‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ Review (MovieMantz)

“A Bold New Spin for Spider-Man”

“The Amazing Spider-Man”
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans
Directed by Marc Webb

Have no fear, True Believers: “The Amazing Spider-Man” is as good as its name.

That’s an accomplishment unto itself, given all of the obstacles it had to overcome on its journey to the big screen – so many, in fact, that everyone’s spider-sense kicked into overdrive the moment the project was first announced.

Among those obstacles: the casting of up-and-comer Andrew Garfield to replace Tobey Maguire; that its new director Marc Webb, despite his fitting name, had just one feature credit under his belt – 2009’s delightful “(500) Days of Summer,” which cost a mere $7.5 million to make (a far cry from the demands of a $220-million tentpole picture to be shot in 3-D); that it had to win back fans disappointed by 2007’s “Spider-Man 3”; and most of all, that it was simply too soon to tell the origin of Spider-Man again, since director Sam Raimi just told that story ten years ago. (On top of everything, it now has the daunting task of following the box office juggernaut known as “The Avengers.”)

That’s why “The Amazing Spider-Man” had to be a completely different picture than its three very popular predecessors from 2002, 2004 and 2007, which grossed a combined $2.5 billion worldwide. Fortunately, it is different, and in so many ways, while remaining true to the spirit of what Spider-Man is all about. If anything, think of the new film as the big screen adaptation of the revisionist “Ultimate Spider-Man” comic book series, which co-exists in conjunction with its more famous (and longer-running) sister title.

Of course, the very basic story is the same: nerdy high school science wiz Peter Parker is accidently bitten by a genetically-engineered spider, which gives him super strength, the ability to stick to walls and a sixth sense that alerts him to danger before it happens. After that, the mythology that was first introduced 50 years ago in Amazing Fantasy #15 by writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko goes through some major changes – changes that were necessary in an effort to give the reboot a bold new spin.

For starters, Tobey Maguire’s depiction of Peter Parker was the perfect embodiment of the character that was developed in the earlier pages of the comic book – an awkward loner who was picked on by his classmates and couldn’t get a date to save his life. But he was also a sweet kid, which is where Andrew Garfield’s performance takes a detour. He’s more of a rebellious and angst-ridden misfit in a film that’s darker and edgier than its predecessors (though not as dark as “Batman Begins”), and he plays it to the hilt.

He’s also on a mission to discover what happened to his parents, who disappeared and left him in the care of his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). Peter discovers his father’s briefcase, which leads him to the lab of his father’s former partner at OsCorp, Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans) – a radical scientist whose experimentation with reptiles and their ability to grow back lost appendages goes too far, transforming him into one of Spider-Man’s deadliest foes: the Lizard.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” boasts a strong writing team that includes James Vanderbilt (“Zodiac”), Alvin Sargent (“Ordinary People,” “Spider-Man 2”) and Steve Kloves (seven out of the eight “Harry Potter” movies). But it is director Marc Webb who gives the film its voice, resulting in a big-budget superhero movie that has an artier, deeper and more independent-minded sensibility – a stark contrast that may diffuse it from being flat-out fun like “The Avengers” while also being more subdued than Sam Raimi’s vibrant and cartoony Spidey installments.

The big changes to the mythology may be jarring at first, but they set the film off on its own way, making it less predictable. The biggest involves the burglar who killed Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, which, as everyone knows, marked the moment of truth that turned Spider-Man into a crime-fighter. Also, J. Jonah Jameson – the blowhard Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Bugle – is nowhere in sight, but maybe they’re saving him for the sequel (which, incredibly, already has a release date: May 2, 2014).

But in two very important ways, Spider-Man returns to form. For one thing, he’s back to being the overconfident and wisecracking superhero who taunts his enemies with funny insults – a signature characteristic that was missing from Raimi’s films. The reboot also dispenses with the organic webbing that Spidey had in the previous movies, returning him to the mechanical webshooters that he first designed in the comics.

While nothing will be able to replicate the thrilling sense of discover upon seeing Spidey swing through the concrete canyons of New York City for the very first time in the 2002 film, “The Amazing Spider-Man” features exciting action scenes and a payoff that packs an emotional punch. But the pacing is a little sluggish and disjointed for the first hour, it runs too long at 2 hours and 18 minutes and the 3-D effects are a bit lacking. But as soon as Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man, that’s when the film starts swinging.

Garfield has great chemistry with “Easy A” star Emma Stone, who plays his love interest Gwen Stacy with more sass than what was written on the page (and truth be told, Stone would have made a great Mary Jane!). Denis Leary is also good as her police captain father who sees Spider-Man as a vigilante. Sally Field and Martin Sheen also make the best of their underwritten roles, while Rhys Ifans brings both menace and vulnerability to Dr. Conners and his alter-ego, the Lizard.

Superhero movies have been going strong for 12 years now, putting more pressure on “The Amazing Spider-Man” to start fresh, deliver the goods, stand on its own merits and honor the webhead’s legacy on his landmark 50th anniversary.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” does all of those things and lives up to its name – and that, True Believers, is an amazing feat indeed. Excelsior!

Verdict: SEE IT!

-Scott Mantz (on Twitter @MovieMantz)

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