JULY 15, 2012

“The Amazing Spider-Man” is my favorite film so far this year. Perhaps it’s my passion for Spider-Man, which dates back to my childhood years when I would read all the comics. Maybe it’s my affinity for comic book films in general. But no matter the reason, I thoroughly enjoyed this newest film, directed by Marc Webb. Taking a darker look at the world of Spider-man and focusing mainly on the secret life of Peter Parker’s parents, “The Amazing Spider-Man” delivers in almost every sense that it could, with a passion and grace unseen in the Spider-Man films thus far.

Around the time “The Amazing Spider-Man” was announced, I was skeptical. A studio rebooting a series only ten years after the first film and five years after the latest movie caused some questioning. But with such a piss-poor showing from “Spider-Man 3,” the die-hard fans deserved something new, and I see that now.

Andrew Garfield takes the reigns as Spider-Man, proving to be a much better fit for the role than Tobey Macguire. With a return to form for Spider-Man, the quick-witted, smart-mouthed wall-climber that we knew from the comic books, there is no way Macguire could have pulled off this new version of the superhero. On the other hand, Garfield fits the role perfectly, with the shy guy mentality when he’s Peter Parker but the perfect cocky demeanor when he’s shooting webs and catching bad guys.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” also marks the first film in that Spider-Man is not shooting webs out of his own hands but instead has made his web-slingers from materials that he buys from Oscorp (the webbing) and his inventions. Peter Parker’s level of intelligence is on full display. It also provides some remarkably intense moments, like when Spider-Man is underwater and cannot shoot his webbing or when the devices get crushed, and he can no longer rely on them. No matter what, this is a great way to separate this new franchise from any prior.

Regarding the superhero genre, three things usually determine how successful the film will be; the villain, the battles, and the love interest. Rhys Ifans plays the villain, Dr. Curt Connors, an old associate of Richard Parker, Peter’s father. Famous for experimenting with cross-species genetics, Connors dreams of regrowing the arm he lost one day. As Peter looks into his father’s old companion, he entrusts Connors with a formula that his father hid before he died, which proves successful in regrowing limbs by combining lizard and mouse genes. Threatened with losing his work, Connors turns the formula on himself, only to become The Lizard, one of Spider-Man’s biggest arch-nemesis, determined to turn the whole city into lizards.

“Spider-Man 2” is one of my all-time favorite films. With perfect writing and a fantastic soundtrack, several vital elements made that film so good and carry into “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Alfred Molina was the ideal casting choice for the villain of Doc Ock. His performance is top tier. But re-watching “Spider-Man 2,” you see the perfection in the battles throughout the film. With three high-profile fights between Spider-Man and Doc Ock, each with its essential elements and challenges, the film feels justified and fulfilled by the end, unlike the sequel (“Spider-Man 3”). “The Amazing Spider-Man” hits the same three points separately yet equally. There’s a fight on the Williamsburg Bridge, a conflict in Peter Parker’s school, and the epic end battle on the roof of the Oscorp skyscraper, each with its key and memorable moments.

Small details also help in this film’s success. It’s an origin story and the element missing in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man origin story was the lack of emotion when Tobey Macguire’s character acquired the Spider-Man skills. No fear, no questioning, no real excitement. He goes from an average teenager to a building jumping fanatic without much of an emotional transformation. Marc Webb’s depiction, however, embodies several shifts. From awe and confusion after accidentally attacking some beatniks on the subway to complete disarray when all his new powers creep up on him, to the excitement, acceptance, and acknowledgment of what he can do and the people he can help with his powers. The other small detail that I appreciated was that when Spider-Man gets hurt, he gets hurt, with a considerable part of character interaction revolving around the fact that Peter Parker is often bloodied and bruised. Also, when the Spider-Man suit gets torn, it stays torn, re-enforcing the illusion that he only has one costume.

Emma Stone also brings us a first for the franchise: a love interest that is both lovely and smart, complimenting Peter Parker much better than the blatant sex objects often spoon-fed to us. As Gwen Stacy, her unique humor and thoughtful eyes create a dynamic with Andrew Garfield unseen in previous “Spider-Man” films. Their chemistry is through the roof from their first conversation to their last interaction (which is one of the best moments of the entire movie). Their high school awkwardness and naivety play a massive part in their success as an on-screen couple, as does Gwen’s father, George Stacy (Dennis Leary), the police captain hunting SpiderMman. Also, the fact that Gwen becomes privy to Peter’s secret life early on is essential, as it negates any recycled storylines from past films or any other “secret life” love story. The best moments of the film are when these two are together on-screen.

The soundtrack played a massive part in my love for Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2,” so my expectations were high for “The Amazing Spider-Man” to rekindle that. Though it did not entirely live up to the second installment, it still had some genuinely great moments, including The Shins during the film’s opening, creating an immediate connection to the soundtrack. Also, the Coldplay song “Til Kingdom Come” paired with the scene of Peter discovering his newly acquired abilities remains my favorite moment of the entire film. Overall, the James Horner score complimented the film unnoticed, aside from some questionable moments during The Lizard and Gwen Stacy’s interaction towards the end of the film. However, I sorely missed Danny Elfman’s score.

In the age of dark superhero films like Christopher Nolan’s take on the Batman franchise, “The Amazing Spider-Man” holds up. It hits all the right marks with a deep, rich, and believable plot that rarely neglects the source material. The high school romance is the film’s highlight, with such lifelike representation and emotional resonance, the likes we haven’t felt since “Spider-Man 2,” without the repetitive hoopla recycled from every other romantic storyline. The fights are of high caliber, the costume breathes new life into the franchise, and the emotional connections throughout the story are so dark and tight-knit that you come out of the film fully invested. With two more films on the horizon, I am interested to see if the creators can keep this same momentum throughout the entire franchise.

July 3, 2012

Marc Webb

James Vanderbilt
Alvin Sargent
Steve Kloves

by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko

Sony Pictures
Columbia Pictures

(for sequences of action and violence)

136 minutes

John Schwartzman

James Horner

Alan Edward Bell
Pietro Scalia

Andrew Garfield
Emma Stone
Rhys Ifans
Denis Leary
Campbell Scott
Irrfan Khan
Martin Sheen
Sally Field

Laura Ziskin
Avi Arad
Matt Tolmach

$200–230 million

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