Moody “Spider-Man” reboot offers a more melodramatic take on the origin story
Spider-Man has always been a kid at heart.
Blessed with honor-student smarts and the loose-limbed grace of a track star, Spider-Man — aka Peter Parker, high school student — is energetic, exuberant and infinitely approachable. Imagine Jimmy Olsen without the freckles, say, or Robin sans cape.
Every thing about the comic book character seems to gasp “Gee whiz!”
Sam Raimi’s affable, affectionate “Spider-Man” trilogy seemed to grasp that fact. (Even the much-maligned third chapter, which found our favorite web-head facing off against Venom, contained enough goofy humor to keep the mood relatively light.) Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-Man,” on the other hand, is more interested in delving into Spidey’s dark side — with fascinating but occasionally flawed results.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” establishes its grim tone early on, showing Peter Parker’s panicked parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) leaving their young son in the care of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Fields).
Peter (Andrew Garfield) grows up nerdy and painfully shy, a social outcast tormented by bullies and ignored by girls. More than anything, he wants to know why his parents disappeared.
Peter’s quest for answers leads him to his dad’s old research partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who hopes to use lizard DNA to regrow damaged limbs. As Peter snoops around Oscorp — the same place where his crush, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), happens to work — he’s bitten by a genetically modified spider.
Suddenly, this wimpy zero is a certified superhero, armed with superhuman strength, enhanced senses and the ability to scale walls. (His powers, unfortunately, don’t extend to stopping bullets.) When the death of a loved one sends him in search of revenge, Peter must struggle to balance civilian life with his new identity as a costumed crime-fighter.
A somewhat messy melodrama, “The Amazing Spider-Man” builds on the already rich foundation established by Sam Raimi and his “Spider-Man” star, Tobey Maguire, a decade ago.
What sets this “Spider-Man” apart from its predecessors is spectacular visual effects — some of the best in franchise history — and superior acting.
Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”) may be pushing 30, but he’s completely convincing as a teenage loner — a twitchy mixture of awkwardness, angst and youthful aggression. (Maguire’s default expression, in contrast, was wide-eyed, gaped-mouth wonder.) Whether coping with loss or the first stirrings of young love, Garfield’s tight smile and shining eyes speak volumes.
(I should mention that the lithe, wiry actor also fills out a Spandex suit quite nicely.)
Emma Stone brings her usual sparkle to Peter’s smart, sassy love interest. (Seriously, the big-eyed, button-nosed blonde was born to make screwball comedies.) Rhys Ifans is equally strong as the tormented Curt Connors, equal parts well-meaning man and monster.
There are so many fine actors in this film, in fact, that some of them inevitably get short shrift.
Martin Sheen has some beautiful moments as Peter’s loving uncle, but is forced to leave halfway through the film. Denis Leary, meanwhile, seems strangled by the straight-laced demeanor of Gwen’s disapproving dad, police Captain George Stacy.
Although director Mark Webb (“(500) Days of Summer”) successfully captures Spider-Man’s emotional side, he has more difficulty replicating the pure physical joy of the character.
Sure, there are a few carefree shots of Spidey swinging through the streets of New York City. (The scene in which Peter tests his new powers by practicing skateboard tricks is sheer fun.) But the film’s many fight sequences seemed rushed and unevenly edited, and the action rarely reaches the jubilant heights of Raimi’s first two “Spider-Man” films.
Plus, poor plot development leaves many questions posed early in the film unanswered by the end.
Despite those flaws, “The Amazing Spider-Man” represents an interesting new direction for one of Marvel’s most lovable comic-book characterst. I’ll be curious to see how the storyline plays out the course of an upcoming trilogy.
No related posts.