Review by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
Unnecessary is the word that’s dampened the hype around director Marc Webb’s reboot of Marvel's Spider-Man movie franchise, whose last installment was released merely five years ago. However, regardless of its lack of necessity in the American pop culture zeitgeist, The Amazing Spider-Man proves to be a fresh and satisfying addition to one’s holiday plans. That’s because this one, out of all the Marvel movies that have already hit theaters (e.g., The Avengers), feels the most accessible in a cinematic landscape populated by one-dimensional comic book heroes.
The film opens with what becomes a metaphor for, and the core of, the entire movie: a young Peter (Max Charles) searching for his parents (played by Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) during a game of hide-and-seek. While playing, Peter discovers that his father's office has been ransacked, forcing the Parkers to leave their son at Uncle Ben (played with a requisite preachy demeanor by Martin Sheen) and Aunt May's (a meek Sally Field) house for protection. It's the last time Peter would see his parents.
Fast forward to Peter at 17, the sense of abandon and trauma is still evident within him, and, after the discovery of his father’s briefcase containing secret Oscorp files, the would-be hero is more determined than ever to uncover the truth behind their disappearance.
In the script, credited to James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves, Peter Parker, as played by an oft-unnerved and disheveled Andrew Garfield, isn't the archetypal nerd with a side part and a jolly interest in science who can’t hold his own against the school bully. Unlike Tobey Maguire's version, he's full of angst (without toeing the line of Spider-Man 3's emo Spider-Man, thankfully), lonely (yet secure with his solitude), and naturally witty and brilliant. He has inherited his scientist father’s knack for biology, problem solving and experimentation. Not to mention, he’s got enough temerity pre-spider bite to stand up to the proverbial tough guy, Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka).
Yet, since the film takes roughly an hour or so developing Peter’s quite naturalistic real world, the comic book elements feel contrived. In other words, the villainous Lizard’s scenes become the perfect time for pee breaks. Overtly kind and essentially motiveless, Dr. Curt Connors, played too sympathetically by Rhys Ifans, isn’t the kind of sinister malefactor who can even pose a challenge to Spidey. In no way does it ever feel like Spider-Man won’t sling away to the next (potential) movie unscathed.
And then there’s the CGI. While the sweeping views of the city from Spider-Man’s eyes and the final battle make the small fortune paid for IMAX 3D worth it, the editors seemed to skip out on Film Editing 101 and forgot the most basic element: switching in Garfield’s mug onto his stuntman’s face during Peter Parker’s campy celebratory skateboard session. We’re pretty sure Andrew Garfield doesn’t have chubby cheeks.
Although the blockbuster elements of the movie ultimately feel like they are supplements to a timeless coming-of-age tale, in this case, it's not unwarranted. It’s no surprise that the gravitas of The Amazing Spider-Man lies in the humanistic relationships between the characters, given it comes from the director of (500) Days of Summer, Webb, a man who has mastered the subtleties in human interaction and can wield your heart in just the bat of an eyelash from his leading lady.
Thus, Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy is wildly magnetic. One can't watch her bright-eyed and gawky character fumble her words in the hallways of the fictional Midtown Science High School with an equally shy and endearing Parker without believing that the real-life romance between Stone and Garfield isn't a publicity ploy.
Hollywood politics aside, The Amazing Spider-Man does hit all the beats of director Sam Raimi’s original. But that familiarity doesn’t make for a boring blockbuster; instead, it functions as a kind of go-to pick-me-up on a bad day, like watching your favorite movie over and over again and being instantly refreshed every time.
Review by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)