Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

The Amazing Spider-Man


Marc Webb
James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves
136 min.
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Chris Zylka, Max Charles
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for sequences of action and violence

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Source Material

A mere five years after the third film in the Tobey Maguire/Kirsten Dunst trilogy spun its web in movie theaters and only ten years after the first film, a new team tackles the brooding youth Peter Parker and his spider-bitten alter ego The Amazing Spider-Man.

The story this time out takes us back again to Peter’s origin, exploring it in a slightly different scope. Peter’s father and mother, having left them in the care of his aunt and uncle, die in a horrific plane crash, leaving the youngster alone. Although his relatives do a fantastic job raising him, he longs to know who his parents were and why they would have abandoned him like they did. A complicated plot unravels as Peter discovers that his father had solved a scientific equation that would assist his partner Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) in developing a cross-genetic splice of human and lizard DNA allowing the human body to regenerate dead tissue and limbs. The cure-all would save millions of lives, but at what cost?

To stop an amoral corporate stooge Rajit Ratha (Irrfan Khan) from taking the syrum and testing it on unsuspecting war veterans, Connors tests the solution on himself. The potency of the lizard DNA is too strong and it begins taking control of Connors’ body, transforming him into The Lizard. Pitting himself against Spider-Man, Connors attempts to use a mass aerosol dispersion system to infect everyone in the city and breed a new race of super-human creatures.

I’ll admit that I’m a bit biased on this one. I admired the casting early on…at least in selecting Emma Stone to star as Spidey love interest Gwen Stacy. Stone has been an enjoyable presence in every film she’s been a part of, even when completely miscast (The Help). Andrew Garfield in the title role, however, I wasn’t entirely confident in. Until I saw the film. He is such a charming, credible Peter Parker/Spider-Man that Maguire pales dramatically in comparison. Not that I ever though Maguire’s performance was adequate for the role, seeing someone else in the role solidifies my antipathy towards Maguire. Garfield conveys the lovelorn, awkwardness of adolescence with the duality of his masked vigilante, whose confidence is strengthened when allowed to free himself from the perception of appearances.

Separating this reboot from the original trilogy was going to be tricky and the creators have managed to reinvent the character without seeming like a blatant rip-off. That’s a difficult thing to accomplish when we’re starting fresh just where the original film did, exploring the lonely life of orphan Peter Parker and his aunt and uncle a they try to shape him into a better man. Although Sally Field is the lesser actress to take on the role (Rosemary Harris did a fantastic job in the first three films), but she does adequately well with May Parker while Martin Sheen is a bit too sermonizing as Uncle Ben, but certainly more memorable than the short-lived presence of Cliff Robertson.

Ifans is a nicely conflicted villain, but the viciousness of his Hyde-like monster self is given free rein too quickly, robbing us of meaningful development. Ifans does what he can, but the script keeps him off his toes. As for Khan, he is the weak link in the film, infusing Ratha with a single shade of villainy and never mattering more to the proceedings than brief encounters of acrimony. I’m a bit frustrated too by the fact that the obviousness of the character is predicated on a negative stereotype of Indian characters. It’s not uncommon for stereotypes to be used to avoid having to craft detailed backstories, but this one was just unnecessary.

There was a time when comic Denis Leary was more of a punchline than a serious actor, yet after his critically acclaimed performance in the television series Rescue Me, we must take him as a serious actor and he does a fine job in The Amazing Spider-Man as the chief of police and Gwen’s father, the all rules, no fun cop has the potential to be little more than an egotistical jerk empowered as a thwarting force in Spider-Man’s attempts to stop The Lizard. While Leary lets this feeling sink in with the audience, there’s a quiet determination floating in his performance that makes his conflicted father figure an even more interesting character by the film’s end. Leary’s isn’t the best performance in the film, but he certainly helps make a case for this being the best acted film in the series to date.

Marc Webb’s first major exploit as an action director doesn’t live up quite to the expectations he set with (500) Days of Summer. Of course, that is a difficult task to accomplish considering how wonderful Summer was. The bonus is that while he doesn’t exactly excite with The Amazing Spider-Man, he proves more than capable of working with young actors and eliciting strong performances. While neither Garfield or Stone really need much help, his guidance undoubtedly helped shape the dynamic between the two.

After the outstanding Spider-Man 2, this is easily the best of the series. It features engaging actors in well developed roles in a somewhat conventional plot, but Garfield and Stone make it almost impossible not to be charmed by the rest of the film however trite it is. I can only expect that, like the original trilogy, a second outing with this pair will be the pinnacle of the franchise, though finding a more well rounded director might be helpful.
Oscar Prospects
Potentials: Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects
Review Written
July 8, 2012

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