Cinema’s latest Peter Parker is talented and good-looking, courtesy of The Amazing Spider-Man. The film attempts to relaunch the arachnid superhero franchise from scratch. Despite being an origin story that everybody knows, director Marc Webb and his cast manage to make it fresh.
The Amazing Spider-Man in a Nutshell
This time around the origin of New York’s favorite neighborhood webslinger is intertwined with that of the Lizard, one of the most well-known and despised villains in comics. Doctor Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), an amputee just like Cervantes, looks desperately for a way to combine human DNA with that of certain animals to recover his lost arm with the regenerative power of reptiles. Then Richard Parker (Campbell Scott), Peter’s father and Connors’ Oscorp lab partner, mysteriously disappears along with his wife before he can help Connors.
Peter’s uncles Ben (Martin Sheen) and May (Sally Field) raise him. Years later, the orphan visits Oscorp in search of answers, gets bitten by a genetically-altered spider, and if you still don’t know how this story goes, visit Wikipedia. The film has fun with how a “loser” suddenly develops incredible abilities, yet cannot avoid messing up despite his best intentions. He even accidentally reveals his identity to someone in a scene worthy of Bart Simpson. The message is clear: Peter may be amazing, but not infallible, which makes us worry about his well-being.
Taking a Gamble
The Amazing Spider-Man was a calculated risk for Sony Pictures. The challenge they faced was how to counteract the ill will brought forth by Spider-Man 3 (director Sam Raimi’s closing chapter of his spider-trilogy), but on a lower budget and while attracting a larger female audience.
So they bet on Webb, who directed (500) Days of Summer, one of the most entertaining and visually interesting romantic comedies of late. Webb, on the other hand, gambled on the talent, looks and innocent sex appeal of his two stars, Andrew Garfield (Never Let Me Go, The Social Network) and Emma Stone (Crazy Stupid Love, The Help). The decision was spot-on. Garfield and Stone, both in their twenties, can channel the awkwardness and impulses of adolescence. Their on-screen chemistry is strong and apparently real, since for a while they one of the hottest young couples. You can almost forgive how quickly their relationship develops in the movie.
Your Relationship Is Moving Too Fast
Which brings me to a very peculiar detail in The Amazing Spider-Man, which I find both a virtue and a defect: its plot goes by extremely rapidly until the last 10 minutes. I don’t mean high speed images, hyper-kinetic camerawork or frenetic editing. Rather, it’s that so many story beats occur in such a short time that it becomes difficult to process them. It feels as if the whole plot takes place in a single week. This is good in terms of superhero’s origin, which we know already. However, it makes it a bit difficult to get emotionally attached to the characters.
To communicate so much information in such a short time, Webb alludes to other famous superhero movies. Everything from Richard Donner’s Superman (and its romantic cloud scene) to Raimi’s first Spider-Man. (Sheen, quite good as Uncle Ben, finds a way to say his signature phrase – “With great power comes great responsibility” – without having to repeat it for the umpteenth time.) Even the creation of the suit and the reason behind it, a point seldom touched upon in previous versions, is handled quickly and acceptably.
The narrative pace of The Amazing Spider-Man, fast as it may come across, is never confusing. Which is good, but it makes it so disappointing that after the climax, the film decides to take like seven long minutes to reach its conclusion (and I don’t mean the now regulatory hidden ending all Marvel releases now carry, including this one).
In short, The Amazing Spider-Man has its small flaws, but it is a good reboot of the franchise. Whether we needed a franchise reboot so soon is debatable. Still, I look forward to its sequels, as well as to see the role pass down from actor to actor a la Batman and James Bond, each one bringing something new to it. I can even imagine the future fan arguments about who is their favorite Spidey.