The Fourth of July day off is upon us, people, so what better way to celebrate the holiday than in the company of one of America’s favorites, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, who gets a reboot of the first order thanks to (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb’s soaring The Amazing Spider-Man.
My, why take Spidey back to the start, Hollywood, so soon after Sam Raimi dazzled with a fine trilogy that was, for the most part, decidedly successful?
Well, because money talks, and because we can all agree Spider-Man 3 had a messtastic quality to it. Sure, the conclusion to the original trilogy starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst was enjoyable – but it also was a bit much. And it left many wondering if, perhaps, the webslinger needed to take a break from leaping around Manhattan and breathe...hang out with his gf and his Aunt May.
Not that audiences, including yours truly, wouldn’t have fully embraced a fourthquel, but after Raimi walked away from the franchise, the powers that be figured that re-exploring the reluctant superhero’s origin and motivation was the way go.
The first order of business was to crack a working script that would differentiate Webb’s movie from the first Maguire-starring entry enough for people not to feel like they were just being bamboozled into spending their hard-earned money on like, a déjà vu.
Check! The Amazing Spider-Man is just as much origin story (if not more of a love story) as Raimi’s first blockbuster. By focusing on the untold story of Peter Parker’s past it is obvious that this retelling has a Nolan-esque vision for what is to come in an inevitable, sure-to-be-anticipated sequel (the mysteries surrounding why Embeth Davidtz’s Mary and Campbell Scott’s Richard Parker, a scientist at Oscorp Industries, left him in a huff and in the care of his loving Uncle Ben and Aunt May – played with plenty of parental warmth by Martin Sheen and Sally Field – are left casually unsolved; an ominous someone is introduced in shadows after an initial batch of credits roll).
It’s definitely a darker take on familiar material, but this being Spider-Man we don’t get taken into Batman-reboot territory. There’s enough color and humor and upbeat (“Crotch!” is my new catchphrase) in this one for days, but there’s also a commitment to be true to a premise that will give us a different perspective on a legend.
The movie also features a key difference: there’s no Mary Jane Watson. Instead, the movie zeroes in on Peter’s first-love romance with the lovely Gwen Stacy – a bold choice given M.J.’s popularity.
Clearly, next up was casting. It was essential that a new pair of real-life-baggage-free leads be found that would make us forget anyone who came before ’em...actors that’d be charming and easy to like and root for as soon as we saw them.
Check, check! Social Network breakout Andrew Garfield and Everygirl Emma Stone earned their roles as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy surely in no small measure to the embarrassment of riches they display when it comes to their on-screen chemistry, and for the respective pathos and spunk they bring to the parts. Together, the two are electric.
Finally, the villain had to be compelling and intriguing. As Dr. Curt Connors, Rhys Ifans brings a combination of menace and vulnerability that is fairly typical of a Spidey movie. He is a bad guy because of science gone awry – an unwitting pawn in a chess game ’tween evolution of happenstance that, unlike Peter, has had him draw the short end of the look-what-I-came-into-with stick. That’s why he transforms into the big bad Lizard, a destructive force that threatens all of New York.
Connors, also an Oscorp scientist (btw), wants to make the world better, rid it of weakness, and find a way to make himself whole again (he lost his right arm in an incident a long, long time ago). But he’s a twofold kind of pawn, for he is also working on a top secret project for a oft-mentioned-never-seen major character of the Spider-Man world. Mmm...I wonder how Richard Parker ever fit in this puzzle....
The Amazing Spider-Man is, well...amazing because of its honesty and its humanity. Garfield’s Peter is very much a teenager – insecure (his abandonment issues have turned him into a target of bullying), playful and eager when it comes to love, and arrogant and reckless about his newfound sense of duty, which initially he confuses as carte blanche to turn into a bit of a rationalized vigilante – and that is why the actor shines in the part.
Webb and his writers have given their players, especially Garfield and Stone (who is a damsel, alright, but never in distress), plenty of real-life stakes from which to mine, and, as a result, they’ve gotten to tell a grounded, full-of-emotion story rather than a one-dimensional comic-y one.
It’s a rare occurrence that such a sweet, thrilling feat takes place, so be sure to pay your respects this long weekend. American superhero stories don’t get better than that, indeed.