‘Amazing Spider-Man’ well done, if similar to 2002’s ‘Spider-Man’
When “Spider-Man” hit the screens in 2002, the combination of director Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire — along with a fairly exciting script and action sequences — garnered the film praise across the board as a summer action fest. Its sequel, “Spider-Man 2,” then pulled off an unusual feat: With a tighter focus and a brilliant villain, it was better than the original. Both films earned a great deal of success, rightly so.
Then, in 2007, “Spider-Man 3” was released to mostly negative criticism, thanks in large part to a longer-than-two-hour screen time, a myriad plots that never truly converged and a lackluster romantic edge.
And while it has its faults, “The Amazing Spider-Man” learns from the past: A well-chosen and talented cast, with a controlled and emotional direction by its director, combine to help Spidey clinging to New York’s skyline, if not necessarily soaring above it.
This time around, Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”) stars as the titular character. His elongated physicality and moon-sized peepers work in successful tandem in creating a believably nerdy hero. Still angst-ridden from his parents’ mysterious death, this Peter Parker projects more swagger and grit, even if he still gets his butt kicked by his rival, Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka).
And we’re taken back to the technologically gifted Parker not seen in the last trilogy. It’s a bit unnerving to see Peter Parker, known in almost every variation as a photographer with a knack for tech, actually in line with that description after seeing Maguire’s pity-inducing character dominate the screen.
In this film, Peter’s decked out in a hoodie and perpetually carries a skateboard and comes across as less insecure than the original comic book character (created by comic icon Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962). And instead of the famous redhead Mary Jane Watson as the love interest, played by an absorbing Kirsten Dunst in Raimi’s films, we’re introduced to the lesser-known blonde Gwen Stacy, a wonderful Emma Stone (“Easy A”). And at least for the moment, the main villain lurking about New York is The Lizard (Rhys Ifans) instead of the Green Goblin (William Dafoe). The interceding police captain Stacy (Denis Leary) stands in place for the interjecting newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson. Even Spidey’s famous spandex suit is a bit different.
Still, when all’s said and done, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is strikingly similar to its 2002 forerunner, if only because it borrows from the same, well-known source material.
This time the story, directed by Marc Webb (“(500) Days of Summer”) and written by James Vanderbilt opens, with a dive into Peter Parker’s origin story, like the 2002 version. We’re shown a young Peter with his parents, Richard and Mary (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz), who have fled to the house of Richard’s brother and sister-in-law, the well-established characters of Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen and Sally Field), after finding their own home ransacked. After leaving the young Peter in his relatives’ care, the parents say their goodbyes and leave the scene, which quickly segues into the present, where the now-parentless Peter is roaming the halls of his high school, camera in hand and a lust in his eyes for his crush, Gwen Stacy (Stone).
The familiar plot unfolds as anyone with any Spider-Man knowledge will know: Peter manages to get his way into a lab (at Oscorp this time around), where he meets up with a very special spider. The physical changes follow at rapid clip: He’s stronger, faster and able to adhere to most surfaces regardless of gravity. His discovery, and later his acceptance, of his newfound abilities is both entertaining and connective. (Everyone can remember puberty and how scary and amazing those changes were. This just involves superpowers.) Just wait for the subway scene. It’s hilarious.
But in the end, the combination and chemistry between Garfield and Stone is largely the only element keeping the film afloat. Director Webb introduces an element of intimacy not quite realized in Raimi’s versions. Even the comic tension is fantastic. And Webb knows it; he plays them up and focuses on them with sufficient screen time, giving the audience plenty of opportunity to coo over the adorable leads.
But the movie drags on longer than it should, at 136 minutes, considering how familiar the story is. Even with the minor changes, you know what’s going to happen. (In fact, this critic’s brother refused to see this movie simply because he was able to distill the plot into about three sentences, mostly referring the to the inevitability of the familiar plot.)
Kudos to the use of 3-D, though. It’s interactive and engaging without being a cheap prop.
Failing to recreate what Christopher Nolan did with “Batman Begins,” and continued with “The Dark Knight,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” comes across more as an partial update rather than a total reboot. Not much has changed in the last decade, and it leaves you wondering if this film was really needed.
In fact, even if the famous mantra — With great power comes great responsibility — still holds true for the web-slinger, you won’t feel particularly powerful or responsible when the screen goes black.
Three spandex-wearing stars out of five.