Posted on Monday, July 2nd, 2012 by Angie Han
In truth, the biggest problem with Marc Webb‘s The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t even really its own fault. But the fact that this reboot comes just five short years after the end of Sam Raimi‘s previous Spider-Man trilogy looms over the whole endeavor, making it difficult not to compare the two.
It’s a damn shame. Because while Webb’s film isn’t as seamlessly put together as Raimi’s first two were, it has its own funny little rough-hewn charms. Had there been more space between the earlier Spider-Man movies and this new reboot, it might’ve felt lively and fresh. As it is, The Amazing Spider-Man is good, but not quite good enough to justify retelling the story again so soon.
The Amazing Spider-Man hits most of the same beats as every other Spider-Man origin tale, but with different accents. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a smart-mouthed teenager still living with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) after his parents disappeared under mysterious circumstances many years ago. When Peter sets out to discover just what happened to his family, the path leads him to Oscorp, where he gets the fateful bug bite that turns him into Spider-Man. There he also crosses paths with his father’s old colleague Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), whose own research is about to lead him into some very sinister territory.
The film isn’t without flaws, but none of them are in the casting. Garfield gives an astounding performance that is all the more lovable because it’s not always likable. The character of Spider-Man has endured for decades because he isn’t some perfect mythological do-gooder, but an ordinary teenager in extraordinary circumstances. Garfield plays that tension perfectly, bringing us a Spider-Man that is strong, sweet, and decent, but also occasionally arrogant, petty, and dangerous. And he’s at his best when he’s up against Emma Stone‘s Gwen Stacy, a whip-smart firecracker who’s so much more than the requisite damsel in distress. Rounding out the excellent cast are more the more veteran adult actors; Field, Sheen, and Dennis Leary (as Gwen’s police captain dad) are strong as usual. Ifans does his best with what he’s given, but has disappointingly little to do.
Between that cast and Webb’s previous work on the anti-romcom (500) Days of Summer, perhaps it’s no surprise that The Amazing Spider-Man particularly shines when it comes to the smaller, more personal aspects of the film. When it comes to characters and relationships, Webb sticks with the golden rule of “show, don’t tell.” A bit of offhand banter between Aunt May and Uncle Ben offers an infinitely better understanding of their marriage than any amount of expository voiceover ever could, and the crackling chemistry between Gwen and Peter sells their budding romance as both epic and intimate. There are scenes of this movie that could’ve been dropped into a film festival indie without raising an eyebrow.
In contrast, Webb’s treatment of the actual superhero story feels rote. The Amazing Spider-Man makes some attempts to revamp Spidey’ origins, but too often falls back on the same old checklist of required Spider-Man touchstones. The problem is especially pronounced in the first half, as Peter goes through the all too familiar motions of transforming himself into Spider-Man. Webb’s approach to that part of the story isn’t especially fresh. It often feels as if he’d rather just get back to Peter’s relationship dramas. I felt that I would prefer that, too.
But even after the change to hero is complete, The Amazing Spider-Man is better at small-scale storytelling than grand spectacle. The only truly memorable action sequence is one in which Spider-Man saves a little boy from a burning bridge — and even that stuck in my mind because it was an emotional turning point for Spider-Man, not because it was especially cool to look at. Too many comic book tentpoles confuse “bigger” with “better,” but if anything, The Amazing Spider-Man has the opposite problem. The character work remains solid throughout, while the action fails to impress.
If The Amazing Spider-Man falls just short of proving that the world needed another Spider-Man, it’s also far too satisfying to serve as evidence that the world absolutely didn’t. In this current glut of superhero films, Webb delivers one that’s uncommonly thoughtful and heartfelt, and Garfield manages to breathe new life into a character we already know far too well. Their timing sucks, but perhaps The Amazing Spider-Man will play better in a few more years when Raimi’s movies aren’t so fresh in our minds — unless, of course, Sony’s decided to reboot the franchise yet again by then.
/Film rating: 7.25 out of 10.0