There's plenty to like about "The Amazing Spider-Man" - even if it's far from a groundbreaking entry in the Marvel superhero universe. With some nice small character touches and the expected state-of-the-art special effects, "The Amazing Spider-Man" is a major upgrade from the dreary, overwrought Tobey Maguire franchise, which started convincing enough but imploded when trying to go darker and more complex. This time around, the filmmakers have found the right actor to play Spidey in Andrew Garfield, helping to overcome a clumsy opening that could have sunk a lesser movie.
By now, the story of Peter Parker/Spider-Man isn't anything new, and director Marc Webb and a team of writers don't exactly attempt to reinvent the wheel. As in the past, Parker is likable and bright, though too tongue-tied and awkward to fit into normal high school life. His life is insignificant - just another science nerd barely noticed by anyone. As he lopes around his high school, the only thing keeping him from being completely irrelevant is the camera he keeps strapped to his side at all times. At one point, he thinks he's being hit on by a cute girl, only to find out that she just wants him to take photos of her boyfriend's new car.
Not helping Peter is that he's always in the vision of the school bully, a jock named Flash (Chris Zylka) who lives to make weaker people do things for his own personal pleasure. In other words, he's like just about every other school bully who has ever appeared on screen. Flash is dropped into the screenplay as if he's taken straight from the Cobra-Kai dojo in "The Karate Kid," giving Peter the perfect target for later.
The only people who Peter can truly count on are his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), Peter's adopted parents. Though Peter's real parents left him suddenly when he was a child, May and Ben picked up the slack and have lovingly raised Peter as one of their own. As expected, Field is a good match as the worried and slightly overbearing May, a woman too nice to actually get angry at Peter even when he screws up big-time. Then there's Sheen, who is so used to playing the kind, blue collar father figure that he can do it in his sleep. This time around, it doesn't go much better than it did for him with his real life son in "Wall Street," but he still represents the heart of the film with ease, giving Peter the moral upbringing needed to make him a hero.
Too timid to talk to his crush, Gwen (Emma Stone), and too down beaten to fight back, Peter is in need of a spark to break him out of his rut. In a stroke of luck, Peter ends up stumbling upon his father's briefcase, a dusty old fossil assumed to be lost in the shuffle over the years. With a little help from a few photos and some easy internet research, Peter soon finds himself looking for the truth about his father, a renowned scientist who was working on a classified project before he vanished. After Peter tracks down his father's old partner, Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans), he accidentally tinkers with a top secret laboratory in an incident that will change his life forever. Dr. Connors seems amiable enough, but he's just a little bit too icy to be a good guy.
But the nice thing about "The Amazing Spider-Man" is that it doesn't launch head-over-heels into the action. Everyone knows those parts are coming. Instead, Webb takes his time in showing us an awkward and growing relationship between Peter and Gwen, which seems so much more authentic than the romantic angle in the Tobey Maguire/Sam Raimi trilogy. When Peter ditches Gwen to run off and play with his budding superpowers, we can sympathize with a teenage boy getting pulled in a million different directions at once.
Despite the shamefully cookie-cutter bully angle, "The Amazing Spider-Man" goes out of its way to find quiet moments based on real human observation - a touch not always seen in big-budget action flicks. Instead of the usual cute dialog when Peter tries to ask Gwen out, we get a mess of words and missteps from both characters that reminds us how young and inexperienced they actually are. Teenagers in superhero movies usually talk like a quarterback picking up Kelly Kapowski. Peter and Gwen can hardly find any words at all in the beginning of "The Amazing Spider-Man."
If there is a major issue with "The Amazing Spider-Man" it's that everything happens a little too easily. When Peter tries to sneak into a restricted science lab, he does it in the middle of the day without breaking a sweat. As a dangerous toxin is threatening to spread throughout New York City, a few quick lines of dialog later and there is an antidote on its way. We also end up with another case of movie science, a syndrome that uses a touch of science to lend authenticity but not enough for the audience to get side-tracked. Science doesn't have to be realistic on the big screen, but it does have to show us something original. In "The Amazing Spider-Man," the scientific world has been recycled from countless other action movies.
But one doesn't need to look too closely at some of the blemishes. "The Amazing Spider-Man" is a warm, well-acted movie that has a few neat tricks and a compelling story arc that should lead nicely to other chapters. Though it doesn't boldly strike out on its own like Christopher Nolan's popular "Batman" trilogy has done, "The Amazing Spider-Man" is an entertaining jaunt into a familiar story. Now we'll see if the filmmakers can stay clear of the some of the pitfalls that devoured the last "Spider-Man" franchise.
by RTT Staff Writer
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