MARVEL FINALLY GETS SPIDER-MAN RIGHT IN REBOOT
Finally, a Spider-Man movie that delivers the character as I always envisioned him. Impressively armed with Marc Webb’s dedicated direction, a undeniable cast chemistry, an intelligent script, and a star turn by Andrew Garfield, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is as worthy a reboot as “Batman Begins.”
The tale goes back to basics with a clever and fresh retelling of the familiar origin story of Peter Parker’s transformation into Spider-Man. James Vanderbilt’s screenplay shows off its strengths at taking a story we know so well and changing it enough to make it worthwhile to explore again. In this version, a shroud of mystery is established regarding Peter’s parents and exactly what secret project they were working on before their death in a plane accident. Peter (Andrew Garfield) grows up as a teen who lives with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). Instead of go-to love interest Mary-Jane Watson, we instead have Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), an extremely intelligent and hot science expert. Her father is Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), who takes on the J. Jonah Jameson role as Spider-Man’s public adversary. We have a new villain in the form of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who comic fans will know becomes the Lizard. This story does revolve around the origin of Spider-Man, but in a way far less manufactured and far more realistic in terms of characterization. Ultimately, the Lizard’s nefarious plan for New York pushes Spider-Man to act in a way that shows his true colors as a hero with responsibility. Perhaps less epic and showy in terms of plot, but it still stands up well.
Webb smartly shelves the irritatingly whiny Spider-Man that permeated Sam Raimi’s series and instead aims for a cleverer and far more compelling version of the character. Channeling my favorite comics incarnation (“Ultimate Spider-Man”; 2000-2009), here’s a Peter Parker and a Spider-Man that has the wisecracks, the origin, the rogue gallery, and the mask – all implanted with an awesome surge of creativity and energy.
This Spider-Man is snappy, witty, badass, and genuinely funny. He is also far more capable of conveying the emotional torture and general pathos of the character without dipping into “Jersey Shore”-type teen angst. That’s what I like so much about “The Amazing Spider-Man” – it sidesteps the corniness and the cheesy angst.
Some of the issues I’ve had with the original trilogy over time have been dealt with in a modern and creative fashion, which makes the reboot worthwhile. You’ll find the characters are sharper, the plot clearer, and the thematic focus has a new found clarity. This is different in all the right ways.
This is not only a better cast than any of the original three, but it also sports the best chemistry between the cast. I put a lot of that credit to Webb, who showed with “(500) Days of Summer” that he knows how to weave a exceptional romance and spark chemistry I liked Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone far more than I did Tobey Maguire and Kristen Dunst, as they seem to connect on a more visceral level. My biggest problem has always been – outside of J.K. Simmons as Jameson and Alfred Molina as Doc Ock – how poor casting choices plagued the original.
Andrew Garfield is perfect casting as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, something that I didn’t think was possible for fitting both characters. And really, that’s the problem: Spider-Man, above almost any other hero, is two very different parts that must be played by the same actor. Garfield worked during every level of the film. He showed a massive range in “The Social Network,” one which serves him well in bringing an appropriate emotional range to making this character likable and relatable.
Probably the best surprise I got from this movie was how much I actually began to like Peter Parker outside of costume as well as inside. Tobey’s Spider-Man was only interesting when he was in costume. With Garfield, I felt invested in his stakes and they didn’t feel like pathetic little problems that really don’t matter. He actually had some character to him this time outside of his guilt and romantic obsessions. And I absolutely adored how they changed the origin story to a degree that made him less of the perfect boy scout from the get-go. He actually has some darkness he has to work out first, and there is still quite a bit of unfinished business for him to tackle in the sequel.
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy is not only gorgeous but has the talent of one of the best young actresses working today. While comic fans know the fate of Gwen, I’m finding myself curious just how the reboot is going to treat her. She’s a character worth having around for a while. Denis Leary, Sally Field, and Martin Sheen are all fantastic at enveloping their small parts with their renowned dedication to their craft.
While not at the top of my favorite villains in the Marvel roster, the Lizard is a fascinating villain. Rhys Ifans delivers a surprisingly level of gravitas to a role that could have easily fallen into the campy and ridiculous. In fact, this is a fantastic exercise of a great actor biting into a role. But where the character is concerned, they robbed him of his dramatic potency when they failed to include his family. In every incarnation of the character, his wife and young son are critical to who he is and why he does what he does. The presence of Ifans is powerful enough that it almost blinds us from the fact that this Lizard is little more than a Freak of the Week villain. Almost. The Lizard just doesn’t play to his strengths as a character. As Connors, I love him. As the Lizard, I never cared. The family issue would have solved a lot.
Still, it’s nice to see a Spider-Man who isn’t overshadowed by his villain or pulled into a complex plot. The film’s focus on him cannot be denied – it’s the film’s biggest strength.
Overall, “The Amazing Spider-Man” has the drop of Raimi with the benefit of a better cast, a better director, a better script, and a fantastic clarity of purpose. I didn’t have to wade through teen-like angst or boring characterization to get to the good parts of the movie. Regardless of my small reservations with the plot and Connors, this is my favorite depiction of Spider-Man as a character. If not for how great Molina was as Doc Ock in “Spider-Man 2,” this would be my favorite of the series. Unlike Raimi’s films, this is a Spider-Man film that actually knows what it wants to be and how it wants to be about it.