The Amazing Spider-Man
Directed by Marc Webb
Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves; Based on a story by James Vanderbilt and the comics by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, and Sally Field
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence
Running Time of 136 Minutes
It’s easy enough to say that The Amazing Spider-Man is just the origin of Spider-Man all over again. Though I don’t subscribe to it, “been there, done that” is a legitimate complaint. Besides the shifts in tone and texture, though, what this film accomplishes is that at its best it is the origin of Peter Parker. Like a classic coming of age story, the film charts the growth of Peter Parker from a wiseacre, outcast teen into a man. Along the way, as he gains his powers and meets a beautiful, smart girl, he struggles to find his own identity. When the film closes, he knows who he is. He is a hero, and he fights for the well-being of his city. Though a bit on-the-nose, Peter’s high school English teacher notes that there is truly only one story told in literature, “Who am I?” That is exactly what this film is about. Who is Peter Parker?
As played by Andrew Garfield, Parker is a smart, slightly arrogant, and a little rebellious teenager. He’s an outcast seemingly by choice, not necessarily a “geek” but clearly someone who doesn’t fit in and likes being on the outside. Garfield is phenomenal in the role. He captures every aspect of Parker’s personality and charts his evolution beautifully. He is someone you can believe as being smarter than everyone else in the room, but also someone who’s not entirely comfortable in his own shoes. He’s a little neurotic, and Garfield’s work is fully fleshed out. He legitimately feels like he is Peter Parker, and it’s a joy to watch. As much as you believe him as the smart yet awkward teenager, you too believe him as the hero. Perhaps most remarkable, though, is his chemistry with Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey. Emma is also afforded the opportunity to create a rounded and personable character, but it is in the moments she shares with Andrew that they both really shine. They are sexy together, plain and simple. This is an element often lacking in superhero films and one this nails. The Amazing Spider-Man is kind of hot. Young love can be portrayed as incredibly cheesy or saccharine, but Andrew and Emma make it seem sweet and genuine.
Conflicted with the disappearance of his parents, Parker looks to his Uncle Ben (and later Aunt May) for guidance. I never thought about it before, but Peter constantly struggles with father figures and the loss of them. In this interpretation of the story not only is his missing father brought to the forefront, but the relationship he has with his Uncle Ben is nuanced and believable. Martin Sheen brings warmth and pathos to the role of Uncle Ben, and in his short screen time he gives a lived-in performance. When Peter tells Ben that he makes great dad, it hurts because we all know what’s coming, and when it does it’s handled with great impact. In these moments Garfield sells the humanity of Peter Parker. Even beyond this, both Dr. Curt Connors (who becomes the film’s admittedly problematic villain, The Lizard) and Captain Stacey (Gwen’s father, a nuanced Denis Leary) serve as de facto father figures for Peter until they each face their respective comeuppances. Peter may look up to these men at different times for the help any teenager would need, but he ends up having to look up only to himself. Though his motivation is initially vengeance, he learns to be more altruistic, and that is when he becomes a hero. Each of these moments in the film are marked with humanity and emotion, and that is clearly the hand of Marc Webb at play.
This is only Webb’s second feature film, but he crafts a film with attitude and a completely human tone. Sure, this is a superhero film and it has all of the outlandish elements that come along with that, but at its core the film bursts with humanity. Webb is no slouch in the technical department either as the action scenes are shot fluidly and the web swinging feels tangible and organic thanks to the use of practical effects and stunt men. Much of the film takes place at night, and this New York City looks terrific. Webb’s music selection and use of montage makes the film feel like a teenage film first, and a superhero film second. This is a nifty trick, and one I loved. James Horner’s score is playful and adds an epic feel when necessary. As a note, I viewed the film both in 2D and 3D. The film was shot using Red’s Epic cameras, and thus the 3D works fairly well. In particular the first-person web slinging scenes are thrilling. Still, unless you absolutely love 3D save your money and check out the 2D version.
There is a scene in the film’s final act that could have come off as a disaster (and I suppose some may say it is) that is full of hope and optimism. It ties in directly with a scene earlier in the film, and it shows what being a hero can mean to people and how that can help you down the line. It is a scene that I found incredibly emotionally satisfying, and that, I think, is the film’s ultimate coup. Amongst the wonderful characterizations, exciting action, and humanity, this is a superhero film that is filled with hard hitting emotion. Regardless of the film’s flaws, I love The Amazing Spider-Man’s Peter Parker, and I felt as he did. That’s no easy feat.