A New Approach To An Old Tale
Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando
Was it really time for a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise? The answer depends entirely upon your enjoyment of The Amazing Spider-Man, director Marc Webb's take on the web-slinging superhero. If, like me, you had a good time with the film, the answer will be a resounding, "YES!"
It's been five years since the release of Spider-Man 3, the last film of the Sam Raimi-helmed trilogy, and the sting from that film made me skeptical about any other attempt at another Spider-Man story. Thankfully, Webb has managed put his own unique spin on the character of Peter Parker (this time played by Andrew Garfield) by making him more of a brooding loaner, focusing more on his relationship to his family and to his high-school crush, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and worrying less about action scenes. This is about what it's like to be a high school student full of emotion and confusion, in addition to becoming a superhero. It's much more of a serious take on the character than we're used to, which, especially given what Christopher Nolan has done to the Batman franchise, is an approach that I'm liking more and more.
This time around it's revealed in the film's opening sequence that Peter has been living with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) since his parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz, who appear briefly) abandoned him under mysterious circumstances. This leaves Peter feeling alone, angry, and quite depressed despite his Aunt and Uncle doing the best they can to be there for him. When Peter discovers a picture of his father with Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), he sneaks in to Oscorp, the laboratory Connors works at and, as we all know, gets bitten by a radioactive spider.
The familiar aspects of the film have caused some critics to chastise it as being unnecessary, which I feel is unfair. Yes, Peter is bitten by the spider, but it takes a much longer time than one might expect for him to don the Spandex and mask. Instead, Webb focuses on how these powers would effect a normal teenage boy already full of emotion and who is just beginning to figure out his place in the world. In addition, Webb puts more emphasis on Peter's loss of having a father figure in his life. We all know that Uncle Ben will be killed before Peter becomes Spider-Man, but Peter also finds that kind of parental guidance in Dr. Connors, who eventually abandons him when he becomes The Lizard. Somewhat unexpectedly, when Gwen and Peter become more serious, Gwen's father and police captain, George Stacy (Denis Leary) becomes yet another father figure for Peter. Through these men it's illustrated that Peter is just a lost kid trying to find his way. It's those kinds of character elements that Webb brings to the table - ones which I feel were left out of the previous installments.
I identified with Peter's struggle for guidance, largely due to the fact that Martin Sheen and Denis Leary do so much with their supporting roles in the world Webb creates. Sheen and Garfield have great chemistry together, and Sheen is given more screen time, making his death that much more painful once it happens. Leary is an actor I've never really paid that much attention to, but one deserving of high praise in the film as he manages to make Captain Stacy a more believable, three-dimensional character instead of just another antagonist for Peter. He's a father who very much just wants to protect his daughter, but he's also someone who, despite having reservations about Peter, listens when he needs to and does the right thing.
The other standout performance comes from Ms. Stone, who (if you'll indulge me) can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. She brings something to the table no matter what film she's in. Here, I found her Gwen Stacy a better, more quirky and fun love interest than Kirsten Dunst's Mary-Jane in the previous films. She and Garfield really shine in their scenes together, and it's evident that Webb (who directed (500) Days of Summer) is quite good at showing a believable romantic relationship on screen.
Given everything that I love about the film, The Amazing Spider-Man is not without its problems. I don't think that Garfield is better than Tobey Maguire as Peter. I think they're both good and bring their own perspective to the character, but Garfield at times felt as though he was pushing the emotion a little too far, and his sarcasm in some of the scenes where he's roughing up the bad guys got old real fast. The film also (unfortunately) shifts the focus from Peter's home life after Uncle Ben dies to the creation of The Lizard, seemingly forgetting about Aunt May entirely.
While it is by no means a perfect movie, it ultimately won me over and I forgave it for its faults - mainly because of the work of the actors and the focus on the relationships in the film, specifically that of Peter and Gwen. Webb seems to know that he's not an action director and instead focuses on his strengths as a filmmaker. As a result he's made a film that is entertaining without loosing the emotional punch. I admire him for that and I admire this film just the same.