Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

No way.  That was my initial reaction when I first heard that ‘Spider-Man’ would be rebooted shortly after the end of Sam Raimi’s trilogy.  And without Tobey Maguire, I was almost ready to jump ship.  But that was before I saw Andrew Garfield’s amazing performance on “The Social Network.”  I instantly recognized that the filmmakers had found their guy.  After Maguire’s departure, I wasn’t sure if they could find the right ‘average Joe’ and be Spider-Man.  They did.

Spider-Man is probably the most relatable superhero out there.  An everyday man with everyday personal and family struggles.  But after Raimi’s trilogy ended just several years ago, the biggest challenge would be to keep it fresh.  Thankfully, it’s evident from last year’s presentation at Comic-Con that Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” would be worth watching.

Raimi’s version was remarkable by all accounts, but it’s refreshing to see Webb’s as well.  Many of us are familiar with Peter Parker’s story.  In this version, Webb goes back in time.  Peter Parker is a high school student and budding photographer with a knack for science.  He’s falling in love for the first time with a smart girl, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a fellow student scientist.  His parents are shown in the beginning of the story, particularly his father.  The hidden briefcase that he left connects Peter to his father’s former colleague, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), and unwittingly creates his alter-ego, the Lizard.  This origin story also demonstrates how Peter gets the idea to create the Spider-Man mask and costume.

Garfield truly makes the film.  Maguire may be more believable as an outcast teenager, but Garfield is much more believable as Spider-Man with his tall and lean frame, and more interesting and endearing overall as a character.  He’s able to balance the dual-role of being a nerdy, angst-filled teenager with wry humor and soars as a capable superhero. Peter’s struggles with the abandonment issue from his childhood because his parents mysteriously left him to live with his uncle and aunt (Uncle Ben, Martin Sheen; Aunt May, Sally Field), his sense of loss and guilt over the death of his uncle due to a twist of fate one night, and natural transition into Spider-Man are transparent but not overdone.  His relationship with his aunt is very poignant. There’s also the mischievous side of Peter here, and Garfield is able to pull out the jokester out of him.  He nails both Spider-Man and more well-rounded Peter Parker with effortless charm.

Something must be said about the chemistry between Garfield and Stone (now a couple in real life).  The connection between them is real, instant and immediate.  The exchange in the hallway scene is absolutely adorable.  And Stone, alone, as Gwen, is a compelling character compared to Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane.  She’s smart, sassy, assured and brave.  Her relationship with Peter as a vigilante puts him in a crosshair with her father, the police chief (Denis Leary).

The Lizard as the villain is downright terrifying.  Nonetheless, he’s more than a one-dimensional beast.  As Dr. Connors, he is a good person.  Even when he knows what cross-species genetics could do and the possibility of re-growing his missing limb, he steadfastly refuses to do human trial when he feels that the serum is not ready.  Only when pushed to the corner by a shady corporation he takes it upon himself and injects his own arm, with unexpected side effects.

The two big action sequences over the bridge and going up to the top of the tower makes up the ‘amazing’ in “The Amazing Spider-Man.”  The first involving a hanging, burning car with a child inside is singularly memorable, not only because of the suspense, but also because it serves as turning point for Peter Parker.  Up to that point, Peter is lost, in a way that he’s blindly hunting for criminals that resemble his uncle’s shooter.  This is when he realizes that he has the power to help people.  The second stretch leading up to the climax is a race against time to save humankind from a threatening biological agent.  And all is not well; the ending still leaves a tragic consequence.

The story is not without holes.  The obvious one is how Peter Parker is able to get in to Oscorp Industries in the first place as an “intern.”  And how he turns into the sole Spider-Man through a single bite in a room full of genetically engineered spiders without the possibility of repeated incidents.

Overall, Webb surpasses the expectations of keeping the story fresh.  What’s unique about this version is that Spider-Man’s identity is revealed sooner, at least to a select few, and in the final battle, he really owes his success to a network of ordinary people. Although the tone of the film is darker, and the first part is almost joyless, even as Peter Parker discovers his newfound super-reflexes and strength, he excels in the relationships department.  Furthermore, the advance of technology is put into dazzling use.  This Spider-Man takes you swinging through the glimmering skyscrapers of New York City from the web slinger’s viewpoint.  This is the kind of exhilaration worth paying 3-D price for.

Welcome back, Spider-Man!

Copyright (c) 2012. Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a business manager, foreign language translator, lifestyle/travel writer and film columnist. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com. Nathalia owns a movies blog, The MovieMaven (http://sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: http://twitter.com/the_moviemaven

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