REINVENTING THE WEB
Fresh Faces Breathe New Life into the Spider-Man Franchise
Ten years after Tobey Maguire first won over audiences with his dorky charm and "aw-shucks" portrayal of Peter Parker (and a full five after he sent Spidey shockwaves across America by going goth in Spider-Man 3), Columbia Pictures is encroaching upon arachnid territory for a fourth time with this reboot of the Spider-Man series. Like the Sam Raimi-directed trilogy that preceded it, The Amazing Spider-Man stays true to the spirit of the original comic book without retreading old territory, offering a fun and imaginative new take on an oft-told tale that will wow fans of the previous films without stepping on Tobey's toes.
Directed by the aptly-named Marc Webb, this latest iteration of the Spider-Man story attempts to answer a few questions that previous adaptations have largely ignored, namely: "what happened to Peter's parents?" and "how do superhuman powers affect one's skateboarding abilities?" While the latter prompts some awesome if indulgent action sports sequences, the former provides the impetus of the story as the teenage Peter Parker follows a series of clues that could lead to the truth about his parents' disappearance — and also to the destruction of an entire city.
After a short-but-intriguing look into the Parker family's turbulent past, we find ourselves in familiar territory as we follow science wunderkind/AV nerd Peter (Andrew Garfield of The Social Network) through the hallways of his suburban high school, where his favorite pastimes include dodging bullies and (somewhat creepily) snapping photos from afar of love interest Gwen Stacy (played by a saucily self-confident Emma Stone). However, part of the fun of The Amazing Spider-Man is seeing how the film treats the Spidey story — and its recognizable round-up of teen outcasts and evil scientists and parents who just don't understand — with a fresh and funny 21st-century approach that rarely skips a beat. One of the film's most noticeable departures from the previous series is the reboot that Peter Parker himself receives. Trading in the slouched shoulders and spectacles of Maguire's Parker for perfectly tousled tresses and contacts, Garfield imbues the character with a mysterious outsider's charm that recalls both James Dean's brooding teen angst and Woody Allen's endearing neurosis. Stone, too, provides a refreshing new dimension to the story as Parker's brave and brainy first love.
However, just as every rose has its thorn, so every super hero movie has its mad-scientist nemesis driven by his own uncontrollable hubris to ingest weird, glowing substances — and The Amazing Spider-Man has found its diabolical genius in Dr. Curt Connors, played with unsettling coolness by Welsh hipster-laureate Rhys Ifans. Watching Dr. Connors transform into The Lizard, a scaly, slimy mutant monster, is a creepy treat for viewers; but it's his three-dimensional portrayal as a conflicted savant with a soft spot for Parker, his former colleague's son, that makes him a memorable character.
The delicate balance between high action and human interest, lighthearted comedy and dark themes, is a constant presence in the film, and one that helps elevate it above the level of the average popcorn flick. While the story is fairly formulaic and even some of the jokes fall flat (a "where's the flood" joke in 2012, really?), Webb and crew seem to be relishing in the genre rather than trying to reinvent it. In the end, The Amazing Spider-Man succeeds not because of its innovations, but because of its ability to take a story we all know and make us care again.
Reviewed by Nick Winfrey
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