REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man [2012]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 136 minutes | Release Date: July 3rd, 2012 (USA)
Studio: Columbia Pictures / Sony Pictures Releasing
Director(s): Marc Webb
Writer(s): James Vanderbilt and Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves / James Vanderbilt (story) /
Stan Lee & Steve Ditko (Marvel comic book)

“Up your what, Dad?”

Ten years after Sam Raimi‘s Spider-Man joined Bryan Singer‘s X-Men in proving the superhero genre could be taken seriously in the annals of cinematic history, the reset button has been pressed for a fresh new look. Between Marvel taking the initiative to pool their collective, solely-owned properties into one giant universe of quasi sequels with 2008’s Iron Man and DC Comics lucking into Christopher Nolan‘s vision of Batman as more than a surreally cartoonish romp in the darkness, what was one of the most legitimate comic book franchises became a victim to its sentimentality. After Spider-Man 3 devolved into a campy excursion that took ‘fun’ into eye-rolling territory, it was obvious change had to occur. Skewing younger and deciding to shift canon to align thematically—if not exactly—with the comics, The Amazing Spider-Man hopes to stand autonomously alongside the rest.

Written by James Vanderbilt with assistance from Alvin Sargent—the scribe of Raimi’s last two installments—and Steve Kloves, the film brings young Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) back to high school. Meeting his true first girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) in class may speed up his romantic evolution considering her introduction in the comics comes during college, but it also quickens an origin tale littered with tragedy and the realization of just how much responsibility comes with his newfound powers. Two somewhat awkward adolescents growing up in a world of scientific discovery and the changing viewpoints of good versus evil resulting, Columbia Pictures took a chance on giving the reins to (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb. An inspired move, I don’t think this film would be the same without his careful handling of youthfully burgeoning love amongst the adventure.

For those saying it’s too similar to the previous trilogy, all I have to say is, “What did you expect?” Yes, a spider bites Parker, his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) dies before discovering the consequences of his actions, and luchador costumes inspire his red and blue spandex suit. All this is canon; all this is Spider-Man. Perhaps the truncated time between franchises is confusing and begs the question of why, but you can’t expect an aging cast to continue sacrificing their careers for characters that already ran their course. Would you rather a forty-year old Tobey Maguire pretend to be a naïve, twenty-something hero again or watch new blood rejuvenate the tale by also updating/improving it in the process? I know which I’d pick and thankfully The Amazing Spider-Man is not only better than its predecessor, but also sets us up for what could be a superior trilogy overall.

The biggest change comes from the mysterious circumstances surrounding Richard (Campbell Scott) and Mary Parker’s (Embeth Davidtz) disappearance and subsequent deaths. After a break-in attempt to steal important cross-genetics research, the Parkers take young Peter to live with his Uncle and Aunt (Sally Field). This living arrangement is all the boy knows until a flooded basement helps conjure memories and curiosity through an abandoned leather briefcase with his father’s initials. Discovering the identity of Richard’s partner/friend Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) through a newspaper clipping, Peter sneaks his way into Oscorp Industries to meet him, notice Gwen is his lead intern, and complete the fateful encounter with a certain radioactive arachnid. Spider-Man is born from the work that made him an orphan just as it becomes the missing ingredient needed to create the first of many power-hungry monsters to ravage his city.

More than serve solely as an origin story, The Amazing Spider-Man also creates the tone for what we can expect from its sequels. The authenticity cultivated by peripheral characters like bully Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka) and the hard-nosed Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) draws us into the motivations behind the film’s titular hero and his moral compass. We watch the growing pains inherent to possessing unparalleled strength and confidence when only shyness and fear existed previous while a desire to use his gifts for good helps unleash evil through the monstrous villain The Lizard and its warped idea to change the world in his likeness. With a strong underlying theme concerning good-intentioned technological marvels being reappropriated nefariously, scientific breakthroughs like hybridizing humans and lizards to cure disease find cutthroat corporate cronies like Irrfan Khan‘s Rajit Ratha using them only to play God.

So, Peter must traverse his changing DNA, puppy love, and the newly anointed position of protector to his Aunt May and the entire city from ever-increasing dangers. Webb’s fantastic ability to show young adulthood at such a cusp in their lives allows the juggling act to remain true to reality and a society gone awry. The evolution of Flash, Captain Stacy, and even Connors’ dueling personalities trying hard to reconcile selfish motives with the good of the masses occur naturally and rapidly. We’re never made to languish in tragedy as we were in Raimi’s overwrought, operatic tomes—death and horror occurs without risking farce by lingering too long. Parker deals with the what’s thrown his way by hardening into a man willing to sacrifice himself for the innocent. He owns his actions and the inevitable attempts at retribution will only push him further from the boy he once was.

Stunning action sequences enhance the carefully constructed plot with seamless computer graphics putting us into the action through exciting 3D camerawork. The designs of the sleekly modern Spidey and his grotesquely reptilian foe fit the gritty world presented as fluid movement helps render multiple fight scenes entertaining without a shred of cartoonish artifice. Some patriotic grandstanding does elicit some chortles as actors like C. Thomas Howell oversell their legitimizing of the costumed hero, but for the most part everything occurs without irony. The main reason this is possible comes via our two stellar leads embodying geeky chic, adolescent angst, and emotional maturity. Garfield and Stone create fully formed characters with the heart, awkwardness, and snark necessary for teenagers aspiring towards greatness. Whereas Spider-Man fell prey to its heroes playing dress-up as kids, the new installment rightfully makes sure Peter and Gwen come to life first.

[1] Andrew Garfield stars as Spider-Man in Columbia Pictures’ “The Amazing Spider-man,” also starring
Emma Stone. Photo By: Courtesy of CTMG./ImageMagick Copyright: © 2012 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield star in Columbia Pictures’ “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Photo By: Jaimie Trueblood Copyright: © 2012 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[3] Rhys Ifans in Columbia Pictures’ “The Amazing Spider-Man,” starring Andrew Garfield. Photo By: Jaimie Trueblood Copyright: © 2011 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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