Long before audiences became fatigued by reboots and superhero movies, the executives at Sony Pictures saw fit to produce a new interpretation of the Spider-Man franchise, complete with a fresh cast and director. While at the time the movie offered a welcome deviation from its contemporaries, it sadly no longer possesses that feeling of awe.
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a teenager who lives in suburban New York with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). When not skateboarding or pining for the affections of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), his very attractive classmate, he thinks back to the night when he last saw his parents – they died in mysterious circumstances while Peter was only a child.
One day, while clearing out the basement, Peter discovers a briefcase belonging to his late father. Inside the case are research papers co-authored by Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who worked with Peter’s father at Oscorp, a scientific research centre. Dr Connors is an amputee who has long been researching how to regenerate human cells, but has made little to no progress since the death of his colleague.
Wanting to learn more about his father, Peter heads to Oscorp Tower, hopeful of getting to speak with Connors. While snooping around the building, Peter enters a secret laboratory where, unfortunately, he meddles with the experiments and is bitten by a radioactive spider. This bite gives Peter super-human reflexes, enormous strength and the ability to cling to any surface or object, powers which prove useful on the crime-ridden New York streets.
Directed by Marc Webb, The Amazing Spider-Man has a sense of earnestness which was sorely lacking in Sam Raimi’s overly-camp Spider-Man trilogy. Central to its success is Andrew Garfield, who is a much better Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire ever was, and a better actor. Garfield’s performance has a great depth and sincerity that Maguire wasn’t able to convey.
Another top casting choice is that of Emma Stone, who is wonderful as Gwen Stacy. Stone’s character is better developed than previous love-interest Mary-Jane – who was played by the uncharismatic Kirsten Dunst – and is shown to be a far more resourceful and supportive protagonist. Additionally, Stone and Garfield have a great on-screen chemistry, sharing some of the more tender moments seen in any Marvel film.
Marring these inspired casting choices is the familiar plot, which not only takes inspiration from Raimi’s Spider-Man but from many other superhero movies as well. These discussions about secret identities, the city needing a symbol, and the role of police versus the anonymous crime-fighter are all very interesting, but they have been explored many times before now, and in a better manner by movies like Batman Begins and Iron Man.
A more personal disappointment is the lack of screen-time given to Sally Field and Martin Sheen, two very talented actors who are seen only briefly. There are scenes that have one or both of Peter’s adoptive parents showing concern for his injuries and his tendency to return home late, yet The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t take time to examine these issues further. And even if such moments aren’t necessary, it wouldn’t hurt to see more interaction between the three.
When it was first released, The Amazing Spider-Man was often criticised for taking itself too seriously and its very open declaration of a sequel, but it was nonetheless appreciated for having a different tone to that of Sam Raimi’s movies. Nowadays though, this same tone only works against The Amazing Spider-Man, starving it of the fun, colourful and exciting action sequences that have made the Disney-owned Marvel Cinematic Universe so popular.
Despite this grievance, and others beside, The Amazing Spider-Man is a very admirable film. Both Garfield and Stone are undoubtedly what make the movie so special, giving great performances and exuding almost-genuine warmth. And whether one appreciates it or not, the mature tone does at least provide an interesting viewing experience.