When I first heard they were rebooting the Spider Man franchise with Andrew Garfield in the lead role, I was puzzled. After all, the most recent Spider Man film was just in 2007. So was Garfield going to play Peter Parker’s. . .son? A distractingly young-looking version of the Tobey Maguire character? Or were the new filmmakers going to employ the same strategy as the upcoming Jeremy-Renner-headed Bourne film (“there was never just one”)?
Then I found out the dismaying truth: The Amazing Spider-Man is yet another origin story. A remake. In other words, they’re starting from the beginning again.
Now, this sort of thing isn’t completely unprecedented. Edward Norton famously attempted to improve upon Ang Lee’s moribund Hulk with his The Incredible Hulk just four years later (with mixed results, as it turned out). But everyone loved Sam Raimi’s Spidey! Sure, there’s a general consensus that Spider Man 1 and 2 were a lot better than the aggressively loopy 3, but still. . . all in all, a good time was had by all.
So why are they remaking this film now? To extort money from us, of course. Which, yes, I realize, is pretty much why Hollywood makes every film EVER. But this just seems like a an especially egregious shakedown, doesn’t it? It demonstrates a particular lack of creativity, a particular amount of indifference bordering on disdain for the viewer (throw Spider Man at em—the kids love Spider Man!). It irks.
That being said. . . how’s the film? Crud—pretty darn good.
Directed by Marc Webb, it splits the difference between the zippy comic book sensibility of Raimi’s Spider Man and the existential gloom of the popular Batman series. It has a good sense of humor (“You’ve found my weakness!” quips Spider Man to one would-be assailant. “Tiny knives!”) but an appropriate amount of reverence for the iconic character, too.
Rising star Andrew Garfield is a rather inspired choice to play Parker. He’s wiry enough to be believable as a bullied, science-nerd outcast, but limber and strong enough to be a credible spider who swings from cranes and crouches on rooftops. As an actor, he makes unusual decisions—laughs when you expect him to be serious, waits a few beats when you expect him to talk. You can’t take your eyes off him.
His chemistry with real life girlfriend Emma Stone is electric. She plays Gwen Stacy, the daughter of the police captain (Denis Leary) and a science geek herself. (For the record, Kirsten Dunst played Spidey’s other true love Mary Jane Watson. See it’s totally different, people!). As is the case with all Spider Man origin stories, Parker is an orphan living with his beloved Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). In this version, Peter’s dad was a famous geneticist, inspiring Peter’s own curiosity about science and a fateful encounter with his father’s former colleague Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). As in all versions, Uncle Ben gets killed, thus launching Peter’s vigilante/arachnid alter ego. (In a nod to realism, I guess, Peter isn’t bitten by a radioactive spider, but a genetically modified one).
And there you have it: A cool Spidey, with a good love story, well acted and well-paced. There’s at least one fabulous action scene—a daring rescue on the Williamsburg Bridge—and several moments of amusing Spidey snark. The film delivers, I suppose, whether we ordered it or not.