does a really good job of juggling the action, comedy and drama considering his previous film was the indie rom-com “(500) Days of Summer,” but his most important contribution to “The Amazing Spider-Man” is also its biggest strength: providing more emotional depth to the characters, which in turn makes Peter's various relationships a lot more interesting.
It certainly helps that Webb has enlisted an impressive cast of actors to fill every major role. Martin Sheen leaves a much bigger impression than the late Cliff Robertson did as Uncle Ben, and though Sally Field doesn’t get a whole lot to do in this film, she’ll presumably play a bigger part in future installments. Denis Leary, meanwhile, is great as police captain George Stacy (who essentially replaces J. Jonah Jameson on the “Spider-Man is evil” front), and despite seeming like an odd choice to play the villain in a big summer blockbuster, Rhys Ifans delivers a solid performance as the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-like geneticist, even if his CG reptilian alter-ego is slightly one-dimensional.
None of this would matter if the two leads weren't as good as they are. Emma Stone is perfectly cast as the smart and sexy Gwen Stacy (the more believable of Peter Parker’s famous love interests), while Andrew Garfield easily outshines Tobey Maguire’s geeky portrayal of the wall-crawler. Though he may be a little old to be playing a high school student, Garfield embodies everything that’s great about the character, approaching the dual role similar to the way that Christian Bale does with Bruce Wayne and Batman. He plays Peter as less of a nerd and more of an outsider with a serious case of teen angst, whereas the Spider-Man persona imbues him with the confidence that he's lacking, to the point that he even moves differently when he's wearing the costume. Granted, “The Amazing Spider-Man” isn't exactly the radical reboot that Christopher Nolan's “Batman Begins” proved to be, but it’s not that kind of film. It’s a little darker and more grounded in reality, but for the most part, it's the same Spider-Man that everyone knows and loves.
Three-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Sony has assembled an impressive collection of bonus material for the film’s Blu-ray release, highlighted by a nearly two hour making-of featurette called “Rite of Passage: The Amazing Spider-Man Reborn” that covers a variety of topics like casting, creating the Spider-Man costume, the Lizard’s creature design, visual effects and more. There’s also a pretty decent audio commentary with director Marc Webb (as well as producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach) where he discusses some of the film’s smaller details, as well as a handful of deleted scenes, a look at the pre-visualization for 16 sequences, stunt rehearsals, a production art gallery, and a short promo for the video game tie-in.