by Tony Dayoub
So do the filmmakers get it right? Director Marc Webb [(500) Days of Summer] sure gets the high school subculture Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) doesn't quite fit into correct. So he's a little more emo than nerdy. This version of the character is still smart enough to develop his own web shooters, a nod to the comic book Parker's inclination towards bio-technology. If there's one major drawback to the film, it's the way Peter's intellect is folded into a conspiracy that links his deceased parents (Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz) to geneticist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) and his employer, Oscorp. (Keen fans will remember that Oscorp's owner, Norman Osborn—who's not in the film—is the future Green Goblin.) This sense that everyone is linked together around Peter's fate robs The Amazing Spider-Man of one of the primal qualities which informs the original character, the fact that he is an everyman. DC Comics had Superman, who was practically a demigod, or Batman, a millionaire who had trained himself to the peak of physical and mental acuity. In response to their business rival, Marvel's anti-superheroes were built around fatal flaws. Iron Man had to wear his super armor in order to keep his injured heart functioning, and the Hulk's alter ego would always wake up from one of his blackouts horrified at the idea that he might have killed someone during a rampage. This Spider-Man truly is amazing, cracking a formula Connors has worked years to perfect after the passing of Peter's dad, and inadvertently helping to create the monstrous hybrid, the Lizard.
In that sense, The Amazing Spider-Man is a retread of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man where Norman Osborn becomes a surrogate father to Parker after his Uncle Ben is killed in a mugging. This movie's Parker is trying to fill the void left by his father's mysterious death, a job that his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) is fairly successful at even though Parker only realizes it after his inaction contributes to his uncle's murder. Though the exposition-filled first act contributes to the overlong feeling of the film, one way it does help is in establishing the relationship between Peter and his uncle. Sheen spends a great deal more time onscreen than Cliff Robertson did in the same role for Raimi. So when Uncle Ben is killed, his death is more impactful, giving one a very acute sense of how Peter's loss. For a while Parker looks to Connors, a man closer to his father in both intellectual and collegial terms. But after initially rebelling against him, he finally acquiesces to the more authoritative Police Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), father of his girlfriend Gwen (Emma Stone).
Webb is spot-on in his casting. The doe-eyed Garfield and Stone are as cute as the heroic figures of some anime. But they are also far more appealing—both on their own and together—than the dishwater-dull Maguire or Dunst as the whiny Mary Jane. Garfield gets the dichotomy of Spidey perfectly; he's awkward as Peter but a wisecracking ball of sarcasm as the web-head. And as the resourceful and nervy Gwen, Stone has the good fortune to serve as a sharp contrast to Dunst's badly written, clingy character. Being a cop's daughter, Stone's Gwen is fully aware and capable of dealing with the life of danger her boyfriend leads, if not necessarily excited about it. There is chemistry between Garfield and Stone, and it's one of the chief reasons to see The Amazing Spider-Man.
The Amazing Spider-Man features a strong cast and some interesting motivations driving its lead character. Its cinematography, score and setting are a distinct improvement on Raimi's less self-important trilogy. There's no Mary Jane, no Harry, not even J. Jonah Jameson (although we do see a cover of his newspaper, the Daily Bugle), wisely avoiding cramming in too much of Spidey's supporting cast and leaving itself room for inevitable sequels to fill in the blanks. And I didn't even get to the gloriously kinetic point-of-view shots that are sprinkled throughout Spider-Man's heroics. But faint praise isn't exactly a ringing endorsement. If you sense I'm on the fence about this iteration of Spider-Man, then you are correct. The Amazing Spider-Man doesn't exactly move me to give it a full-throated show of support. If you're a fan or interested in another take on Spidey, go see it. Otherwise, there's really nothing new here.