“The Amazing Spider-Man” covers familiar ground, but offers new hope (3.75/5)

After the release of Spider-Man 3, I stupidly tried to justify its existence. Being that I loved Spider-Man 2 to nauseating levels, I had high hopes for the third adventure. Unfortunately, I diluted myself into thinking it was a good film. Years after the fact, I see Spider-Man 3 for what it was: a shapeless, tone-deaf endeavor that saw a studio shoehorn its desires into the mind of a talented director. Despite how bad Spider-Man 3 ended up being, Sony’s desire to reboot the franchise was incredulous. Outside of a misguided film, the franchise had more than enough goodwill and clout to deliver in the future. Sony seemed to disagree. So, five years removed from a third film, we are given The Amazing Spider-Man, a purported fresh, edgier take on Peter Parker’s mutation into a wall climbing hero. It’s become commonplace to compare any superhero film or reboot to Christopher Nolan’s vision for the Batman franchise. Darker, grittier and featuring an emphasis on character, Nolan’s Dark Knight saga reinvented the game. To no one’s surprise, The Amazing Spider-Man siphons similar attributes from the caped crusader’s new world, and disperses it throughout its newly formed universe.

Where Raimi’s vision for Spider-Man featured wise cracks and a colorful, buoyant world, director Marc Webb’s vision for the web slinger is deeply rooted in human angst and characters with dirty hands. Peter Parker isn’t an adorable dweeb, but an outcast that gains immeasurable peace by skateboarding and covering his head with a hood. Parker’s loner persona stems in part from the disappearance of his parents, a riddle that consumes him daily. Socially stunted and emotionally beleaguered, Peter Parker searches for truth while fantasizing about the girl of his dreams, Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone).  Fate and desire collide for Parker, as he discovers a family secret that inadvertently puts unmatched power at his fingertips.  The secret leads back to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a dedicated scientist that hinges all of his discoveries on his personal missing piece: his right arm. As we have come to know in comic books, those deeply invested in the manipulation of genetics tend to pay the price for bitch slapping their creator in the face. Together, Parker and Connors transform, albeit unbeknownst to one another, into super human creatures that are in line to duke it out for supremacy.

Their transformations lead to differing intentions. Connors fathoms a world like him, which feels partially out of left field when he suggests a destructive plan instead of one based on his desires to fix damaged humans. Peter, however, intends to protect the world. An explosive stage is invariably set for two people who helped create one another.  The only issue is that we take an overly familiar road to reach a rousing climax. Much to the chagrin of myself, The Amazing Spider-Man handles nearly the same origin beats as Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film. Obviously, Spider-Man’s origin will likely come across with the same unbreakable threads no matter how it’s tonally framed, but this reboot makes little effort to explore uncharted territory. Rather, the first act of the film feels like an ineffective checklist that was already addressed with a brighter, finer pen. Uncle Ben’s death, and a virtuous spin on responsibility, feels like an unnecessary reiteration. Been there, done that. Yet, once we moved past the overwrought back-story of Peter Parker, The Amazing Spider-Man grew into an entity that could walk on its own accord. The creation of a new life rests largely on the shoulders of Marc Webb, a man who has character interaction down to a science. As demonstrated in his breakout film, 500 Days of Summer, Webb knows how to choreograph interpersonal interactions.

Personifying Webb’s abilities are Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, two actors that epitomize the word chemistry. Charming, bubbly and adorably awkward, the magnetism between the two provides more action and invested interest than most films can even imagine. When The Amazing Spider-Man slows its pace and focuses on those two, it’s time well spent. Speaking of Garfield, he absolutely owns the role. He absorbs the pain, the humor and unsuspecting strength of this relatively new Peter Parker. His gutsy performance does more for the character than the paint by numbers back-story. As for Garfield’s antithesis, Rhys Ifans as the Lizard/Dr.Connors is a bi-polar role. At times he’s given material to flesh out the demonstrative creature, and then there are moments that lack the depth and creativity to separate Dr. Connors from Norman Osborne/The Green Goblin from Raimi’s films. Regardless of the villain’s underwritten turns, watching Spider-Man swing from building to building is a dizzying treat in its own right. The effects are tremendous, as are the fight sequences, which unfold sometimes in unlikely settings (e.g. a high school).  Part of me wants to fall in love with The Amazing Spider-Man. It takes great pride in being character driven and taking some measured risks, but the first act, as well as the tropes associated with Dr. Connor, is too familiar. But the future looks quite bright for this reboot. Now that the origin story is out-of-the-way, it’s time for another Peter Parker to grow into his own legend. Of course, that’s assuming Sony doesn’t reboot it again.


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