REVIEW: "The Amazing Spider-Man" is a reboot of the classic comic-book franchise, and this summer, it risks getting lost in a deluge of superhero movies. But Spidey’s story of a parentless teen endowed with great strength and responsibility will always have significant drawing power -- it just needs a team that can mine its remaining gold.
Thankfully, director Marc Webb (“(500) Days of Summer”) knows how to do just that. Casting Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone was a superpowered decision. Their witty dialogue and bantering romance brings pleasure to a film that's otherwise a rehashing of superhero clichés. Webb also adds in a greater sense of mystery about Peter's vanished parents, opening the film with a fast-paced sequence that shows their frantic, curious departure.
You know the basics: High-school science prodigy and photographer Peter Parker (Garfield) is bitten by a genetically altered spider, affording him great strength and web-slinging abilities. (In a slight departure from the 2002 "Spider-Man," he must invent his own web technology; it's not organically produced). Then, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a friend of Peter's missing father, mutates into The Lizard, wreaking havoc in Manhattan after Peter gives him an algorithim he found in his father's files that he believes will allow the doctor to regrow his amputated arm.
The plot, while it contains a few diversions and interesting turns, is mainly a device for moving the film along to explore the characters of Peter and pre-Mary Jane Watson girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Stone).
Garfield and Stone's real-life romance clearly shines through, especially when Peter can’t find the words to ask Gwen on a date. She helps him through it, nodding her head and leaning forward as if to coax the question from his mouth. Their relationship is an exercise in clever nonverbal gestures, and, likewise, the film’s success lies not in the excited cries of Peter as he web-slings through the city during his cartoony chases, but in the understated stakes and tension that are set between Peter and Gwen.
It’s never a question that Peter will prevail in the action sequences or that he’ll win Gwen (a sequel is already slated for 2014). It’s Garfield’s ability to don an American accent and embody a character who’s earnest and humble yet overconfident and extremely able that’s most pleasing and surprising. Like Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in “Iron Man,” the layers of carelessness, seriousness, light romance and sense of duty make Peter magnetic.
While the requisite bad guy chases and a subsequent death of an important character carry a certain weight, Webb generally keeps the film breezy. Peter quietly takes photos of Gwen from afar, exclaims “Mother Hubbard!” when flustered, and gets smashed against a locker by his school nemesis before humorously humiliating him. It's not so much an in-depth look into the meaning of responsibility and manhood as Sam Raimi's 2002 forerunner seemed to be. Rather, it’s a tale of young love, fun and impossible adventure framed by a good-versus-evil story that’s grown increasingly dull.
What we love about superheroes now is how their peculiar personalities shine brighter than their super abilities. It's empowering and enjoyable to watch Tony Stark/Iron Man sip whiskey and crack jokes before facing Loki in "The Avengers," or to see Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow take care of Russian thugs while chatting on the phone and tied to a chair. "Amazing Spider-Man" falls right in line.
A perfect couple if there ever were one, Peter and Gwen's witty, smart and charming chemistry outdoes the tired mad-scientist plot, rendering the routine action sequences more superfluous than super.
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