After only five years since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise imploded is a reboot of the webbed superhero really necessary? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun ride anyway.
Hot off the hipster hit (500) Days of Summer, it was slightly disappointing to hear promising new director Marc Webb was snatched up by the Hollywood system to hopefully make everyone forget what a train wreck Spider-Man 3 was and to give the franchise a fresh start. Since Christopher Nolan’s Batman series is technically a reboot — the two original films were by Tim Burton — and are possibly not only the best Batman films but also the best films of the new millennium superhero era, rebooting shouldn’t be totally frowned upon. However, Burton’s Batman Returns was in 1992 and by the time of Batman & Robin came out in 1997 not many were paying attention anyway.
But beginning again so soon seemed, and still seems, like a cash grab rather that a new creative vision for the character. And if there’s one drawback for Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man it’s that it doesn’t feel new or particularly exciting. That’s not to say it’s never exciting, because to be quite honest it is at times, but, as they say, it’s all been done before. Maybe this pervades more than it should because it’s another origin story. Sure there are some differences, like his web being an invention rather than biological, or introducing Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone but also Bryce Dallas Howard from the best forgotten Spider-Man 3) as the love interest rather than Mary Jane. But the overall gist is essentially the same. Peter Parker still gets bit by a spider, creates a suit in his bedroom and learns how to harness his new found power to (SPOILER ALERT) find the man who murdered his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen).
Because the basics of his origin story aren’t radically different from the original Spider-Man it doesn’t come off as immediate as it could, and possibly should. For all the griping of an unneeded reboot, however, Webb really does put his stamp on it just enough to make it feel warranted, even if it isn’t in theory. What it proves, if anything, is that (500) Days of Summer wasn’t a fluke, nor was it just floated by a clever script. Webb has talent, plain and simple. Not only does he have a great eye for interesting shots, the film, for the most part, flows fluidly. It feels connected and moves organically, without much feeling forced. While Webb deserves a lot of the acclaim for making the film work, the on-screen talent is also uniformly excellent. Especially, the new Peter Parker — Andrew Garfield.
Tobey Maguire’s Parker/Spider-Man was impeccable but Garfield infuses Parker with a bit more spark than Maguire had. Instead of an inherent melancholy, Garfield has a distant longing but also some shreds of self-confidence. Of course he’s speechless around Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, daughter of Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), but even their banter is fresh. Like Garfield, she has a bit more spunk and is a more assertive woman overall. She pushes things forward when Parker can’t summon up his courage. They work well together and grow throughout the film, with their relationship slowly forming. Martin Sheen and Sally Field also fit right in as Parker’s Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Sheen adds more flair as the tough but supremely good Ben, instilling in Parker a sense of responsibility while also appealing to his softer side. Field is soft as May but also strong.
If there’s one flaw of the film it’s the villain, Dr. Curt Collins played by Rhys Ifans. Ifans is superb as Collins but the character’s transition into Parker’s nemesis, The Lizard, is just sloppy. He begins as an old colleague of Peter’s father working at Oscorp. on genetic-crossbreeding. This is the lab Peter’s bitten at, but that really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Collins’ ultimate mutation. Collins is missing his right arm and has the obvious desire to grow it back through his research but that doesn’t feel like it’s enough. Sure this drives much of his transformation but it feels as if he goes from a quite interesting character, due mostly to Ifans optimistic for answers if slightly despondent portrayal of the scientist, to cookie cutter villain. His eventual obsession with Parker, as most villains are want to do with their hero, feels choppy and forced at times. They still enjoy some fantastic fight scenes but it’s the story that feels left at the wayside as they duke it out.
Still, it’s enjoyable. It may not wow but it’s a solid summer movie and achieves most of what it sets out to do. While not a hard departure from what came before it, it’s a different beast. With one of the best overall casts in a superhero flick in recent memory, Webb ultimately makes a strong case for the reboot.
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