Steve Kelley Reviews ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Rhys Ifans
Note: an earlier version incorrectly listed Gwen Stacy as Gwen Tracy. Special thanks to Russ M. for the correction.
With the seemingly annual (sometimes biannual) releases of Marvel films, there’s little doubt that superhero movies are in style. This year’s release of The Avengers skyrocketed into the record books and became the third-highest grossing film of all time.
Sam Raimi made the first three Spiderman films and was prepping to make a fourth (and possibly fifth and sixth), but eventually left the project when he felt he would be unable to produce his artistic vision in a limited timeline. The cancellation of Spiderman 4 coincided with the announcement that the franchise would be rebooted, despite the fact that the first in Raimi’s trilogy had come out less than a decade ago. The production team would remain, but the entire cast would be replaced, most notably with Andrew Garfield taking over as Spiderman. The result is a slickly-presented film that has its moments, but seems to share too many of them with the first incarnation.
The film starts with a young Peter Parker playing hide and seek with his father when he discovers their house has been broken into. Alarmed, his father and mother pack him up to live with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) before they leave, never to be seen again.
Forward a decade or so, and Peter’s now an awkward teenager struggling to gain acceptance in high school. He’s not an athlete like Flash Thompson, and he’s not popular like Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). One night he finds his father’s old briefcase and discovers that his father once worked with Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) at Oscorp. Desperate to find answers, he sneaks his way into Oscorp and is bitten by a genetically mutated spider. On the subway ride home, he discovers his new incredible strength and agility, which he then uses to humiliate Flash in a game of basketball. After an argument with his Uncle Ben, he storms out. In an attempt to reconcile with him, Ben heads out on the streets, where he observes a robbery. Attempting to help (this after he lectured Peter that those with the ability to help others have an obligation to do so), he is shot and killed by the robber.
Seeking vengeance, Peter begins to roam the streets looking for his uncle’s killer. He dons a mask after seeing a poster of a luchador and pairs it with a spandex costume. Meanwhile, he gets closer to Dr. Connors, who worked with his father on genetically modifying DNA with animal cells in order to help limbs regenerate and cure diseases. This is of great interest to Connors, who feels pressure from the Osborns to produce results. Peter also discovers that Gwen’s father, George Stacy (Denis Leary), is a captain in the NYPD and is attempting to hunt down Spider-Man, whom he considers a vigilante. Desperate for results, Connors injects himself with a chemical compound after seeing positive results in a lab mouse, but the solution backfires and he turns into The Lizard.
Sound at least vaguely familiar?
While the film does feature different villains and the Osborns play an indirect role, it is a rehashing of the first film. I’m sure the audience has this in mind, though, and with that knowledge, the film has to pretty much score across the board with its presentation and performances, which it does. Sort of.
I’ve been a fan of Andrew Garfield ever since I first saw him in Lions for Lambs. He’s British, but does a rather terrific job of hiding his accent (always seems like British actors are much more believable as Americans than vice versa). Ifans also turns in a commendable performance as a scientist who seeks to better humanity and himself through his experimentations, as he’s missing his right arm above his elbow.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast isn’t too memorable. Sheen is solid in his limited role as Uncle Ben, and Leary’s so-so as a protective father, but neither shine. I love me some Emma Stone, but she never really does anything memorable to set her apart from the leading lady in the first Spiderman film, Kirsten Dunst (yes, I know, she’s Mary Jane, not Gwen, but still).
If you’re prone to motion sickness, you may want to skip this one, or at least avoid the 3D version. Although most of the film could do without the addition of 3D, the effect is admittedly impressive when the camera follows Spiderman through New York while he’s slinging from building to building. The Lizard effects looked pretty good as well.
If you’re looking for a solid action film to tide you over until the release of Dark Knight Rises, this might certainly fit the bill. It won’t be setting any box office records, nor will it take the mantle of greatest of all time, but it’s still a good time.
The Amazing Spider-Man gets a B-.