When I was nine I received a paperback graphic novel titled “The Amazing Spiderman.” I devoured it. It recounted the origin of one of my favorite all time super heroes. One I could truly relate to, not the most popular kid, into science, let’s say just a “touch on the fringe.” I remember imagining that I, too, possessed these powers, the ability to walk up walls and have super strength and lightening reflexes. I also remember the trouble I would get into for leaving black footprints on my parents’ fresh hallway paint while trying to exercise my spider wall climbing ability. This was of course one of the innocent modalities of youth which I’m sure many of us have experienced. But alas, we must grow up. We must set aside our innocence and the pleasantries of ignorance and go out into the world where there is no such thing as radioactive spiders, at least, not the kind that grant us superpowers. We must inevitably face the reality that life has real challenges and heartbreak and loss.
The metamorphosis from youth to adulthood is what Marc Webb attempts to capture with his rebooted vision of “The Amazing Spider-man.” This feat is managed reasonably well despite some rather lazy plot devices and undeveloped character motivation. And while Andrew Garfield owns the role of Spidey, crawling carefully from Tobey Macguire’s shadow, he lacks some of the powerlessness we come to expect from Peter Parker. I, for one, actually enjoy this grittier version.
Many of the key points that make any summer blockbuster exciting are hit square on the head. The CGI is breathtaking and not over utilized. Even in extremely heavy effects laden scenes such as the climactic battle with “The Lizard” played by Rhys Ifans, there is enough temperance to remain rooted in the believable. The use of 3D filming is excellent and truly immersive. But, it’s the first hour of the film that sets the tone of the movie and gives us reason to imagine a darker, more broken version of our hero.
The film begins by setting up the mystery cloaked disappearance of Peter’s parents, which obviously remains a mystery in order to set up the inevitable sequel. Peter is foisted from his home and placed with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, played respectably by Sally Field and Martin Sheen. Flash forward to the present, where the discovery of Peter’s father’s old briefcase leads him to search for clues that would illuminate the secrets that shrouded his father’s work at Oscorp. With seeming ease, Peter makes entrance to a highly secured, multi-national, research and development company and in turn finds an unguarded room housing genetically manipulated spiders that spin super high tensile strength web for industrial use. If this sounds a bit too convenient, you can cue the lazy plot devices now. We all know that a spider bite and the subsequent genetic mutation caused Peter’s miraculous transformation into the Amazing Spiderman. What you may not know, that at least in this reboot, this transformation gives him a taste for flies as well, which of course is an allusion to the idea that he has truly become part spider. This notion is expanded on, with the way Peter moves during the fight and flight scenes peppered throughout the movie. He now shares the genetic makeup of an arachnid.
Although this wasn’t a full reboot of the original trilogy, unlike Chris Nolans “Batman Begins,” which completely redefined how we view comic book based movies, it is enough of a change to draw viewers in and will surely allow the character to become a marketing juggernaut once again. And, even though it is far more noir and more mature it still holds on to enough innocence to remind us of who this hero was truly meant to be.
At its core this film is actually struggles to be two distinct movies. It is a true summer blockbuster and embodies everything that comes along with that. But it’s also about how Peter came to be Peter. And even though true fans may decry the plot “enhancements,” I found them to lend to the idea that Peter is a broken hero, a grittier more modern version of the classic Parker. To further the maturation of the lead character we get to see the budding romance between Peter and Gwen Stacy played by the beautiful and witty Emma Stone. This romance is more sensual than any of the previous Spiderman installments. Webb smartly allows the film to dote on these two as they carry the film and will captivate viewers in a deeper way than 3D animation and CGI will alone.
In the end, this film was truly entertaining, and it took me back to a place in my youth when all things were possible, yet while doing that managed to appeal to the adult in me. I may have to dig up my old graphic novel and give it a reread, who knows maybe even put some tennis shoe marks on the wall for old time sake.