Whether a Spider-Man film, especially an origin story, is necessary so soon after the last franchise ended is debatable but ultimately irrelevant. Box office take aside, the real test of a film’s legitimacy is its quality. Is the reboot that no one was clamoring for any good?
Yes, it is. The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t always live up to the title, but it’s an entertaining, likable popcorn movie that is very lucky to have Andrew Garfield in the lead role. Garfield brings an emotional complexity and unexpected edge to this version of an extremely well-known character. His Peter Parker is a good guy and a nerd all right, but he’s got an undercurrent of anger and nervous energy that makes him exciting to watch. The Amazing Spider-Man is also a love story, and a mighty sweet one at that.
Peter, a gangly loner, flies under the radar at Midtown High except when cute girls ask him to take photos of their boyfriends’ cars or Flash Thompson decides he’d make a nice punching bag. The one bright light is sympathetic Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who just happens to serve as a guide to a group of OsCorp interns under the tutelage of scientist Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Connors is a link to Peter’s parents, who, under mysterious circumstances, left their son with dear Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) years earlier. The Parkers are the elephant in the room, and in a pivotal scene later in the film, Peter reveals just how much the perceived abandonment has wounded him.
Spider finally bites boy, and this is when the film springs to life. Apparently, being chomped by a radioactive arachnid is like tripping on highly illegal substances. Shortly after the fateful incident, Peter accidentally wreaks havoc on the subway, then stumbles home in a comical, glassy-eyed daze that has May and Ben thinking “intervention.” These new abilities eventually prove to be exhilarating, though easy to abuse. Uncle Ben, the voice of morality, delivers a well-deserved lecture after Peter gives Flash a humiliating overdose of his own medicine. As any Spider-Man fan knows, Peter will soon learn a heartbreaking lesson about the responsibility that comes with power.
The buildup to Spidey’s clash with The Lizard, the disgusting result of Connors’ obsession with limb regeneration, is pretty standard but delivers some thrills and chills. There is some excellent stunt work on display, and it is pure fun to see Spider-Man swing across the Manhattan skyline and skitter up the sides of tall buildings. While the 2-D experience is just fine, the upgrade is probably worth the money.
Much more captivating than the hero vs. villain storyline is the relationship between Gwen and Peter, which is one of the most genuine on-screen romances in recent memory. Film critics aren’t swooning for nothing. Garfield and Stone, a couple in real life, light up the screen with their chemistry and are as much a special effect as any of the CGI.
Even if Spider-Man wasn’t gone long enough for us to miss him, such good performances might be enough to justify his return. Whatever the movie lacks in innovation, it makes up for in heart. Grade: B