We miss Kirsten Dunst, but everything else is good about Spidey. The Amazing Spider-Man has a more thoughtful and self-assured hero, a screenplay that not only courts the kids but also the sci-fi intellectuals, and a new director with visual aplomb. Andrew Garfield invests as much gravitas to Peter Parker as he did for Eduardo Saverin, he treats the material not like a fantasy movie world but as if it were the real world. The same goes for how talented director Mark Webb (“500 Days of Summer”) grapples this material, just like Christopher Nolan has reshaped the Batman series by treating it as meta-realism. Emma Stone, as the girlfriend and first fan of Spidey, is good but not special. Denis Leary is her righteous police captain dad who wants Spidey thrown in jail.
Yes, there is humor in this reboot but it’s all percolated out of natural human response, the jokes nary tongue-in-cheek nor cartoonish. I don’t know how Spiderman is able to withstand New York cops firing their pistols at him and take it in stride – I would want to snatch their guns and beat the hell of them. Spiderman is a better person than me, I guess.
Prior to superhero transformation, Peter is a high school student who broods over the desertion of his parents years ago. He finds connections between his father’s science research and his disappearance. His surrogate parents, Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), fret over Peter’s anxious behavior. Although many of the early scenes spend time with them, the movie never gives satisfying weight to Ben and May because the movie is long, and traversed in theme, and can’t possibly cover everything without making this into a three hour movie.
That said, the volume of content is condensed very well. Peter gets unwanted spider powers after snooping around a tech lab, and for this freak accident he is naturally concerned, but embraces his gift. Unfortunately, the genetic mutation formula gets out of hand with head scientist Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans), once the colleague of Peter’s father, who regenerates an arm, only then generates into a Lizard that attacks the entire city. Even as a Lizard (right out of “Godzilla” lore), he still has a menacing mind – this villain has the Nietzschean desire to transform the population into a superior species via mass-distributed serum.
All this description is added bonus to what is in all, a blockbuster that jolts you with giddy excitement. We come to a Spiderman movie for the swinging, the whooshing, the vertiginous free-falling, the last second grabs, the spidey-martial-arts moves, and the ass-kicking. And all of it is done with a particular verisimilitude as if it really were logically happening.
We’re grateful the franchise is done with the unremittingly whiny, self-doubting Tobey Maguire, and that replacement Garfield treats this superhero character like it were Oscar material. Now if only they found a second girl to threaten Gwen Stacy’s status as girlfriend and a villain that isn’t such a CGI conception, for the sequel.
Note: Do not walk out too early when the credits run. Await a teaser scene that supposedly sets up the next sequel.
138 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
ACTION & ADVENTURE / SUPERHERO FLICK / WEEKEND DINNER AND FAMILY MOVIE
Film Cousins: “Spiderman” (2002); “Spiderman 2” (2004); “Spiderman 3” (2007).
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