Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Run Time: 2 hours 16 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Dennis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan
Directed by Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer)
Opens locally Friday, June 29th, 2012
Perhaps the biggest hurdle facing this newest take on the popular Marvel comic book hero is simply, why? It is not very common that films are completely re-imagined – as this one is – just 10 years removed from its first incarnation, with the most recent chapter coming just five years ago.
But it is OK in this case, as any fan of comic books can tell you: Re-launching a character or an entire series is pretty commonplace in the comic book world. Most characters that have been around for decades, as Spider-Man has, have a nearly incomprehensible history of convoluted and inconsistent continuity. It is not uncommon, for example, for a character to get a new writer and a new artist every few years, and have the new creative team simply re-write the entire back-story, or even the character's entire universe, as they see fit.
That brings us to The Amazing Spider-Man, whose title is lifted from one of Spider-Man’s ongoing comic book series. This version is once again an origin story, and a familiar one – Peter Parker, the nerdy teenager, is bitten by a radioactive spider and takes on many qualities of a spider, such as being able to cling to walls and shoot webs from under his palms (although even this talent stays true to the comic book origins). He also must once again learn the Spider-Man mantra that "with great power comes great responsibility." However, this new take on the classic hero pulls a few different strands from Spider-Man’s comic book DNA, making it at once familiar and unpredictable.
In this version, forget about Mary Jane Watson, portrayed by Kirsten Dunst in the original. Comic book nerds like me will be happy to see that this story focuses on the relationship between Peter Parker and his original comic book love interest, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). To reveal her role in Peter Parker's back story would be to potentially spoil the direction of this new Spider-Man franchise, and don't be fooled - there will definitely be more Spider-Man's following this film.
The villain this time around is The Lizard, or actually his alter-ego, Dr. Curt Connors. Connors lost a limb and has dedicated his life to genetic research. He believes that humans can one day take attributes from other species in the animal kingdom, like say, how some lizards can regenerate limbs. As with most mad scientists, his discoveries lead to unexpected results.
Peter Parker as portrayed by Andrew Garfield is much darker than Toby Maguire's incarnation of the character. He is less a nerd and more a loner, which is a departure from the comic book and the first series of films. Parker's origin is quite familiar, and we know that he lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May, given a serious acting upgrade with Martin Sheen and Sally Field in the roles, respectively. Setting up future sequels, we also learn much more about why Peter lives with his aunt and uncle, and what may have happened to his parents. This subplot gives us a much deeper appreciation for why Peter Parker is motivated to fight crime.
10 years-worth of special effects improvements puts this Spider-Man leaps and bounds ahead of the first film. The Amazing Spider-Man visually lives up to its name, and is well worth the extra bucks to see it in 3D.
Although many may be weary to mention a comic book film as a potential award-winner, Andrew Garfield's performance cannot be overlooked. He gives one of 2012's best performances and carries the entire film, giving it a depth missing from the earlier films. Where the first Spider-Man was fun and light, this version is brooding and dark, and therefore Garfield has much more to portray than just a web-slinging super-hero. He was an unlikely choice to play Peter Parker, but he makes the character his own.
Don't try to look too closely at the plot once it moves past the origin story, as there are more holes in it than a spider web. This is of course a Marvel Comics film, so be on the look-out for Stan Lee's cameo as well - the creator of Spider-Man has appeared in every single Marvel film, and his cameo here is among his most memorable.
As we've all been trained by now, also be sure to stay past the end credits for a very interesting scene that should have the web (pun intended) buzzing with anticipation for part two...if that familiar voice is who I think it is, rabid fanboys everywhere will be worked into a frenzy.
Keen observers will also hear mention of a Dr. Norman Osborn throughout the film - who was portrayed by William Dafoe in the original and who is the character that becomes the Green Goblin. Osborn is not seen in this film (or is he?), but he has famous connections to Gwen Stacy in the comic books...a plot that is sure to play out.
The Amazing Spider-Man isn't the best comic book film ever - or even of 2012 - but it is a better and a more grounded-in-reality version of Spider-Man than the original. I for one, am suddenly eager for the sequel.
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