Director: Marc Webb
The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t exactly the grand reboot a character like this deserves. The real and comic-book blend of a world Sam Raimi created and the themes of duality he explored made for two of the superhero genre’s finest films. They were honest dramas that could more than handle its epic blockbuster expectations. Following up his independent romantic dramedy 500 Days of Summer, director Marc Webb has delivered a somewhat entertaining feature, two-thirds a compelling coming-of-age tale, one-third a glorified Spider-Man cartoon.
This is a re-origin story, which gives us a slightly more gloomy Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield). Parker is a bullied, isolated teen who is emotionally scarred by the mysterious absence of his parents. For the first half of The Amazing Spider-Man, Webb builds what promises to be one of the more interesting character studies in the genre. Unfortunately, not unlike Ang Lee’s Hulk, once the character is thrown into spectacle, Webb becomes detached from his subject.
Peter is a messed up, confused kid. When Webb shows his hero’s frustration or his love for Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), the heart of the film beats through. Once Parker is out doing his superhero thing, mainly when facing off against Doctor Curtis Connors/The Lizard (Rhys Ifans), it is about as generic as a blockbuster comes.
Whenever the Lizard appears on screen and opens his mouth, any realism is sucked out of the film. Raimi managed to ground Doctor Octopus and The Green Goblin, while Webb has the Lizard become all-out ridiculous. Empathy for the character is attempted, with Ifans doing all that he can in an underwritten role, but once that big slimy green guy starts beating up a SWAT team or rampaging through a high school, all humanity within the character (and in some ways the film) is lost.
There’s also a jarring shift from real drama to cheesy cartoon camp, as all of the tentpole moments are never earned. When the city comes to Spider-Man’s aid, it is rushed and goofy. When Peter Parker calls himself Spider-Man for the first time, it lacks the spine-tingling excitement needed. Everything that made the first two acts of the film unique is forgotten in the last thirty minutes. Luckily, Garfield, Stone and Denis Leary (playing Stacy’s father, Captain Stacy) make all the tonal and structural issues less noticeable while watching the film.
Garfield is a terrific Spider-Man/Peter Parker, cohesively bouncing between charming, awkward, hurt, in love, and angry, nailing every tone he is asked to play. Of course it’s no surprise Stone matches that performance, making Peter and Gwen’s love the film’s strong point. When Peter asks Gwen out, for example, it’s the most exciting moment Webb captured, far outshining the set pieces.
The Amazing Spider-Man, at the end of the day, gets right what it should the most: the character of Peter Parker. Webb’s eye for action may not be on level with his sense of humor and grasp for compelling drama, but, in an age of blockbusters that forsake drama for action, it’s still refreshing to see a director aspire to make an honest character study in a big-budget environment, though the result may be nothing more than an enjoyable film held back by its blockbuster trappings.
The Amazing Spider-Man hits theaters on July 3rd.
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