Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

The big screen adventures of Marvel Comics’ webslinging superhero have been rebooted back to the beginning with a fresh cast and director, and the end result is a solidly entertaining film with a few inspired moments.

After being bitten by a genetically modified spider, geeky high school student Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) begins to develop superpowers. After his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) is murdered by a criminal Peter could have stopped, Peter adopts the identity of Spider-Man. His life is complicated by a burgeoning romance with fellow student Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), whose father NYPD Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) wants to arrest Spider-Man for being a vigilante, and his missing father’s colleague Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), soon to become the villainous Lizard.

Director Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer) capably blends the elements of action, romance, and humor into a satisfying whole. While he doesn’t break new ground, he does deliver a polished, contemporary take on the title character. Despite his background as a music video director, the film never devolves into an exercise in pure visual style. Webb stays with the fundamentals of storytelling, and when the big action scenes arrive, they don’t overwhelm the rest of the film. If I have one complaint, it’s that Webb shot the film entirely in 3D but doesn’t always take advantage of that. There may be a few eye-catching sequences in 3D, but you’re really not missing much if you don’t see it in 3D.

Screenwriters James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, The Losers), Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People, Spider-Man 2), and Steve Kloves (seven of the eight Harry Potter films) deliver a solidly written story. Despite the familiarity of Spider-Man’s origin story by now, this version is broadly consistent with the comics and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, but they mix it up enough to keep it from feeling stale. While the writing is workmanlike, it does serve up a few inspired moments, such as the cranes scene toward the end.

Cinematographer John Schwartzman (Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, The Green Hornet) and production designer J. Michael Riva (Spider-Man 3, Iron Man) give the film a textured look that suits the material. I particularly like how costume designer Kym Barrett (The Matrix, The Green Hornet) redesigned the Spider-Man costume. It’s still very recognizable as the iconic costume, however it looks contemporary and realistic. Composer James Horner (Titanic, Avatar) delivers an appropriately heroic score. The visual effects are quite good, including the motion capture-based Lizard.

Andrew Garfield brings more edge and cheekiness to the role than the earnest Tobey Maguire did, but like Maguire he makes the character come alive and capably carries the film as Pater Parker/Spider-Man. I thought he was a good choice to succeed Maguire, and that was confirmed. His background as a gymnast also serves him well. Garfield shares good on-screen chemistry with Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, and they bring a sweet romantic quality to their scenes. Stone is well-cast as Gwen, bringing a brainy confidence to the role.

The cast as a whole effectively realize their characters, including Rhys Ifans as Dr. Connors/The Lizard, Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben, Sally Field as Aunt May, Denis Leary as Captain Stacy, Irrfan Khan as Oscorp employee Dr. Ratha, Chris Zylka as Peter’s high school nemesis Flash Thompson, Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz as Peter’s parents, and C. Thomas Howell as a man whose young son is saved by Spider-Man. Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee has an amusing cameo as a high school librarian.

How does The Amazing Spider-Man compare to Sam Raimi’s earlier Spider-Man films? It doesn’t soar quite as high as Spider-Man 2, but it’s the equal of the first Spider-Man and helps erase negative feelings toward the franchise lingering from the inferior Spider-Man 3.

The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and its use of 3D is underwhelming at times, but it’s an effective reboot that provides good entertainment value.

[4 out of 5 stars]

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