By Michael Calleri
If you looked at the calendar and marveled at the fact that there’s a new Spider-Man movie merely ten years after the big Tobey Maguire hit of 2002, you’d be correct in wondering if originality truly has fled Hollywood for pastures, if not quite greener, certainly more hospitable.
Not only was the decade-old “Spider-Man” very popular, but it also bred two equally successful pictures, “Spider-Man 2” in 2004 and “Spider-Man 3” in 2007. What on earth could they possibly do with a new adventure, you might ask? And with the first three barely out of knickers, as they used to say.
Rather than continue on with the saga of a young man with powers that even a spider would envy, the production team has gone back to the beginning. That first bite, if you will. Director Marc Webb, of the excellent “(500) Days Of Summer,” has been joined by three screenwriters to deliver “The Amazing Spider-Man.”
It’s an interesting trio of writers working with Webb, who has replaced Sam Raimi, the director of the three previous Spider-Man adventures. James Vanderbilt wrote the moody thriller “Zodiac” and co-wrote the comic action effort “The Rundown.” Steve Kloves contributed to all of the Harry Potter films. And, in what may seem like an aberration in youth-obsessed Los Angeles, there’s 85-year old Alvin Sargent, whose prodigious movie and television writing credits go back to the 1950s, and include two screenplay Academy Awards. In Sargent’s case, he also co-wrote the second and third Spider-Man films.
With “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Webb and his boys have created an edgier take on the transformation of an ordinary high school teenager into a web-spinning crime fighter. In fact, the new movie makes Maguire’s Spider-Man seem quaint and cute, almost a throwback to those innocent Andy Hardy movies of the 1940s.
This time around, Peter Parker is a gangly, awkward skateboarding science nerd, who, more often than not, is bullied by a blond basketball-playing beefcake nicknamed Flash, nicely acted by Chris Zylka. Parker’s girl crush of choice is not the sweet Mary Jane, but is instead the brainy and sexy Gwen Stacy. Emma Stone is good, but she’s just a shake off-the-mark, perhaps a little too old to be playing a teasing high schooler. There are moments when a very good Andrew Garfield, who plays Parker, reminds you of the young, gangly, and awkward Anthony Perkins.
Parker is still conflicted over the disappearance of his parents, but he adores his caretakers, the kindly Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Martin Sheen and Sally Field are wonderful as the benevolent oldsters who love their charge but are a little bit bewildered by his expressions of teenage angst. Uncle Ben will spout aphorisms about being true to yourself and Aunt May will offer comfort food for the soul. Although after more than thirty years of marriage, it seems that Ben doesn’t really like May’s meatloaf.
As with the other films, the misuse of science is equally important in this Spider-Man movie. Crashing a tour of interns at Oscorp Industries, where secretive and nefarious experiments are underway beneath the worker bee surface, photography-obsessed Parker is bitten by a spider. He quickly develops extraordinary powers, which are first seen in a fight scene on a New York City subway. This is a more robust introduction to the ability of a young man to hang from a ceiling and soon spin webs and soar from building to building. Contrast it with Maguire’s bemused discovery that he has muscles everywhere.
Eventually, Parker will feel the need to avenge the abuse of Uncle Ben and he becomes obsessed with finding a specific street thug, which makes him a hero to New Yorkers and a vigilante to the cops, including a sardonic Dennis Leary as the captain. Meanwhile, at Oscorp, a one-armed scientist, Dr. Curt Connors, is desperately trying to perfect a serum that will grow limbs. There’s a wealthy person in the shadows demanding all speed on this experiment. Doctor Connors was Peter’s father’s partner, and the conspiratorial web woven with this subplot will be part of the mystery that confronts Parker. Rhys Ifans plays Connors with the just the right blend of curiosity and menace, the latter being essential when he turns into a giant, building-busting lizard that stops traffic wherever he lumbers. A rescue on an East River bridge is one of the better of many good action scenes. The lizard antics gives Leary a great line of sarcastic dialogue about Tokyo.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” plays out with the expected grand finale of an action sequence. The initial burst of closing credits will swiftly pause for one more dialogue scene, which runs 30-seconds and gives you a hint at the next chapter in this obviously on-going Spider-Man adventure. I saw the new movie in 3D, and although I rarely recommend 3D transfers, I think that this film looks good and merits your interest in that format. Sony Pictures, the studio behind Spider-Man, has its own 3D technology, and it makes for a brighter screen and more engaging and eye-pleasing 3D effects. Many indoor scenes have a engaging depth to them.
For those weary of the major studios cranking out imitation after imitation, your concern is understandable. Regarding creativity, at some point in Hollywood’s future, the snake really is going to eat its own tail, but fortunately, at least regarding catching a good 3D action picture this week, we’re not completely at that stage yet. “The Amazing Spider-Man” is highly entertaining.
Thematically, the movie is bleaker than the others and may not be suitable for very young children. But for teenagers and adults with an appetite for emotional discomfort, abandonment issues, and science gone amok, with some good acting and plenty of believable action, this film is worth seeing.
Michael Calleri is a free-lance writer who specializes in reviewing movies and reporting on entertainment. He can be reached by email at Movierole (at) aol.com. “The Amazing Spider-Man” is currently playing in theaters around the world.