A film review by Craig J. Koban July 11, 2012



2012, PG-13, 136 mins.


Spider-Man/Peter: Andrew Garfield / Gwen: Emma Stone / Lizard/Dr. Connors: Rhys Ifans / Stacy: Denis Leary / Uncle Ben: Martin Sheen / Aunt May Sally Field

Directed by Marc Webb / Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves, based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko


I imagine that it's very difficult for viewers – and many critics – of Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN trilogy to divorce themselves from those films when it comes to embracing a new reboot of the entire franchise.  Too many, for sure, have become preoccupied with notions of “it’s way too soon” or “unnecessary” to retool a film series featuring Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s most cherished Marvel Comics super hero creation.  Yet, perhaps the best way to approach THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is to simply disregard the fact that, yes, it’s a reboot and instead look at it as a unique new film on its own.  If you do just that, then you may be surprised – as I was – at just how satisfyingly high this new Spidey effort soars – or should I say swings – above and beyond our collective memories of the decidedly mediocre SPIDER-MAN 3, which ended that series with a thud instead of on a jubilant high note. 

Reboots are hardly anything new: the critically lauded BATMAN BEGINS came just eight years after the disastrous BATMAN AND ROBIN; X-MEN: FIRST CLASS retrofitted the very recent X-MEN film saga on a innovative note; and CASINO ROYALE – one of the greatest of all James Bond films - came just a scant four years after the easily forgettable DIE ANOTHER DAY.  What the makers of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN are doing here is not without precedent; in pure hindsight, labeling it as a “too soon” affair is a bit unjust.  

Yes, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN flirts with familiarity in terms of its central origin tale, but where it becomes a rousing success is in how it subtly tweaks and twists the already established Spidey canon and grounds the character in a grittier, more emotionally resonating, and more agreeably character driving blockbuster entertainment.  Perhaps even more so than any of the other previous SPIDER-MAN films, this new one brings the high flying character down to earth and focuses more on its human elements than on spectacle and CGI overkill.  Like the best remakes/reboots, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN takes old material, honors it without lazily recycling it, and takes it in new directions.   

Of course, feelings of déjà vu are inevitable here.  The new story has many elements that we’ve seen before – but how could it not without seeming like a bastardization of the enigmatic wall crawler?  There’s the socially extroverted teen geek, hated by his peers and bullied by others; the accidental bite from a mutated spider that grants the dweeb powers; the discovery montage of him learning his extraordinary abilities; the moment where a loved one is murdered indirectly because of his inaction to use his powers to stop a criminal; the self-actualization of the mourning young man to realize that his powers lead to a higher calling of “great responsibility”; the creation of his spandex-covered alter-ego hero…and so on.  All of this is here in the new film. 



However, the film battles its familiarity with its wonderfully spot-on casting, its keen focus on character psychology and motivation, and its humanistic spotlight of the man under the mask.  THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN offers up a new parental disappearance mystery to young Peter Parker that provides, I think, a whole new set of reasons as to why he explores becoming a hero in the first place.  In a tense opening scene, we see a pre-adolescent Peter lose his parents not to death, but simply to their own self-imposed – and questionable – abandonment.  He then comes into the care of Aunt May (a fine Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (an equally fine Martin Sheen), that care for the boy into young adulthood as best they can, seeing as he struggles with the "loss" of his parents for most of his life. 

The 18-year-old Peter (THE SOCIAL NETWORK’s Andrew Garfield, replacing Tobey Maguire) finds an old briefcase of his father’s filled with scientific formulas that leads him to Oscorp and one of its leading scientists, Dr. Curt Connors (the sly and finely modulated Rhys Ifans) that – comic fans will know – is a one-armed researcher that tries to find a way to regenerate lost limbs and cure diseases; his serum eventually is tested on himself, which turns him into a humanoid lizard.  The film’s script finds a compelling manner of bringing Peter and his parentage together with the goals of the affable and caring doctor that eventually will turn into a madmen.  In the classic tradition of super hero tales, the hero inadvertently brings on the creation of the power hungry villain. 

While at Oscorp the inquisitive Peter takes a wrong turn into a secret experimental lab, where, yup, he’s bitten and…you know the rest.  Personal tragedy leads to his full development of his superhero identity and concurrent to this is a sweet, well defined, and most involving aspect of the film, Peter's awkward romancing of his fellow classmate, Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) which hits stumbling blocks beyond Peter keeping his masked adventuring ways a secret from her; he also has a conflict with her father, Police Chief Stacey (Dennis Leary, an off-centered and inspired casting choice), who eventually vows to bring Spider-man - whom he thinks is a criminal vigilante - to justice.   

Like the very first SUPERMAN, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN does not rush to show us its hero too soon; the film is patient and spends much of its first half developing its characters and honing in on the human relationships.  The film gives time and space to the Parker/Stacey relationship in more intrinsically moving and complex ways than the original films ever hinted at with the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane Watson.  The romance here is stronger and more richly involving because greater emphasis has been placed on the interplay between the young lovers.  Emma Stone in particular – so reliably perky, confident, radiant, and droll in all of her roles – makes for a great substitute for Kristen Dunst.  That, and she totally looks like a John Romita Sr. pinup come to life. 

Much has been said of Garfield’s age (he’s 28) in regards to him playing a teen; that’s a non-issue at best.  He’s blessed with young good looks and comes off as a believable teen filled with angst (remember, Maguire was 26 when he donned the costume).  Physically, Garfield is more in tune with the original Ditko penciled comic panels of Spidey: his thin and wiry frame is a natural look for the how the hero was originally envisioned in the 1960's.  Wisely, Garfield never goes to duplicate the love-sick, puppy dog do-gooder mentality of Maguire’s Parker, but rather makes the role his own by creating a shy, introverted, but resourceful, intelligent, smart-assed, and frequently arrogant protagonist.  His Parker is less a book-wormy nerd than he is a sweet-tempered, but misunderstood loner and rebel with a reckless undercurrent.  This film’s Spider-man is not a dark hero (he’s still cheeky and fun), but the world he resides in is a grungier and more dangerous place of hostile menace; he’s still a colorful personality, albeit in a colorless world. 

Marc Webb may seem like the least likely choice to helm a big budget super hero bonanza like this; he last made the low-budgeted (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, which I thought was one of the best romcoms in many years.  In pure hindsight, though, he is an inspired directorial choice.  The reason, I think, that we are drawn into the film is because of how he gets thanklessly lived-in and believable performances from all of his actors amidst the backdrop of extraordinary events.  He infuses a thoughtfulness into the individual characters so that they just don't stand out like props.  This SPIDER-MAN still looks awfully good (the production design and visual effects are all Oscar grade) and Webb wisely shot the film in 3D for 3D consumption and didn’t hastily unconvert it after the fact.  The action scenes pitting grotesque villain and intrepid hero have a kinetic clarity and moments of Spidey spinning his web and swinging through the streets of New York have a believable sense of weight and gravity that the largely pixalized and rubbery superhero in Raimi’s films never really had. 

The new SPIDER-MAN is not completely without flaws: the underlining mystery of what happened to Peter’s parents is not nearly as compulsively enticing as it should be considering that it was a well advertised addition to this reboot.  The Lizard's end-game of turning the whole city into versions of himself seems to lack practicality and a plausible motivation.  And, uh huh, there’s a lot of what transpires in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN's origin plot that we’ve seen before.  Yet, the film’s look, tone, casting choices, and sincere performances make this new Spidey venture feel revitalizing and novel.   It might be impossible for most to get Raimi’s films out of their minds while watching Webb’s incarnation (SPIDER-MAN 2 still remains the best of the Spidey films), but I for one found myself immersed in it in ways that I was frankly not expecting.  This isn’t the masterfully comic book reboot that was BATMAN BEGINS, but it’s surprisingly close.  'Nuff said.


CrAiGeR's other



THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2  (2014)  jj1/2

Spider-Man 3 (2007)  jj1/2

Spider-Man 2  (2004)  jjjj


And, for what it's worth, his ranking of the SPIDER-MAN films:


1.  SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) jjjj

2.  THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012)  jjj1/2

3.  SPIDER-MAN (2002) jjj

4.  THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2  (2014)  jj1/2

5.  SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007) jj1/2



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