Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man

So I had this coupon from Best Buy that allowed me to pick up a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man for half price. Another one of those films I’d heard of but didn’t really know much about, except that 1) it’s about Spider-Man, a character who has started to intrigue me, and 2) superhero. (Note: I haven’t started really digging into Spider-Man yet, so I’m not going to comment on the success of this as a reboot, and also please note that I’m working from a one-disc edition (even though it comes up on Windows Media Player as the 4-disc version).

Four-year old Peter Parker (Max Charles), during a game of hide and seek, discovers that his father’s office has been ransacked. His parents’ reaction is puzzling to the little boy: they bundle him off to stay with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), and then disappear. We next see Peter (Andrew Garfield) as a nerdy teenager, socially inept but very, very smart. He discovers the documents his father left with Uncle Ben, detailing his researches into cross-species genetics, and determines to find his father’s former partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Sneaking into the offices of Oscorp by appropriating the ID badge of another intern candidate, he runs smack into Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a girl in his class (and daughter of the local police captain (Dennis Leary)) who has already expressed some interest in him (if rescuing him from a bully counts as “expressing interest”). Peter does make his way into Dr. Connors’ office, and then into one of the research labs, where he is bitten by a spider. (I know you were waiting for that — we were all waiting for that.)

Dr. Connors, in the meantime, has determined to use himself as a test subject for a serum that should give him the ability to regenerate his right arm, lost in an accident some years before. Peter is discovering that he has some new capabilities of his own, and goes looking for the thug who killed his uncle. Dr. Connors’ new abilities have some unforeseen side effects. Peter’s just need training.

If you’re anything like me, when you run across something that appeals to you a great deal, you start to wonder why — just what it is that makes it so attractive? In the case of The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s fairly easy to figure out.

First and foremost is the cast. Garfield and Stone are perfect, he as the socially maladroit, skinny, nerdy teenage boy, she as the sophisticated and more mature teenage girl. There’s good chemistry here that adds a lot of sparkle to their exchanges. Martin Sheen and Sally Field as the Uncle Ben and Aunt May — do I really have to say anything? Superb actors, both of them, and perfect here. Ifans has the difficult task of making the “mad scientist” archetype believable, and he pulls it off. Leary’s police captain is, first and foremost, a cop, with all that implies, and he’s not real impressed by Peter; he’s also really irritated at this “vigilante” who’s managed to screw up a couple of police operations. Even Chris Zylka, as the school bully, Flash Thompson, manages to avoid stereotype.

Director Marc Webb had the good sense to develop the necessary groundwork concisely and quickly — Peter learns to handle his new abilities in a dizzying sequence that is solidly constructed and lasts just a few minutes. And the pacing thereafter is excellent. It’s a good, tight script with enough levity to keep it from being ponderous.

This is not to say that the psychology is ignored, a credit to both the writers and the actors. Peter starts off as a teenage boy who, when he discovers that he’s strong and quick and agile and can beat people up, goes a little nuts. He gets brought up short a few times, first by Uncle Ben, and then by Uncle Ben’s death, and later by Captain Stacy, and it works on him. By the end of the movie, he’s a grown-up — or almost, anyway. You can see that his attitudes and behavior have changed. It’s something that holds true for pretty much everyone in this story, even Flash — he’s faced with a former victim who can now whip him, and his reaction almost stereotypical — he wants to be friends — but Zylka makes it believable.

Effects are wonderful (they should be — the credits for effects, art and sound are extensive, to say the least), and the body doubles on this one should get star billing, Ilram Choi and David Elson, in particular, Garfield’s stand-ins — the acrobatics are top notch.

The DVD is I’m reviewing from is the single-disc edition, and includes dialogue in English, French or Spanish, Dolby 5.1 Digital audio, subtitles in English, English SDH, French and Spanish, deleted scenes, stunt rehearsals, a production art gallery (the Oscorp Archives), and a commentary.

Random thought: I find it fairly amusing that The Amazing Spider-Man was directed by a man named Marc Webb.

(Columbia Pictures, Marvel Entertainment, Laura Ziskin Productions) Running time 136 minutes, rated PG

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

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