STARRING Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan, Denis Leary DIRECTED BY Marc Webb SCREENPLAY Steve Kloves (Screenplay), Alvin Sargent (Screenplay), James Vanderbilt (Story), Stan Lee (Comic Book), Steve Ditko (Comic Book) MPAA RATING Rated PG-13 RUNNING TIME 136 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY Columbia Pictures DVD EXTRAS Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes documentaries, 16 pre-visualization sequences and a featurette on developing the video game. The Blu-ray 3D also has "3D 101" with director Marc Webb. There are also special packages with figurines.
The Amazing Spider-Man is a flawed superhero film but that's the way it should be because, after all, Spider-Man has always been one of the more flawed and vulnerable superheroes.
In other words, I loved The Amazing Spider-Man.
What's so amazing about Spider-Man? This Spider-Man isn't just the larger than life web slinging superhero from Spidey films past, but this Spider-Man is the real deal as embodied by Andrew Garfield, a British-American actor most known for his highly acclaimed work in The Social Network and Never Let Me Go. What do I mean by "the real deal?" Garfield's take on both Peter Parker and Spider-Man feels like the Spider-Man ripped straight out of the pages of the 1960's comic books, a boy on the verge of being a man who is simultaneously dorky, sweet, snarky and rather remarkably vulnerable. While it's undeniable that Garfield, at the age of 28, is clearly too old to be playing a high school senior, he does so with such an earnest sincerity that it's easy to let go of that momentary distraction and just surrender to it all.
There's also no getting around this film's resemblance to Sam Raimi's first Spidey film from ten years ago, though this version is modestly more faithful to its comic book origins and a darker, more intimate and less special effects obsessed version. While it almost seems inevitable that The Amazing Spider-Man will suffer the wrath of fanboy loyalists and techno-geeks, there's just something about this take on Spidey that may make this film the most satisfying one of them all.
Much of the credit must go to Marc Webb, who seemed an unlikely yet ballsy choice to helm a Spider-Man reboot considering he had only one feature film to his credit and that was (500) Days of Summer, a low-budget indie from 2009 that made American finally sit up and take notice of what a darn fine actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt had become. (500) Days of Summer was a critical success and a modest box-office hit, but assuming that Webb could translate that talent to a big budget flick like The Amazing Spider-Man was risky no matter how you look at it.
Now then, who ever suggested Marc Webb for the job deserves a raise. Now.
The first 45 minutes or so of The Amazing Spider-Man mirrors Raimi's film, yet Webb clearly makes this Spidey introduction his own by drawing more intimately than Raimi's broad strokes. The film gives us a few moments with a young Peter Parker (Max Charles), before he's whisked off to stay with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) while his parents leave urgently and, as we Spidey fans know, are never seen again.
The Amazing Spider-Man then flashes forward to Peter Parker's high school years, a time given much more attention by Webb and screenwriters Alvin Sargent and James Vanderbilt. These high school years feel more authentic, though in a significantly cartoonish sense. Peter is now a bullied photography geek with a crush on Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and a sworn enemy in Flash (Chris Zylka). While he loves his Uncle Ben and Aunt May, Peter is an angst-ridden teenager with unresolved abandonment issues that rise to the surface when he discovers a long hidden briefcase hidden by his father and containing a wealth of material related to his previous work with his research partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Of course, Peter will find his way to Dr. Connors, a not quite mad scientist whose laboratory atop the gigantic Oscorp building should be your first indication that this behemoth of a building will likely play a key role in all of the action once The Amazing Spider-Man really takes off. Dr. Connors is a one-armed scientist continuing the work he began with Peter's father in cross-species breeding, a technique said to hold the potential of curing illnesses and deformities or, perhaps, even creating the perfect man.
It goes without saying, of course, that Peter gets bitten by a spider and before long is in possession of a body that is no longer simply that of a normal teenaged boy. Though, once again, Peter's journey towards becoming Spider-Man is a more humane and character-driven journey than it was in the Raimi films. It's not that Webb doesn't utilize special effects. The film is served up in 3-D, and there are times when the special effects are simply awesome. It's simply that Webb doesn't allow the special effects to tell the story, but rather he tells the story of The Amazing Spider-Man and allows the special effects a complementary role.
There is a villain, of course, in the form of The Lizard, a creature birthed out of the increased pressure on Oscorp and Dr. Connors to produce viable results with their cross-breeding experiments. Unfortunately, The Lizard may be the actual weakest link in The Amazing Spider-Man, mostly because Rhys Ifans simply never surrenders to the lunacy of it all nor does he manage to create a compelling opponent for our burgeoning superhero.
At times, The Amazing Spider-Man feels like a more sentimental version of Kick-Ass with Peter Parker growing into a teenage fantasy version of himself who can kick ass, get the girl and still be home by supper (most nights, anyway). There are plenty of special effects-laden scenes to please the genre fans, and while it's hard to explain why they simply feel more authentic and natural than they did in the Sam Raimi films. Again, don't ask me how a man in a spidey suit swinging from building to building can feel authentic, but it does. It really does.
The film's best scene manages to weave together all that makes The Amazing Spider-Man an awesome film by creating the most wondrous "Awwww!" moment amidst wondrous special effects and larger than life graphics. The scene, involving Spider-Man and a young boy in peril, is a genuinely heartfelt moment that is also a visual masterpiece.
Bravo. It's proof, once and for all, that electrifying special effects and an appealing story can go hand-in-hand.
In addition to Garfield's winning performance, Emma Stone is appropriately sweet and sassy as Gwen Stacy. Stone adds a depth of personality that wasn't always as evident in the comic book, though she does so in a way that still feels faithful to the character's comic book roots. Denis Leary possesses both a comic book bravado and a warm paternal streak that makes his character feel more flesh and blood than one might usually expect in a film such as this one and, as well, both Sally Field and Martin Sheen delight as Aunt May and Uncle Ben.
James Horner's original score is just right in capturing the more intimate moments of The Amazing Spider-Man and its more awe-inspiring scenes, while D.P. John Schwartzman lenses the film with an eye towards realism ranging from the intimacy of surveying Dr. Connors' wounded stump and a newly minted superhero's early battle scars to the jaw-dropping scenes of a more vulnerable Spider-Man captivating a midtown crowd. The film is paced more patiently, an approach that adds to the sense of realism while also allowing the CGI to have an even greater effect.
While some will argue that Raimi's second Spider-Man film remains the best and others will fault the film's comic-inspired story line, director Marc Webb accomplishes a nearly miraculous thing here in creating a film that honors the true roots of Spider-Man while also creating a contemporary film that both awes and inspires. Webb's Spider-Man is a hero that you can believe in, a young boy turned young man turned destined superhero who still thinks, feels, hurts, laughs, boasts and loves.
When it comes down to it, this Spider-Man is truly amazing.