Our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is back to spinning a cinematic web that returns him to his roots, but where familiarity resides, so does a daring creativity emerge that makes this Spidey a fantastic and fascinating force to be reckoned with. The beloved web-head is now played by Andrew Garfield, taking over the wall-crawling duties from previous franchise star Tobey Maguire, and this new version of the character has his own way of doing things. Most notably, he likes to take his time.
Choosing radically different narrative pacing than Sam Raimi’s 2002 series launcher that cut almost immediately to the chase, The Amazing Spider-Man is in no hurry to fulfill the promise of the title. Instead, it cozily settles in to an intimate look at the life of Peter Parker, who now misses his mom and dad more than ever before. This parental angle doesn’t exactly get things off to a good start, as a weakly mysterious prologue sets up an absent piece of Peter’s puzzle that has rarely, if ever, been missed. Apparently little Peter (temporarily played by Max Charles) entered his scientist dad’s home office one day and found it ransacked, which was enough to send Ma and Pa Parker (Embeth Davidtz and Campbell Scott) running off into the night, never to be seen again.
So Peter ends up living with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and this new Spidey story catches up with where the hero’s origin tale usually begins. Except that this iteration is determined to introduce us to the characters first and the heroism later, a bold move that pushes the movie’s first action scene past the half-hour mark and the first major effects sequence somewhere closer to the halfway point of the whole movie. Given the penchant for blockbuster movies to kick things off with a splashy showcase of expensive stunts and pyrotechnics nowadays, this calm, careful unfolding represents an appreciable attempt to forge a fresh path.
It also helps that the roles have been so smartly cast. Gangly Garfield makes a great Peter Parker, putting his own sharp spin on the clumsy, unpopular teen. By employing jumbled line deliveries and full use of his lanky body, he convincingly communicates the character’s bumbling social skills and introverted attitude. And then later on, Garfield makes an equally relatable Spider-Man and pulls off the impressive feat of giving the superhero his own identity, while also maintaining a believable bridge between him and his alter-ego. This Spidey is big on the wisecracks and he exhibits the expected cool confidence in the face of danger, but the transformation that occurs when he pulls on the mask feels like an unleashing of a fully heightened version of Peter rather than a whole new guy. He also seems to love his newfound responsibility, a feeling that translates well to the big screen.
Peter’s other love is the movie’s other key to success. Stone is immensely enjoyable as the gorgeous Gwen, who can simultaneously match Peter’s intellect and steal his heart. Already an astonishingly consistent performer, Stone ensures that Gwen is much more than a basic love interest who sits in her room and pines for her hero. She’s as charming and likable as Peter and the inevitable romantic angle takes a rare turn by blockbuster standards and actually feels utterly integral to the plot, as opposed to a mere assumed necessity. This very special effect is achieved through that often intangible, unattainable spark of chemistry that so many romantic pairs struggle to generate. It comes naturally to Garfield and Stone, though, who are so genuine in their on-screen romance that they deliver Marvel’s most tender movie love story to date.
This relationship anchors The Amazing Spider-Man in dramatically rich territory and gives the title hero some very personal stakes in his battles. In one of the movie’s most thrilling fight sequences, Spidey battles a transformed Curt Conners, now a monstrous Lizard (now a motion captured Ifans), throughout the hallways of his high school. Spidey performs some incredible stunts and some wild web work, although eventually the Lizard appears to wear him down. But when Gwen steps in to help and finds herself in momentary danger, Spidey suddenly taps into some reserve energy and attacks the Lizard with furiously desperate might. It’s a powerful scene and a highlight of the cinematic superhero genre because it manages to say so much about the character while letting his actions speak for themselves.
There are times the road to Peter’s transformation hits a few rocky patches, however, especially when the movie tries to reconfigure certain origin tale milestone moments just for the sake of continuing to distance this version from Raimi’s. Talented screenwriters Steve Kloves, Alvin Sargent, and James Vanderbilt, who also nabs a “story” credit, collectively come up with a weird, though acceptable way to update the imperative subplot about Uncle Ben’s murder so that the sequence of events is almost entirely different and yet almost entirely the same as the comic book faithful one we already saw a decade ago in Raimi’s version.
Sometimes we can see the strain of the writers’ efforts, but this remains a minor quibble in the face of such boldly intimate blockbuster moviemaking. A few moments flirt perhaps too closely with treacle and James Horner’s score, while pleasant, is mostly forgettable, but again, minor quibbles when they go up against Webb’s moving accomplishments, the presence of the actors, the chemistry of the leads, the unusually lofty structure, and even the absolutely awesome action sequences that excite as well as they engage.
What a wonderful web. What a wonderful Webb. This is superhero cinema reinterpreted, at once a heartfelt tale of a boy in love and suddenly a soaring adventure about a boy who swings in spandex. The Amazing Spider-Man is familiar trajectory, but it’s executed with such poignant patience that it feels uniquely new. This Spidey is spectacular, a superhero with soul in a story stuffed with sensitive sweetness. Yes, with all the ups and downs in this Spidey’s life, he remains a pretty emotional guy. I can relate. This kind of stunning superheroism makes me emotional, too.
July 5, 2012 @ 8:18 am Gordon
I wanted so much to like this but I didn’t. The story is flat and the Lizard is an unknown and a weak enemy (the Vulture would have been better). Stone and Garfield did have good on-screen chemistry though = just not enough to abate my disappointment.
July 5, 2012 @ 10:28 am Mushrooming
By now the last thing needed is the origins of Spider-Man.
July 5, 2012 @ 10:47 am VidChip
Well written review Aaron. I don’t agree with much of it, but it is well written. :)
July 5, 2012 @ 12:27 pm Ryan
Better cast all-around than Raimi’s take – Andrew Garfied made the perfect Spider-Man. Emma Stone was a fine Gwen Stacy. Plus it has the best Stan Lee cameo too! This version felt more like it came from the comics too something I felt was sorely lacking in the first three Spidey flicks. I’ll definitely see this again once the crowds die down.
July 5, 2012 @ 2:21 pm Garage Kept
You nailed it. This was a great reboot.
July 5, 2012 @ 2:51 pm Approved
I’ll take the first two Spider-Man movies over this any day of the week. This version felt hacked together like Frankenstein’s monster. And why did they make Peter Parker into such a pussy? There is no excuse for that.
July 5, 2012 @ 7:01 pm Farhen
I loved it. Surpasses The Dark Knight.
July 5, 2012 @ 7:27 pm OctoDad
I liked the movie but it would have been served much better had the CGI been not so CGI-ey and the 3D left off. I felt nauseous from the 1st person webslinging to.
July 5, 2012 @ 8:54 pm Christi
Marc Webb and team put together a strong reboot: Talented cast (Good to see Sally Field out there), balanced story and great effects. It’s enough to make one forget that there were 3 Spidey movies made before-one as recently as only 5 years ago.
July 5, 2012 @ 10:00 pm Elvis
I had always felt Kirsten Dunst was miscast as MJ Watson. The inclusion of Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy was a good move. It’ll be interesting see if she gets killed off in the sequel…
July 6, 2012 @ 6:46 am Bender
Not the “Summer Blockbuster” I was hoping to see, rather it was a “Summer Sizzle”. It did enough to stay entertaining but it never ‘wowed’.
July 6, 2012 @ 2:53 pm Rickie
The first half of the film is an improvement over Raimi’s. The second half doesn’t compare. Especially on the villain front – The Lizard was even weaker than Sandman…..
July 6, 2012 @ 4:19 pm Joe
I love my Marvel Superheroes but I felt letdown by this recasting.
July 6, 2012 @ 8:06 pm ReTodd
Everyone short of those living in the Burmese jungles knows how Peter Parker got his powers and how he transformed into Spider-Man. It did not have to take half the movie to retell. A 10-minute montage would have sufficed and Webb could have gotten down to the business of crime fighting.
July 7, 2012 @ 6:45 am LavenderGang
After watching this yesterday, I like the Raimi movies even more. Even Spiderman 3.
July 7, 2012 @ 12:44 pm Calhoon
The Amazing Spider-Man is the more realistic version of the character just as The Dark Knight is a more realistic version of Batman. Whether it is a better version is debatable.
July 7, 2012 @ 1:04 pm propolug
I’m not sure what people are complaining about. Had there not been a detailed backstory drawn up, everyone would have moaned that Webb glossed over the most important element of the story. I thought the detail paid to it was worth it and Garfield did a great job filling Spidey’s shoes.
July 7, 2012 @ 1:19 pm Dimbel
Good movie I liked it.
July 7, 2012 @ 3:29 pm Studly Stash
The Amazing Spider-Man is way better than the movies Raimi did. I’ll be seeing this for a second time next week.
July 7, 2012 @ 6:32 pm urbana
It’s a more grounded movie. I’d have welcomed it if were a bit darker perhaps..
July 7, 2012 @ 11:50 pm Zach
Did I miss the “With great power comes great responsibility” speech?
July 13, 2012 @ 11:18 pm Walton the Wise
Uncle Ben gave the speech, but didn’t utter the sentence specifically.
July 8, 2012 @ 2:59 am Nichelle
Just watch it! It’s a good movie and a good start to the summer season.
July 9, 2012 @ 1:10 am Hassan
I think it was more of a fact that Spider-Man 3 was a disaster and the studio couldn’t milk any more money from it so they decided to erase every trace of it and start a new one so they can make money from it again. That’s the main reason why I’m very much annoyed by the existence of this film. This film exists to soley be a franchise. As talented as some of the people involved are it’s gonna take a lot to convince me that this movie is something different.
July 9, 2012 @ 2:24 am Albastross
Webshooters, yeah? Maybe? Also I don’t the any issue with him being slender. I never thought it was much about strength and muscles when it came to Spiderman and he’s supposed to be a teen here, right?
July 9, 2012 @ 8:43 am Bad Mitten
I’m a longtime comics fan (esp. Spidey) but I find most superhero flicks (The Hulk, Captain America, Watchmen, Spider-Man, The X-Men, etc.) lose any sense of fun in their eagerness to win over the non-fans of the comic books. For me the most boring part of all these superhero movies is the extended origin setups. They’re necessary but they need to get it over quickly so true fans have something to enjoy.
July 13, 2012 @ 7:04 pm mongoose
I wouldn’t call this a superhero movie per se, it is really a teen romance movie first and foremost. And dare I say, Amazing Spiderman is actually a very good teen romance movie.
August 7, 2012 @ 5:33 pm garfield
and bingo was his namo
July 19, 2012 @ 6:25 pm Sullivan
Great movie. Now onto The Dark Knight Rises!
July 25, 2012 @ 1:11 pm Cinco Squared
Better than Dark Knight Rises.
July 31, 2012 @ 11:09 am Jagger Cat
The only thing to like about this version of Spiderman is its got a very believable connection between Peter and Gwen.
August 20, 2012 @ 10:37 am Brett
I just rewatched the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man; it is so much better than this Marc Webb version.