It was 2007 when we last saw Spider-Man on the big screen in the underwhelming and over-blown “Spider-Man 3”. While nowhere near as good as the first two films, “Spider-Man 3” still earned close to $900 million at the box office. In light of that, plans for “Spider-Man 4” immediately took off. But the movie had several problems including creative differences between director Sam Raimi and Sony Pictures which resulted in his departure from the project. The decision was made to scrap “Spider-Man 4” and instead opt for a complete reboot of the popular Marvel Comics franchise. That meant good-bye to Tobey Maguire and hello to Andrew Garfield.
So that brings us to “The Amazing Spider-Man”. Marc Webb takes over the directing duties with James Vanderbilt handling the writing. Vanderbilt goes heavy into the origin of Spider-Man, this time with some new twists but also with the same basic premise. The film starts with Peter Parker’s (Garfield) parents being spooked after their home study is ransacked. In the study, Peter’s father retrieves some secret documents from their hiding place – obviously what the intruders were searching for – then along with Peter’s mother drops Peter off with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) before hurriedly leaving.
We then skip ahead several years. Peter is the quiet, nerdy teen interested in science, photography, and a beautiful fellow student named Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Peter finds out that his father had ties to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), an accomplished scientist working for Oscorp. Connors lost his right arm some time ago and thinks he’s found a solution to his handicap through his cross-species regeneration experiments. After slipping into Connors’ Oscorp lab, Peter begins snooping around and comes across an experiment involving – what else – genetically altered spiders. You know the story – he’s bit which leads to new powers and new responsibilities. Meanwhile events unfold that cause Connors to prematurely try out his regeneration formula on himself and, as I’m sure you guessed, it goes terribly wrong. It transforms him into a super strong, destructive, reptilian creature and Peter, now known as Spider-Man, is the only one who can stop him.
As I mentioned above, the movie spends a lot of time retelling the origin of Spider-Man. It’s certainly not a carbon copy of Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man picture, in fact it seems to go to great lengths to distant itself from the original three movies. Several key parts of the origin differ greatly not only from the previous films but from the comic book source material as well. But originality isn’t a bad thing as long as the source material is respected and it certainly is here. But the film’s biggest problem is also tied into the decision to go heavy into the origin. While it is well written and stands strong on its own, I never could get over the feeling that it was just too soon for a reboot. Even with the fresh approach it still felt too familiar and at about the 1 hour 15 minute mark I was really ready for the story to move on.
But there are some things that “The Amazing Spider-Man” does better than the previous films. On thing is the relationship between Peter and Gwen. I really responded to their complicated romance and it felt more genuine and real than the Peter/Mary Jane relationship in the first movies ever did. Here it felt authentic and I bought into their emotions and affections. I also think more attention was given to fleshing it out whereas Peter and M.J. from the first films were built around a very simple blueprint and they stuck closely to it.
I also think Andrew Garfield was fantastic and his performance was head and shoulders above Tobey Maguire’s. He played the nerdy, reserved introvert very well and even after he gains his powers, Garfield never overplays his character. He throws out just enough witty banter with the criminals he’s putting away and I never doubted the genuineness of his scenes that required more raw emotion. A lot of that is due to Garfield but a lot is also due to how well Vanderbilt handles the character in his writing. I was also a big fan of Emma Stone’s performance. She’s grounded and believable and she sells her character very well. Sally Field and Martin Sheen are serviceable as Aunt May and Uncle Ben and Denis Leary makes for a pretty decent Captain Stacy, Gwen’s father. But the real stars are Garfield and Stone.
The special effects are quite good particularly during the huge, action-packed finale. The spider-influenced fight choreography is a lot of fun and there are several cool tricks used to give Spider-Man’s New York City swinging a different look than in the previous movies. As far as the Lizard goes, he’s a little of a mixed bag. There are times, especially during the fight sequences, when he looks very good. I also remember a specific scene where the Lizard looks awesome as he was walking around in a ripped Connors lab coat. But there are also a few scenes where the CGI was very noticeable and regardless of the attempts at motion capture, it still looked a little unrealistic. But as a whole the visuals are very good. They’re not overused and for the most part they capture exactly what you would want from a Spider-Man picture.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” can’t quite escape the fact that it just feels too soon to be offering up a rebooted Spider-Man series. In light of that, the first half of the film can drag and it seems a little wasted. The movie definitely creates its own unique beginning but the thrust of the origin is nothing all that new. That aside, Garfield is a big improvement as Spider-Man and his character is one I can really invest in. Now with the origin out of the way, I’m anxious to see where the series goes next. If they’re able to keep their components in place and avoid the trappings of “Spider-Man 3”, we could be in for a real treat.