Spidey is the ultimate case of too soon.
Sam Raimi completed his Tobey Maguire-led Spider-Man trilogy in 2007 with the less-than well received Spider-Man 3. The 3-movies combined for several billion dollars in revenue and helped launch the wave of superhero movies that haunts our theaters to this day. They were also (sans entry 3) very good movies complete with large-scale special effects and whip-smart dialogue. So of course the first thing Sony Pictures thought when planning their summer lineup for 2012 was to reboot the young, massively successful franchise with a new director, cast and an identical origin story. And Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man was born.
It’s somewhat trivial to summarize the plot of Spidey as we all saw it exactly ten years ago on Independence Day weekend…but here goes nothing.
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is an uber-smart high school outsider. He likes taking pictures, riding his skateboard and pining after his crush Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone.) He lives with his lovable Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) who have raised him since he was a small boy, after his parents abandoned him on their doorstep.
One day, Peter finds an old briefcase filled with his father’s old files. They point him to Oscorp, a massive scientific research facility in downtown Manhattan. To investigate he steals a badge from an intern and using his impeccable intuition sneaks into the Oscorp research labs. He’s bitten by a radioactive spider, gains awesome spider abilities and karate skills (apparently spiders know karate?)…yada, yada, yada. After a misunderstanding Uncle Ben is brutally shot to death on the street and Peter vows revenge on the assailant, launching the film into montages of building his suit and tracking down the bad guy.
The story beats are nearly identical to the first hour of Raimi’s 2002-Spidey. The differences are minor. The mad scientist (instead of Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin) is a one-armed Rhys Ifans who works for Oscorp attempting to regenerate limbs for humans. While testing on himself (always a bad idea) his serum goes wrong and he turns into a giant CGI-Lizard Man. Also, instead of Mary-Jane Watson we are given Gwen Stacy as the plucky love-interest. Though, In broad strokes they are the same character.
That’s not to say the film isn’t enjoyable, quite the contrary. Director Marc Webb employs a nice pace and has a knack for the smaller, more emotional scenes. Superhero dialogue always lacks subtlety and Webb knows this so he rarely allows his heroes and villains pontificate on the nature of good and evil. He’s more interested in the human-character interactions and [as he did in (500)Days of Summer] excels at delivering them.
Coming from the indie ranks I expected Webb to adhere to very standard 21st century action: quick cuts, incoherency and shouting (Michael Bay staples.) Thankfully he has done his homework and delivers some of the most coherent superhero action we’ve seen recently. Webb has great fun with Peter as he learns to employ his powers. From dunking a basketball from half court to hanging SUV’s from the Brooklyn Bridge, there is no shortage of Spidey-action. He employs first person angles and speed-ramping during the web swinging scenes, often slowing down the action for some stunning visuals.
The actors are also very good in the familiar roles. Andrew Garfield delivers the goods as Peter, giving him a darker edge than Tobey Maguire ever did. Garfield is a tremendous young actor and should be showing up on the Oscar stage sooner-than-later. Another tremendous young actor, Emma Stone, also impresses as Gwen Stacy. Stone has a knack for snarky dialogue and delivers it well. Rhys Ifans is fun as Lizard Man although his CGI-body is a bit unconvincing. Martin Sheen and Sally Field also add the proper amount of wisdom as the world’s most famous Aunt & Uncle.
The problem with Spidey isn’t the production (it’s more than impressive) but rather it’s just the feeling that it’s unnecessary. It would be much more exciting to see this immense group of talent employed on an original property. It’s not that The Amazing Spider-Man feels the same; it’s nearly identical to Raimi’s original minus the whimsy and cheeriness. Spider-Man isn’t the Dark Knight and we didn’t need a dreary re-boot to prove it. If Hollywood keeps this up, in two years we’ll be sitting down to a dark, gritty retelling of Finding Nemo. You thought it was safe to go into the water…Summer 2014!