Title: The Amazing Spider-Man
Cast: Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Rhys Ifans (Dr. Curt Connors), Sally Field (Aunt May), Martin Sheen (Uncle Ben), Denis Leary (Captain Stacy)
Director: Marc Webb
The Basics: Some parts of the Spider-Man story we’ve seen on the big screen before: the life-changing spider bite, the loss of Peter Parker’s father figures, the journey from masked vigilante to superhero…But some parts are new to moviegoers: Peter’s struggles with being abandoned by his parents, his first love with fellow science prodigy Gwen Stacy, and his battles with Dr. Curt Connors’s alter ego The Lizard. The Amazing Spider-Man takes a story we’re all familiar with (thanks to 50 years of comics and Sam Raimi’s recent trilogy of films) and makes it profoundly personal.This is a superhero movie that at times feels like a small character study, with moments of real warmth and surprising depth amid the action and special effects.
M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): Spider-Man is literally Andrew Garfield’s dream role (just watch his speech at last year’s Comic-Con if you want proof), and you could feel it in every moment he was onscreen in this film. His total dedication to making both Peter Parker and Spider-Man human and relatable is a beautiful thing to watch. Physically, he deftly balances the mannerisms of Peter the gangly teenage boy and the surprising grace of Spider-Man the superhero. That dichotomy carries over into every aspect of his performance. He gives Peter the perfect combination of sadness, sweetness, and anger. His Peter is a loner by choice, living with the weight of being abandoned and then orphaned. It’s only when he’s with Gwen that we see that weight lifted, and Garfield shines in his moments with Emma Stone. This is a different kind of humanity that Garfield gives to Peter – not the crushing sadness of being an orphan but the incredible joy of being in love for the first time. He’s by turns awkward, playful, and warm – adding a lightness to the film that is very much appreciated.
Garfield also brings new life to Peter’s persona as Spider-Man. This is the Spider-Man of the comics: sarcastic and full of quips. Spider-Man is who Peter is without inhibition, under the protective mask of anonymity. The balance between Spider-Man’s inherent heroic streak and his sense of humor is deftly handled, and I don’t think that would have been the case without an actor of Garfield’s caliber in both Peter’s glasses and Spider-Man’s suit.
Scene Stealer: Gwen Stacy is no ordinary “superhero girlfriend,” and no ordinary actress could bring to life her beguiling mixture of beauty, bravery, depth, and intelligence like Emma Stone did in this film. She brings her own spark to one of the most iconic significant others in the Marvel universe, and it’s a spark that ignites some of the most charming and memorable moments in the film. Whether she’s bantering with Peter, using her scientific skills to save New York City, or showing a rare glimpse at the vulnerability behind her perfectionist exterior, Stone’s Gwen is a fully-realized character, and so much of that comes from the vitality Stone brings to the role. We know she can do comedy – and she’s excellent in her comedic scenes in this film – but she also has a talent for showing real emotion in dramatic scenes. She and Garfield bring out the best in each other as actors just as Gwen and Peter bring out the best in each other in the film.
Bring the Tissues? Yes. There are some truly moving moments in this film: the farewell between young Peter and his mother; Uncle Ben’s murder and Peter’s reaction to it; two poignant scenes of vulnerability between Peter and Gwen – one in her bedroom and one at his doorstep; and a scene featuring tower cranes that some might call cheesy but I call a moment to celebrate the heroism of the common man. Also, there’s a scene between Peter and Aunt May that will have me getting misty-eyed every time I see a carton of organic eggs (which, thankfully, doesn’t happen too often).
Should I Stay or Should I Go? Stay until about halfway through the credits for a mysterious confrontation about Peter’s fate. Who’s the man with the hat? It’s a question to keep us guessing until the next installment arrives in theaters.
Most Memorable Scene: In terms of cinematic spectacle, the centerpiece of the film (and one of its most stirring moments) is the aforementioned scene in which crane workers help an injured Spider-Man across the skyline of Manhattan to his final confrontation with the Lizard. However, the most memorable thing about the film as a whole is the blinding chemistry between Garfield and Stone. That chemistry shines throughout the film, but it’s at its strongest in two scenes that transcend the “superhero” genre and could stand on their own in any romantic film: Peter asking Gwen on a date (and Gwen accepting) in the most awkwardly endearing way imaginable and Gwen tending to Peter’s wounds while confessing her fears of the men she loves going off to save the world and never coming back.
Strengths: This film’s greatest strength is its ability to feel like an intimate coming-of-age film despite its huge action scenes and blockbuster budget. The Amazing Spider-Man is at its best when it’s focusing on Peter and the relationships around him because that’s when the tone of the movie is allowed to stand apart from the tone of so many other superhero films. Spider-Man is still a teenager, and his story reflects the universal story of changing from a child to an adult in a way that is unlike any other in the genre. There is a vibrancy in this film that was often missing from the original Spider-Man trilogy, and it comes directly from the interactions between Garfield and Stone. Theirs is a rare kind of movie chemistry: one that feels real enough to make you honestly believe that these two people are in love. I’m sure part of that believability comes from the knowledge that these two actors are now a couple off-screen, but I’m buying whatever they’re selling whenever they’re onscreen together. Stone’s Gwen Stacy is a rarity in this genre – a young woman who is more than just a damsel in need of saving. She’s responsible, intelligent (even smarter than Peter), and one of the heroes of the film in a very real way. And Garfield brings a respect for the Peter Parker of the comic books that comes through in his brilliant mixture of gawkiness and playfulness. From homemade web shooters to biting quips, this Spider-Man feels very much in-tune with his comic-book origins. It is that combination of respect for the comics and fresh vision that makes this film a strong re-telling of such a familiar story.
Weaknesses: With so much time spent on strong moments of character development for Peter, there were some important plot points that were not given proper time to breathe and develop. Dr. Connors would have been a more compelling villain if more time was given to his story. Instead, his motivations feel rushed, and the climactic scene between the Lizard and Spider-Man feels less enthralling than some other big showdowns in the genre (though maybe I just need to stop judging villains by Heath Ledger’s genius turn as the Joker). Also, I wish more time had been given to developing Peter’s father as a character. His relationship with Dr. Connors, his work as a scientist, and his connection to the spider that gave his son superpowers all felt too murky to be as engrossing as I wanted them to be. I’m sure this will be developed more as the series progresses, but it seemed like the specter of Peter’s father and his secrets was supposed to play a larger role in the plot than it ultimately ends up playing.
Final Verdict: This is my favorite of any of the Spider-Man films (which is saying something because I was a huge fan of the first two parts of Raimi’s trilogy). The talents of its stars (especially Garfield) and the strength of its central romance make The Amazing Spider-Man more relatable and emotionally captivating than your average summer blockbuster. This movie was a pleasant surprise. Do we really need another Spider-Man franchise? If the rest of the films in the series are like this one, I’m going to have to answer with a resounding “Yes.”