Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy
Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard
Denis Leary as Captain George Stacy
Martin Sheen as Ben Parker
Sally Field as May Parker
Irrfan Khan as Dr. Rajit Ratha
Chris Zylka as Flash Thompson
Campbell Scott as Richard Parker
Embeth Davidtz as Mary Parker
Normally a ground-up reboot would be seen as a mixed bag. It means that your series has gotten off track somewhere and needs to be brought back to its roots. Or that the filmmakers have completely run out of ideas and instead have chosen to go back over familiar paths, hoping audiences will follow along, rather than risk turning them away with something new.
Sony’s relaunch of the Spider-Man franchise didn’t have the first problem so much as lack of agreement among all involved as to where it should go. It may be suffering from the second at its heart, but Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” is charming and character-focused enough to make a worthy entrant in the series anyway.
The story is quite familiar, even if you’ve never read the comics. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is an intelligent, shy high school student who’s good at science and photography but not talking to people, partly because has never quite gotten over being orphaned at a young age. When he discovers that his father’s longtime colleague, Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans) lives and works nearby he sneaks into the lab to find out what his father was working on when he left Peter behind and went into hiding. There he finds Conner’s various animal specimens he is using to try and give animal attributes to humans, including a room full of spiders…
Like the successful reboots of the last decade, Webb and his screenwriters have taken what worked from the previous films, removed what didn’t or what wasn’t to their taste, and decided to at least temporarily avoid some of the major pieces of the mythos in favor of setting up their take on the character. Gone are J. Jonah Jameson, Mary Jane Watson and the Osborn Clan.
In its place is the story of Peter Parker and his quest to figure out who he is, especially after he starts developing strange abilities. Abilities he uses to search for a random mugger after his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) is killed, a search which ultimately leads him into a larger world of responsibility to use his powers once a giant lizard creature begins to rampage around the city.
Webb and his three screenwriters have taken more of a focus from the modern Spider-Man stories, particularly “Ultimate Spider-Man,” than the original ’60s comic, making “The Amazing Spider-Man” less comic-book like than its predecessors. It’s still not aiming for ‘close to reality’ the way the James Bond and Batman reboots have, but is certainly more modern. This Spider-Man is as likely to be playing games on his cell phone waiting for the monster he is following to show up as he is swinging through the skyline.
And Garfield, despite looking a bit too old for the part, makes a good Peter Parker and a good Spider-Man.He’s cast aside the comic-book nerdiness Peter is often imbued with, with a more realistic awkwardness befitting a teenager trying to figure out who he is, which is ultimately what “The Amazing Spider-Man” is all about. As a character he is both well thought out by the filmmakers and well executed by Garfield, a fact that refreshingly holds true across the board for both friends and adversaries alike. Hard-assed police captain George Stacy (Denis Leary) may want to bring Spider-Man in, but he’s also deep down willing to believe this crazy masked vigilante may be trying to do the right thing; old high-school bully Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka) is actually a human being deep inside who empathizes with Peter after his uncle is killed. Even Connors only became the Lizard by accident while trying to prevent his employer (Irrfan Khan) from potentially poisoning a hospital.
He’s also, finally, been given something an equal in love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a brainy high school senior who works for Dr. Connor’s whose resourceful and plucky enough to face the Lizard on her own without always needing saving.
Which doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of familiarity in the film, which is where counter-intuitively, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is often at its least interesting. The heart of the plot once again concerns a well-meaning scientist who begins turning into a monster, psychologically (as well as physically this time) as a result of his own work but who may still be basically decent deep inside. The action scenes have the frenetic quality of the previous films, although the moments of first-person webslinging can be a little too frenetic to the point of being disorienting. And there is still an urge to making an icon out of the character he is too irreverent to hold and which can and does turn the film from exciting to campy at moments. A drawn out beat as a series of crane operators line themselves up to give Spider-Man a webslinging path is the worst but not sole infraction.
All in all, though, it holds up well. I’m not convinced we actually needed a completely re-launch of the Spider-Man series just 10 years and three films after it started, but if we have to have one, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a good one to have.