With Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen. Written by James Vanderbilt and Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves. Directed by Marc Webb. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence). 136 minutes.
Was there a need for a “Spider-Man” reboot just ten years after the first Sam Raimi film starring Tobey Maguire and just five years after that series concluded? No, not really, except for the fact that if Columbia Pictures didn’t make another one they risked having their license for the character revert to Marvel Comics which had set up its own production company in the interim. Thus we get THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.
While the story is familiar even to those who did not grow up reading the comic books, it takes a different tack than the previous series, spending much more time on character development. It takes quite a long time in this two-and-a-quarter-hour film for Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) to become Spider-Man. For those who thought the earlier series was great because it spend so much time on special effects and action scenes, this will be excruciating. For those who actually like getting involved with the characters, it’s an improvement.
Case in point is the character of Uncle Ben, played by the late Cliff Robertson in the original and by Martin Sheen here. Ben’s purpose is to teach Peter that with great power comes great responsibility, and then to die, serving as both a cautionary guilt trip and inspiration to the new superhero. Robertson was a fine actor who provided sufficient weight to a largely symbolic role. Sheen, on the other hand, gets to create a character so that you actually get a sense of the relationship he’s had with the nephew he’s had to raise after Peter’s parents die. (On the other hand Sally Field is utterly lost in the role of Aunt May.)
For those new to the franchise, Peter is bitten by a spider which has been manipulated in scientific experiments conducted by Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), and is transformed from wimpy high school kid to someone with great strength. Further, he’s able to climb walls and swing from web strands that this film does a much better job of explaining. Adopting the masked identity of Spider-Man, he fights bad guys although the police – particularly Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) – think he’s a menace.
The romance is supplied by Gwen (Emma Stone), a smart classmate of Peter’s who provides the link to a couple of other characters. While there’s no upside-down kiss – easily the most memorable moment in the original film – there’s a nice rapport between Garfield and Stone. Where the film falls short, as did the original and too many other superhero movies, is in the big set piece battles. Dr. Connors injects himself with an experimental serum and becomes “The Lizard,” whom Spider-Man must defeat if all of New York City is not going to be similarly transformed. It’s all CGI and it’s a safe bet that Garfield and Ifans weren’t even present when the big fights were taking place. It undercuts the characterization the film has expended so much effort on.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” is an entertaining superhero film with solid performances from Garfield, Sheen, Stone and Ifans, a serviceable one from Leary and a painful one from Field. Whether the public needs and wants a Spider-Man reboot – as opposed to what the lawyers required – remains to be seen.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.