by J.D. Balthazar
There are a lot of problems inherent in rebooting a franchise, especially one that's been sitting on the shelf for only a few years. Most of us have already seen the previous versions of this story, so why on earth would we care about another take?
Well, for starters, that is a very movie way of thinking. In comic books, continuity is constantly being updated, revised, retconned, and dismantled every few years. When you have a book that runs for decades, you gotta come up with some new stuff once in a while. Whereas in movies, any change to the material and people practically revolt. It is often met with cutting criticism, no matter the quality.
So is The Amazing Spider-man worth your time and money? In my opinion, yes.
As a technical achievement, this movie far surpasses the original. The visuals are sleek, the presentation is well crafted and fast paced, and the effects are markedly better. The biggest issue I had was with the occasionally spotty-looking CGI creature that is the main villain Lizard. Sometimes it looked amazing, and sometimes I wondered where they spent all that money. On the flip side, all the Spider-man effects were done perfectly, he felt like how the character should move. And the big set pieces felt organic to the story instead of wedged in for cool visual appeal.
The other big thing that stood out for me was the cast. All the actors delivered strong performances, enough that they covered any flaws in the narrative for me. Leading the group was Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker/Spider-man). He brought something different to the role. Subtly brilliant, introverted, and good natured, he's the kind of kid that tries to be noble even when he isn't blessed with superpowers. His road to becoming a hero wasn't paved with good intentions, either. He spent a good chunk of the movie looking for a killer, for personal reasons, instead of helping people for the sake of helping people. It made him feel more real to me, instead of the forced everyman that the character has always been.
Martin Sheen (Uncle Ben) and Sally Field (Aunt May) were both wonderful even if they didn't get a lot of screen time. They filled the roles of adoptive parents with heart and pathos, making it obvious why Peter would want to call them mom and dad. The choices they make and the fights they got into with Peter were never disrespectful. Even when Peter is trying to cope with the changes he's going through, he obviously loves them. Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy) fills in for the love interest, and was both an immediately likeable and believable match for Garfield's Peter. It was also cool that they used this character instead of Mary Jane, because in the comic books Gwen Stacy was always the one. She is an equal for Peter in both intelligence and goodness, although she isn't explored as a character very deeply. The romance itself felt a little fast to me, but at least they didn't progress the relationship too far.
Gwen Stacy's big character detail was that she is Curt Conner's (Ryan Ifans) lab assistant, and her father is a police captain (Denis Leary). Both of them delivered good performances, especially the tortured Curt Conner. They did something kind of cool with his monster, instead of just waiting until the third act to transform him -- they did a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde approach, and at his core, the good doctor was, well, good. Mr. Hyde a.k.a. the Lizard, of course went all nuts and tried to do what all super villains do, enact a plan to take over the world, and he was an effective foil for Spider-man. Captain Stacy was also not quite as one-dimensional as I thought he was going to be. They set him up to be the obsessive police chief that relentlessly pursues Spider-man no matter how much evidence there is that he's a hero. Well, they did do that, but there was more to it.
I loved the introduction of Peter's powers. They played it for laughs but kept an underlying sense of how power can corrupt.
There was a brief scene just after the initial wave of end credits, but don't bother waiting until the very end.
Peter's photography was used a bit of a character touch, but they brought it up just enough that it felt important to him.
Stan Lee's cameo was so far my absolute favorite among all his appearances in the Marvel movies.
There was a nice, but slightly contrived sub-plot involving someone that Spider-man saves. It was cool that there were some karmic rewards for being a hero for once. Most of the time the bystanders that the hero saves are forgotten, so it was nice to see something different.
The way they used the webs in this movie was exactly how I imagined Spider-man using his webs. For me, they were the most memorable aspect of the film.
They attempted to inject some drama into the back-story involving Peter's parents, but they didn't fully explain what was going on. I imagine that is being saved for any future installments in this new franchise.
Plot-wise, this one didn't reinvent the wheel. In fact, it kind of just retreaded some material from the original. There were some pretty big plot-holes, and some minor inconsistencies. The darker tone fit with the story they were telling, but it might put some people off.
Were those issues large enough to spoil the experience? For me, no. For some, maybe. It drew me in, and kept me captivated for the entire run. Which is a feat, because I'm not that big of a Spider-man fan. Is The Amazing Spider-man better than the original? Well, in my opinion, yes. But there is a caveat. This might be a better movie, but it doesn't have quite as much heart.
3 out of 4 Uncomfortable branzino dinners with your new girlfriend's father who's on a mission to hunt you down and arrest you.