Published on July 25th, 2012 | by Jordan Petersen0
REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man
Summary: In our age of impatience, we're not surprised the Spider-Man franchise is back already. We are surprised, however, that's it's quite good.
Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first.
Yes, this is a reboot of a franchise that started exactly one decade ago and achieved wide critical and financial success. It’s a confusing maneuver, but one that does seem to be in keeping with the generally accelerated pace of everything in our era of smart phones, social networks and blindingly fast news cycles. There’s no such thing as waiting anymore, so it makes a kind of sense, especially since the third film in the last run was broadly perceived as a disappointment (in 2007!), but still. It’s eery to see the whole thing happening again so soon.
Most people, therefore, are justifiably skeptical, as they tend to be when they see studios produce films that seem unjustifiable. However, the film now exists, in its own right and independent of anyone who worked on the first film. So, while it must be judged against the film with which it bears such shockingly close resemblance, it also deserves a consideration based solely on its own merits.
Thankfully, The Amazing Spider-Man works both ways. Marc Webb (I know, right?), in working with this new cast and an obviously talented crew, had the difficult task of telling a story we all already knew. The choice he made (on the backs, I’m sure, of the writers) was to follow the current trend of going gritty. This is a less cartoony manifestation of many of the same beats. We get to spend way more time with the actual origin story, which is so often the most interesting part anyway, and it matters much more in this film.
Also, let’s face it, Tobey Maquire is hard to take seriously. I mean, I liked him as Spider-Man. I thought he did a swell job. He was nerdy and non-threatening, and watching him sling web and fight bad guys was like watching a little boy try very hard to do grown-up things. It had an undeniable charm that worked very well in the first two films.
Andrew Garfield, on the other hand, is an entirely different breed. He exudes manic cleverness and a kind of desperate, lonely edge that cuts a measurably darker and more believable character. The loss of his parents and the death of his uncle become deeply significant events when experienced through the lens of his reactions. These things were plot points in the earlier incarnation of this story. We care a lot more this time around, and its thanks to Garfield’s gravitas.
I won’t talk about how much I love Emma Stone, because if I did, I wouldn’t be able to stop. Suffice it to say that she is exactly as incredible here as I expected her to be. She always delivers, and this is no exception. What was harder to predict, though, was how well she and Garfield would work together, and I am pleased to report that their chemistry turned out to be the highlight of what would have been a pretty good film without it. All of their scenes together were just a little bit magical, and I admit that I left feeling more like a hopeless romantic than I have in a long time. Beware.
Better villains have been conceived and executed, it’s true. In this movie, the lizard man didn’t pack much of a dramatic punch, and so the primary physical antagonist played more like a silly afterthought than a real, tangible menace. What remains is the antagonistic force of Peter Parker against himself, and his own very believable hangups and weaknesses. That stuff fairly sung the tragic inner struggle of maturation. It’s a good thing, too, because the reptile was hard to take seriously. It surely could have been worse — in fact, the mistake wasn’t in the execution, but in the selection of this particular villain in the first place. Aren’t there better options?
Still, in sum, the elements of this film comprise a satisfying achievement in the Spider-Man universe. It’s hard to say that it’s the best one yet, but it might be. Certainly it’s different, and all of the differences seem to have been strengthening. What results is a strong answer to a question uniquely suited to this particular film: does it even deserve to exist? The answer is yes. And I look forward to the sequel. ♦ ♦ ♦