“The Amazing Spider-Man” is not the reboot we want; but the one we deserve. That is, if you’re anything like me and sat down in front of “Spider-Man 3” thinking “Hey, it can’t be nearly as bad as I remember.” Only to find yourself, hours later, staring slack-jawed as Peter struts down the street, channeling Disco Duck and West Side Story to prove that he’s the “bad boy” now. Or if you found yourself throwing things at the screen as Pete and MJ take a solid 5 minutes to stare at each other longingly as Harry Osborn bleeds out in between them, while medical care mills about literally 30 seconds away. “Spider-Man 3” was the shuddering, broken stepchild of the Rami trilogy, where the solid character development of the first two movies was dropped, replaced by one last premature load in which every plotline imaginable was shoehorned.
Thankfully, Rami never got to capitalize on Doc Conners (introduced as a recurring character in the first two movies); leaving the door wide-open for what’s possibly the best modern retelling of the Spider-Man mythos.
Based loosely on the Ultimate Spider-Man series rather than good-ol’ Marvel 616, “Amazing” gives us a bit more intrigue from the start in that young Peter isn’t just orphaned by random fate, but because his father had research that was valuable (and we later learn, was loathe to part with). Jumping ahead a few years, we get Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker. Constant head-shaking aside, he completely nails the perpetually fish-out-of-water Parker and gives us a character that is both likable and extremely self-aware. He’s confident, to a point. And this Parker is smart enough to know when he shouldn’t keep up a lie just to save face. Not once did I have to do the standard “roll eyes and groan and wonder when the truth will come out” face while watching. For a superhero movie to pull that off is a feat.
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey is fantastic. I would have loved to have seen her utilized more, although I did get the distinct feeling here and there that she wasn’t a high school kid; but a twenty-something slumming her way through the halls. Even so, taking the torch away from MJ as the perpetual love interest set up some solid emotional conflicts in Ultimate Spidey and I trust that it’ll be played for similar effect in the next movies. Stone is the right actress to bring off the necessary gravitas without falling back on weepiness. I loved that they let her figure out at the end the promise her father had made Peter keep (even if he does dash it a scene later). Again, she isn’t a damsel. And she isn’t arm candy. She’s clever and smart and someone who’s more than capable of handling Parker.
Pete’s transformation into the titular hero is handled very well and without the puberty analogues that Rami couldn’t stay away from in the first Spider-Man. Uncle Ben’s death hits harder, Peter’s lack of action almost understandable as he’s getting petty revenge on a jerkwad convenience store clerk, the kind that we’d all love to take occasionally. Sheen does a great job of making us care about Uncle Ben in the few scenes he gets and Garfield’s reaction is fantastic (even if he does mine the same emotional well later for Cpt. Stacey – which seems odd since he barely knows the guy). The only part that starts to wear a bit is that we spend a ridiculously long amount of time trying to rationalize Spidey’s costume (this universe’s Pete apparently only got part of the super-spider-sewing power). After three or four scenes of various “gearing up” sequences, you can almost hear the director throw up his hands and say “Fine! He buys a speedsuit online and decorates it somehow! God! WHAT-EVER!”
His introduction to Osborne Labs and Doc Conners seems forced as well. That is, unless my understanding of bio-med research is flawed and they all have no-name interns wandering about, while company videos play in a loop on stadium-sized lobby screens and interactive displays pop up in the middle of the lab like some sort of Epcot ride gone awry. Still, once we get the fiddly bits out of the way and we can move on to the meat of the story, Conners “Hulking out” into The Lizard, this becomes a solid superhero coming-of-age story with Spidey being embraced by NYC and proving that there is a place for his brand of justice in a world where superheroes don’t exist.
My biggest complaint was the design of the Lizard. My introduction to Spider-Man came in the eighties, when then-upstart Todd McFarlane was drawing some of the most iconic Spidey comics of all time. His design for the Lizard was how I was introduced to the character and Webb’s creative team nailed it from the neck down. If only they had decided to go with a more traditional “Lizardy” face as opposed to the “It’s Rhys Ifan in makeup! Except it’s CGI! And this actor has zero recognition among Western audiences! So there’s really no need to make sure people can see that it’s him at all times! Except he might get lost in the sea of seven-foot-tall anthropomorphic lizard-people we have on set?”
The action scenes are well-choreographed and some of Spidey’s tactics prove that this take is slightly more cerebral than his movie predecessor (even if his “surveillance web” doesn’t work for shit). I’m looking forward to seeing this creative team delve further (especially since the teaser in the credits hints at much bigger things brewing). Hopefully Webb can hold things together for a proper trilogy. Maybe then I’ll forgive Sony for “Spider-Man 3.” Maybe.