I was not excited for this movie; the trailers had left me underwhelmed and frankly I didn’t think the Spider-Man franchise should have been rebooted this quickly anyway. I had been more than eager for Avengers and my ticket for The Dark Knight Rises has been purchased in advance but my attendance of The Amazing Spider-Man was motivated more by my duty as a reviewer (and a desperate need for air conditioning) than genuine fan-girl obsession. Which is why I was in for such a pleasantly surprising treat.
Now, Director Mark Webb’s take on our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man isn’t strictly speaking necessary but it’s quite enjoyable nonetheless, elevated by two wonderful young leads. Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) as Peter Parker and Emma Stone (Crazy Stupid Love) as Gwen Stacey are a couple in real life as well and have such chemistry on-screen that Amazing Spider-Man often feels more like an indie love story than a superhero action film. Not that there isn’t plenty of action as well, but it’s hardly Webb’s focal interest.
The film opens with the mysterious disappearance of Peter’s parents when he’s four years old and with Peter, now in his adolescence, snooping around his dad’s former workplace Oscorp where he meets his soon-to-be nemesis Dr. Connors (the delightful Rhys Ifans) aka the Lizard. Unlike Sam Raimi’s films which were loud and punchy and filled in with cartoon lines, the film’s look and feel here is darker and grittier. More grounded somehow.
Garfield’s Peter is the embodiment of a handsome geekster, but he’s also a frequently confused and angry kid. The downside to Spidey’s “gift” is made far more apparent here with an incredible sequence when his abilities first manifest on a subway with hilarious but dangerous results. Throughout the film he frequently has a bruised and bloody face and Garfield is more genuinely unnerving in one sequence on a high school basketball court than Tobey Maguire was in his entire “Peter Parker turns dark” storyline in Spider-Man 3. (Tobey Maguire while a perfect web-slinger in all other respects, tragically believed that flared nostrils sneering at the screen was the best way to act out a personality change brought on by an alien symbiote.)
The Lizard’s fight scenes seem more up close and personal, more raw than the Goblin’s exploding pumpkins ever did. Spider-Man’s visibly weaker than the Lizard in their fights and he’s never seemed more physically vulnerable than he has here. Indeed his own powers alone aren’t enough and at critical points he needs help from others; and in this movie it’s not just bad guys who get hurt.
No one ever actually says, “With great power comes great responsibility,” but it’s depicted. In fact, there’s no voiceover narration at all; in some sense it’s unneeded thanks to Garfield’s incredibly expressive face which may be why Webb has him out of the mask for so much of the film even when he’s being Spider-Man. (Arguably he’s out of the mask more than he should be.) But great as Garfield is, he comes close to being overshadowed by Emma Stone. Her Gwen Stacey is quite simply a revelation—gorgeous, sexy, brilliant, vibrant, stubborn, and utterly irresistible. She’s especially welcome after having to sit through three Spider-Man films that tried to convince us the sullen miscast Kirsten Dunst was Peter’s Great Love. They don’t have to work nearly so hard with Gwen; from the first moment we see her and Peter flirting in a lab, we’re sold. We want more, and both the movie’s ending, and after-credits tease promise us exactly that.