The Amazing Spider-Man
Now playing at Dunbar, Park, Scotiabank
In case you haven’t noticed, superheroes are hot. So let’s dispense with the first question on everyone’s lips, as to why a Spider-Man reboot was necessary, so hot on the heels of the last trilogy (Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 came out in 2007).
Whether hatched from the same egg as the Marvel comic or not, the Amazing Spider-Man is simply a superb piece of summer entertainment, one that eyes the bottom line but doesn’t forget that it was a good story that started the thing in the first place.
It took (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb to strike just the right balance between intimacy and Imax fireworks, and it took a Brit to breathe new life into a great American hero: Andrew Garfield is Peter Parker, a teen whose parental abandonment still stings just as much as that spider bite he just got in the lab.
Ah yes, the spider bite. You may think you know the story, but you haven’t heard it told quite like this. Peter lives with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Sally Field and Martin Sheen) but is desperate to know the circumstances that led his parents to flee in the middle of the night. He stumbles on some of his father’s old papers, a trail that leads him to Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans), his dad’s old partner, and a leading expert on cross-species genetics.
Peter goes poking around the lab and finds not one spider, but hundreds of the things, nestled in a spectacular network of techno-webs.
Peter’s first brushes with the powerful side-effects of the bite are comical, as is the trend (see Chronicle for boys fooling with their new superpowers). The first time he swings from a web, he takes out the outdoor seating of a Starbucks. Peter hones his spidey skills in private, with the aid of his skateboard, in an infectiously joyous sequence.
Making Peter equally giddy is the brainy and beautiful Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Even if you didn’t know that Garfield and Stone are a real-life couple, it’s apparent that their chemistry is better than anything Dr. Connors could cook up in his lab. Inconveniently, Gwen is the daughter of an overprotective police captain (Denis Leary) who wants Spider-Man in custody. But Peter can’t give up the costume, which he designed himself (and which Gwen’s dad calls “a unitard”): Dr. Connors has gone all mad-scientist in the lab, transforming himself into a powerful lizard that roams New York City’s sewers.
Connors is a modern villain, conflicted and forced into bad deeds by an Indian guy and the dying head of a corporation. Plus, when’s the last time you heard a bad guy quote Michelangelo? (“Would I… be free, to cast off flesh wherein I dwell confined.”)
Peter Parker is equally angst-ridden. Though his father’s last words to him were “be good,” it takes some time (most of the movie, in fact) before Peter can use his powers altruistically, with no thought of revenge and without some degree of teenage cockiness. Garfield conveys a lovely range of hurt, neglect, recklessness and moral duty, making this as much a coming-of-age story as it is a superhero movie.
Time and place is distinctively modern: sure, Peter carries a vintage camera around, but The Daily Bugle is a 24-hour news network. And Peter’s gee-whiz sheen is gone. Case in point: Peter is the aggressor in one make-out scene with Gwen, while Tobey Maguire would’ve run home to Aunt May.
Visuals are impressively laid out and fight scenes make dizzying use of close-ups. There are only one or two jarring scenes that mess with the tone: one, when the score threatens to drown out a Lizard/Spidey smackdown in a school hallway; and another, when horror-movie piano riffs make us momentarily forget which theatre we wandered into.
But in Garfield, the pic’s producers picked a perfect Peter Parker (say that five times fast). And the moment we start swinging and see the city from Spider-Man’s perspective, we know that extra money we spent on Imax was worth every penny.