The Amazing Spider-Man
What It Is
You already know that Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a high school student, that he’s bitten by a spider, and that he learns to use his wall-climbing, web-slinging superpowers to save his city from villains. The Amazing Spider-Man reminds you of all of that, plus the violent death of Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), shot by a random robber on the sidewalk, the stoic courage of Aunt May (Sally Field), and the life lesson Ben imparts to Peter, such that the fretful, fatherless boy must become a responsible, principled young man.
All this is too familiar, as much from the Marvel comic books (conceived by Stan Lee back in 1962), as well as the cartoons, lunchboxes, and Halloween costumes that have compelled children’s attention in the 50 years since, and, of course, Sam Raimi’s trilogy of movies starring Tobey Maguire as Spidey. All this is to say that the current franchise reboot, directed by Marc Webb, is not nearly new, even if it does change the identity of Peter’s high school girlfriend from Mary Jane to Gwen (Emma Stone) or give him a backstory that features a mysteriously disappeared scientist father Richard (Campbell Scott) and mother Mary (Embeth Davidtz).
Little boy Peter (Max Charles) witnesses their exit — following a violent threat against the family — and then, once he’s left with his aunt and uncle, shapes his questions into a search for self. This grants Peter, who is again a good-hearted, if awkward, teenager, particular hardships, and when he rediscovers his father’s long-hidden briefcase, he determines to track down what happened to his parents. The resulting non-answers lead him to feel a mix of understandable frustration and occasional law-breaking, as when he steals an ID badge in order to sneak into a lab run by his dad’s former partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans).
Here he happens on Gwen, an assistant to Connors, and, like Peter himself, something of a science geek (this will, of course, be helpful during a later plot development). And here, he also happens on the spider that bites him. When he then meets Connors, Peter makes what will be a dire error, giving the doctor his father’s super-secret formula for cross-species genetic engineering. This enables the doctor, whose work is funded and also rushed by a corporate bully named Rajit Ratha (Irrfan Khan), to devise and then inject himself with a serum. Because he’s rushed, the serum is imperfect, turning the doctor into a monstrous green lizard, tearing through city traffic and slamming people through walls.
At this point — having lost his father and his uncle — Peter faces two troubling father figures, the bad mad scientist and Gwen’s dad, NYPD Captain Stacy (Denis Leary). They have different reasons for trying to curtail Peter’s Spidey activities (the doctor resist Spider-Man’s efforts to shut down his own transformation and the police believe he’s a vigilante, which he is, at first, attacking any and all robbers who resemble Uncle Ben’s killer; apparently, there are quite a few). But they both come to see — the decency of Peter’s efforts, even if they pay high prices along the way. You, of course, have seen it all along.
Why It’s Fun
The movie is most fun in two modes. First, when it follows Peter’s slow-at-first, then accelerating understanding of his powers. At first the learning process is comic (he sticks to a subway ceiling unexpectedly, he can’t control his sticky fingers), then turns exhilarating (he devises webby cables to spin out from his wrists, he learns to sling between buildings), and at last leads him to believe he has a responsibility to the citizens of New York City, to save them from monsters and aerosol toxins.
Second, the movie is fun when it follows Peter’s evolving romance with Gwen. This is especially sweet when he tries to ask her out in their high school hallway, both shy, both adorably eager to “do something” with each other but utterly unable to say what they’ll do.
The 3D web-slinging scenes are suitably thrilling, with some gimmicky tossing of webs and other elements toward the screen, and some nice swinging through space.
Who’s Going To Love It
Some fans of the Spider-Man (or even the Columbia Pictures/Marvel Studios) franchise will be pleased that the film hews so closely to familiar stories and characterizations.
Other fans of the same franchise might be put off that the new movie does so little that’s different from the first three movies.
Emma Stone’s fans will be happy to see her do anything, even if here she ends up in need of rescue. (That said, she doesn’t just wait to be rescued, but does her best to fight back on her own, and even to rescue her rescuer.)
What To Be Aware Of
The movie begins with a domestic crisis, when someone blows a hole through little boy Peter’s home and his father and mother deposit him with his uncle and aunt. The boy (Max Charles) is duly horrified, and the movie spends a couple of minutes underlining his tearful upset as his parents leave him.
Early on, Peter intervenes in a bully’s abuse of a classmate at school: the bully goes on to slam Peter to the ground and kick and punch him, resulting in some bloody injuries and bruises.
Peter’s Uncle Ben is shot by a man who’s robbed a store: Ben intervenes (much like Peter at school), and as Peter watches, he’s shot in the gut, then bleeds to death on the sidewalk. Peter is upset here, and back home, Aunt May is very upset: these two scenes are sad.
When Peter is first sorting out his sticky fingers on a subway train. He finds his fingers attached to a woman’s top. She and her boyfriend try to push him off, and her top comes off, still attached to Peter’s fingers: you see her bra and cleavage, her surprised face, and the boyfriend’s outrage: he and his thuggish try to beat up Peter, but find themselves walloped, hit and thrown against the subway car walls before they wind up unconscious on the floor.
A couple of the transformation scenes are cartoonishly harrowing, especially those involving Curtis Connors’ change into a giant lizard: he stretches, he contorts, he grimaces and groans. Peter undergoes a difficult first transformation, immediately after he’s bitten by the spider, but very quickly acclimates and begins to enjoy his changed abilities — namely, his ability to leap from tall buildings, catch himself with webs shot from his wrists, and dodge bullets.
Spider-Man saves a young boy, Jack (Jake Ryan Keiffer), trapped in a car that’s hanging off a bridge. The scene is milked for suspense, cutting back and forth between Spider-Man and the kid, who looks frightened. Peter soothes him by taking off his mask, so the boy can see his face.
Several violent scenes have bloody results: in addition to Uncle Ben’s death, Peter is shot near the end and his leg bleeds, and Captain Stacy is assaulted by the monster lizard, then bleeds a lot.
Gwen and Peter’s flirtation in the school hallway includes some vague and funny sexual allusions (“I was touching up stuff” “You were touching up stuff?”).
7 out of 10
The Amazing Spider-Man
Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan, Chris Zylka
Studio: Columbia Pictures
US General Release: July 3, 2012
UK General Release: July 3, 2012