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“The Amazing Spiderman,” Mark Webb’s latest reboot of the Spiderman franchise, hit theaters this week and raked in an estimated $75 million in just three days. Opinions on the film have swung between being dubbed the best superhero flick to date, to denounced as a total abomination to Marvel Comics, to everything in between. Regardless, “Amazing Spiderman” is a thoroughly entertaining summertime movie offering ample action, a good sense of humor, and believable humans (spider-humans, at least) rather than one-dimensional characters just peeled off of a comic book page.
Use of effects that best justify the price of 3D glasses since “Avatar” don’t hurt, either.
The success of “The Amazing Spiderman” rides on the blue and red suited shoulders of Andrew Garfield, the cute Brit who first touched stardom after his role as Mark Zuckerburg’s buddy in “The Social Network.” Garfield’s interpretation of Parker possesses an unusual charm that brings about an adorable awkwardness unusual to the superhero genre. Never failing to flash a sheepish ear-to-ear grin when embarrassed or stammer at exactly the perfectly wrong moment, Garfield is confused and angsty, but still convincing as a courageous protector of New York.
Garfield’s chemistry with Emma Stone, as babe-with-brains Gwen Stacy, is so natural that the whole human-turned-spider thing often plays second violin to their witty and downright adorable exchanges. This is no doubt thanks to Webb’s “500 Days of Summer” RomCom chops, and it brings an unexpectedly warm touch to the bleak story of Spiderman’s rise. Stacy is anything but a damsel in distress, and Stone’s feisty attitude was not lost with natural red hair dyed blonde. Besides, it’s nearly impossible to look into her giant, twinkling eyes and not swoon at least a little bit.
Stone isn’t the only gem of Webb’s casting; frankly, there wasn’t a role choice that didn’t work. Martin Sheen and Sally Field shine as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, Parker’s guardians after his parents’ untimely evacuation of his life. The two characters may be taken for granted as staples of the Spiderman franchise, but the superb acting should not be overlooked, especially considering the importance of both to Parker’s growth from meek photographer to fearless hero.
Impossible to ignore is the film’s striking visual appeal. It’s an appropriately grungy set, but never so much that the bright reds and blues of Spidey’s costume look like a recently polished action figure left forgotten in a dirty New York City gutter. Webb’s lighting choices create symbolism hidden in shadows, set to an awesome soundtrack never failing to sweep an audience up in a moment. Garfield may not fill out a spandex suit like Scarlett Johansson, but his (or at least his stunt double’s) spider-like limbs are fascinating to watch scuttle up a building or drop in unexpectedly on a bad guy.
As for the storyline, the spider-meets-boy, spider-bites-boy, boy-saves-the-city formula never deviates from the norm. Rhys Ifans’ creepy but sympathetic interpretation as Dr. Connors-turned-Lizard works, but doesn’t bring any heart-stopping dynamism like Heath Ledger’s Joker did in “The Dark Knight.” Action sequences are entertaining but not mind blowing; the conclusion is satisfying but lacking a twist.
It’s the relationships between Peter Parker and his friends/family that make the film most compelling, almost creating two movies within the one: a decent superhero flick on one reel, and a romantic comedy on another. The division can be closed if viewers buy Garfield as Spiderman and enjoy watching his relationships blossom; otherwise, the pacing is slowed by scenes lacking action and an all too familiar story.
Additionally, with the power to control the direction of the Spiderman franchise comes the responsibility to include the following words: “with great power comes great responsibility.” As another Toonari writer pointed out, these words were painfully absent.
This, along with various other script discontinuities (the fate of Parker’s mother is never discussed; the complications of the Lizard’s attack on NYC in the final battle sequence are surprisingly inconsequential) prevents the film from rising to the ranks of other franchise reboots to release in recent years.
But superhero movies always ask us to suspend our disbelief in the air right alongside their gravity-defying protagonists, and though getting into Peter Parker’s spandex suit may require a stretch, believing his story doesn’t.
Image Courtesy of The Amazing Spider-Man