Mania Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, July 03, 2012
Was this remake absolutely necessary? Probably not. With Sam Raimi's well-regarded Spider-Man trilogy just a few years in the rearview mirror, no one was screaming for Sony to start from scratch. But Hollywood politics and some hard clauses in the contract (specifically the one that says "we're taking these characters back if you don't use 'em") mean that they gotta kick out a Spidey film every few years. If Raimi won't do it, then by God they're gonna find someone who does.
Thankfully, the filmmakers are acutely aware of their delicate position. They need to recreate the character without evoking comparisons to Raimi, then move him forward confidently in a separate universe all his own. It's a daunting challenge, which no other filmmakers have really faced before now. The Batman reboot came with the franchise seemingly out of gas, the Hulk started again after a perceived creative failure, and Superman Returns clung resolutely to the tropes of the old Richard Donner films. The Amazing Spider-Man has no convenient excuses; it needs to establish its identity in the shadow of a mighty predcessor and can't tear anything down to do it. I'm pleased to report that they respond in quietly impressive fashion.
Director Marc Webb wisely draws upon the deep well of Spidey mythos to find his own voice, with an overt nod to Todd McFarlane and other key artists from the comics. While Raimi had to fit a staggering amount of material into his initial outing -- no one knew if he'd ever had a second film to play with -- Webb simplifies and streamlines things with a great deal of assurance. For instance, Raimi mined the Daily Bugle angle pretty much dry, so Webb moves Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) back to high school... saving J. Jonah Jameson and Company for a later film. Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka) and Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) take center stage, while Spidey's origins jettison the wrestling match and other out-there notions in favor of more bare-bones specifics. Don't worry, Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) are still in attendance, as are the lessons Pete draws from both of them. The new narrative simply ties everything more closely to the villain of the piece so as not to waste our time.
As for the villain... yeah, he rocks. Raimi teased us with the possibilities of the Lizard for three films, and now that he's finally here (albeit in a different form than Raimi's), he proves well worth the wait. Rhys Ifans invests Dr. Curt Connors with a mad scientist's fixation, a nominally decent man eager to restore his missing limb and pushed by outside circumstances to rush the process a tad too much. His reptilian form is easily the scariest Spidey movie villain we've seen so far, which not only facilitates some awesome fight sequences, but also raises the possibility that poor old Pete may be battling out of his weight class.
Webb applies a similar skillful touch to the development of the hero's identity: owing a huge debt to Batman Year One, but rendering the final results much more organic and believable. The web-shooters receive similar treatment; Raimi's organics are gone, but their incarnation here doesn't ask us to believe that a high school student could devises an unprecedented chemical webbing in his bedroom. Like so much of the film, it ties closely into the other elements: retaining the core essence of what we expect while adding some clever touches of its own. The best elements in the film concern the burgeoning romance between Parker and Stacey. Once again, they have some big shoes to fill -- the Tobey Maguire/Kirsten Dunst pairing was positively electric -- and once again the film finds a way to chart its own course. Stacey is quieter and more approachable than Mary Jane Watson, with subtler fears and a more open attraction to Peter. The performers work a more subdued magic than the first couple did, but magic it remains (O Emma Stone, is there anything you cannot do?). We all know how the Stacey story ends, of course, but the sense of doom doesn't overshadow the more positive side of their blossoming teenage attraction here.
The film's flaws remain comparable to Raimi's in a lot of ways: some unnecessary pandering, a truncated finale, the curious use of visual effects in a set piece that doesn't need them. More importantly, it never shakes the sense that it arrived too soon: a decision that speaks to legal rights and cash cows more than any compelling creative impetus. The Amazing Spider-Man takes all those lemons and makes a surprisingly tasty batch of lemonade: lively, entertaining and more than justifying the time and effort spent. Its standing as the runt of this summer's superhero litter (assuming Nolan doesn't pull a boner) stems more from the quality of its company than any failure on its part. Indeed, it actually leaves us very interested in possible sequels. Considering how things could have gone, that's pretty... well... amazing.
Mania Grade: B+
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field and Campbell Scott
Written by: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves
Directed by: Marc Webb
Studio: Sony Pictures
Run Time: 137 minutes