Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man / Peter Parker
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy
Rhys Ifans as The Lizard / Dr. Curt Connors
Denis Leary as Captain Stacy
Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben
Sally Field as Aunt May
Irrfan Khan as Rajit Ratha
Campbell Scott as Richard Parker
Embeth Davidtz as Mary Parker
Chris Zylka as Flash Thompson
Max Charles as Peter Parker (Age 4)
C. Thomas Howell as Jack’s Father
Jake Keiffer as Jack
Kari Coleman as Helen Stacy
Directed by Marc Webb
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is constantly being picked on at his school, but when he finds a satchel owned by his dead father that holds some clues to his past, it leads him to his father’s fellow scientist, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) and the brainy but beautiful Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Oh, yeah, and then Peter gets bitten by a radioactive spider.
The decision by Sony to reboot the Spider-Man franchise so soon after the three movies directed by Sam Raimi makes it impossible not to compare it to what came before, and it doesn’t help that post-“Dark Knight” and post-“Avengers,” there are far higher expectations for all comic book and superhero movies. Woe to Marc Webb of “(500) Days of Summer” who suddenly is at the helm of redefining a wheel that few people thought needed reworking and is expected to deliver a movie that couldn’t possibly live up to previous fan favorites.
After an opening prologue of Peter as a young boy being passed off to his aunt and uncle by his parents, who die soon after, we cut forward to see him in high school dealing with the day-to-day of being a photo-taking wallflower. An altercation with school bully Flash Thompson impresses Flash’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy because no one ever stands up to him, but Peter’s mind is elsewhere, having found a mysterious bag that belonged to his father, which introduces him to genetic scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) who may have some answers about his parents’ fate.
It’s a pretty straightforward story although the film’s marketing is a pretty major misnomer, claiming to be “the untold story” but really being the same origin story from the comics we’ve seen before, just told in a different way, one that ties Spider-Man’s origins into that of The Lizard. It certainly makes a lot of sense, giving Peter Parker a better reason to be near radiation-infused arachnids than a school outing, and Webb really nails a lot of things that have made Spider-Man a popular character from the use of his mechanical webshooters during the action scenes, which is far superior to the other movies as is Spider-Man’s wisecracking and quips, which are more spot-on as well.
Part of the reason the movie works at all is the casting of Andrew Garfield who makes for a solid Peter Parker, having a nerdy charm but seeming edgier than the golly-gee-willikers undertones Tobey Maguire brought to the character, and Emma Stone embodies a more well-rounded Gwen Stacy than the poorly-cast Bryce Dallas Howard, creating an appropriately awkward chemistry with Peter that makes the quieter moments enjoyable.
The problem is that there are way too many of these quieter moments for a movie that’s being geared up as a big summer action movie, and that causes severe pacing problems with too much time spent on dramatic dialogue scenes that may have worked better on an episode of “Dawson’s Creek.” During the first 90 minutes, the action only comes in fits and bursts and there isn’t the sense of fun Sam Raimi instilled into his movies while remaining fairly faithful to the comics. Essentially, the movie takes a similar approach as Brian Michael Bendis had been doing in the “Ultimate Spider-Man” comics, focusing more on character dynamics and human drama over the action, something that doesn’t necessarily work well when someone is walking into a movie expecting a certain level of action.
At least the movie is well-written with decent performances from the eclectic cast Webb assembled, including the smart casting of Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben, though the fact he never says the words “With great power comes great responsibility” is one of the film’s most unfortunate missteps. We love Sally Field but she looks way too young to play Aunt May, while Denis Leary is very good as Gwen’s police officer dad Captain Stacy, who puts out a warrant for Spider-Man’s arrest but also offers some of the humor that J.K. Simmons brought as J. Jonah Jameson in the previous films. Without spoiling it, the movie also offers one of the funniest Stan Lee cameos in any Marvel movie ever, no lie.
Ten years of development in computer animation certainly does the movie well at least in terms of showing Spider-Man swinging through the city in new and exciting ways, and some may be surprised by how much we actually see of Peter Parker sans costume climbing up walls as he learns to use his new powers, which brings an added reality. Looking more like the original Steve Ditko incarnation, the Lizard certainly is menacing enough though the CG to create the reptilian villain makes him come off more than a little like the Abomination from “The Incredible Hulk.” Unfortunately, the movie has more than one “what the hell?” moment like the kind that killed “Spider-Man 3” for so many fans, scenes that probably didn’t work in the script but instead of being excised at that phase were realized into moments that may lose anyone who was on the fence about Webb’s approach.
As much as “The Amazing Spider-Man” tries to mirror Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” by veering away from the comics and trying to base every aspect of Spider-Man and the Lizard’s origins in reality, it’s far too obvious Webb just doesn’t have the skills that come with experience that Nolan had by the time he tackled Batman, and this doesn’t work nearly as well.
The Bottom Line:
Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” may not offer the obvious and immediate satisfaction of Sam Raimi’s movies – at it’s slowest moments, it almost feels like he’s making a Spider-Man for the “Twilight” generation. That said, the more you think about it, the more you realize how well it portrays certain aspects of the character better than other typical comic book action movies, and they’ve certainly set up solid groundwork for another great superhero franchise.