The Amazing Spider-Man
Starring Andrew Garfield & Emma Stone
Directed by Marc Webb
136 min., PG-13
Released July 3, 2012
The superhero summer continues with the latest movie adaptation of Marvel Comics’ iconic web-slinging do-gooder. It’s the fourth time in the past ten years Spider-Man has crawled across the big screen, but this time with an all-new cast and a brand new director at the helm.
Gone are Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, who played Spiderman/Peter Parker and his love interest, Mary Jane, in the first three movies based on the long-running comic-book franchise. Gone also is Sam Raimi, whose success directing the first film in 2002 ensured his position at the helm at the next two, in 2004 and 2007.
Marvel Comics and Columbia Pictures decided to wipe the slate clean (“reboot” is what they call it in Hollywood) and start fresh for “The Amazing Spider-Man.” The only thing left standing (or dangling) is the framework story of Spider-Man itself, which the movie tells, again, from its very beginning.
But even re-building from the foundation of mild-mannered high school student Peter Parker, the laboratory incident by which he receives his spider-like super-powers, and the tragic encounter that drives him to become a crime-fighting, costumed vigilante, “The Amazing Spider-Man” delivers its own summer splash and sizzle, thanks primarily to its immensely likeable new stars.
Andrew Garfield, who showed what he could do with a solid co-starring part in last year’s “The Social Network,” brings a spectrum of emotional range to his first leading role in the summer spotlight, and he makes the movie’s full hour on Peter Parker, before he completely evolves into Spider-Man, time well spent.
As Gwen Stacy, the object of Peter’s attraction, Emma Stone continues her rising movie trajectory with yet another role in which she shines. She and Garfield have a natural magnetism, and as Gwen learns Peter’s secret identity, the camera frames their scenes tighter and tighter, suggesting the dangerous, thrilling intimacy their characters have come to share.
Veteran actor Martin Sheen brings heart and soul (and much of the movie’s message about “responsibility”) to his role as Peter’s Uncle Ben. Sally Fields, an equally fine actress, has a bit less to do as Aunt May. The limited range of her role mostly confines her to fretting about her nephew, who stays out late and comes home looking like something the cat dragged in.
Like the spaces in the gigantic web on which Spider-Man waits for the arrival of this movie’s villain—a mad scientist (Rhys Ifan) who morphs into a jumbo lizard—there are some gaping plot holes. But the new director, the oh-so-aptly named Marc Webb (whose main previous film was the well-received but decidedly non-blockbuster indie “500 Days of Summer”) does a superb job of balancing the story’s big, exciting summer-popcorn elements and its equally important smaller, quiet ones (like the warm moments between Peter and Gwen) with ease and confidence.
After five decades of comic books, animated TV half-hour adventures, a billion-dollar string of movies, a cosmos of merchandise and even a Broadway musical, the Spider-Man franchise is still swinging. The most “amazing” thing about this 50-year-old superhero saga is that there’s still so much freshness, energy and fun to be spun, once again, from a story that Spidey fans already know so well.