Reporting Eric Henderson
A long, long, long, long, long time ago, they made a series of Spider-Man movies. And now they’re starting over again. You can understand why they’d want to start from fresh. After all, when the old movies were made, they didn’t have sophisticated special effects, Dolby surround sound, modern notions of what superhero physiques should look like. I mean, they didn’t even know movies could be in anything other than two dimensions back then!
Oh wait, they had all those things because the first installment of the previous series came out only 10 years ago, and director Sam Raimi still managed to make his images pop off the screen without the help of polarization specs.
Yes, most fans would say the third installment of the series botched it, but the first and especially the second were hugely responsible for rekindling the comic book superhero movie from the oblivion it faced in the good old late ’90s, when you couldn’t put an actor in spandex without audiences rightly laughing him or her right off the screen.
Technically, you could say Batman killed the genre … and then fully resuscitated it nearly a decade later vis-à-vis Christopher Nolan’s “why so serious” new installments. Thus, it probably wasn’t so much the crappiness of Spider-Man 3 that sparked Sony’s new do-over reboot but the fact that Warner Brothers made off with grosses surpassing most nations’ GNP with The Dark Knight. The directive given to the filmmakers behind The Amazing Spider-Man was undoubtedly: strut that teen angst.
It’s a good look for Nolan and Batman, but frankly, it would’ve been tonally jarring against that most plucky of superheroes. So it’s something of a relief to report that director Marc Webb didn’t exactly goth it up. But it also makes the entire proposition of rebooting the franchise so soon kind of moot.
As played by Andrew Garfield (who seems much more authentically teenaged than did Tobey Maguire), Peter Parker is more of an eyewitness to high school bullying than an outright victim, though he does find himself on the losing end of a few punches. Abandoned by his parents after his father’s medical discoveries make him a nebulously dangerous man, Parker grows up under the supervision of his endlessly doting aunt and uncle (Sally Field and Martin Sheen, both over-acting every inch out of roles that ask for simple folksy concern).
There isn’t much point in detailing the origin story, because it’s no doubt still fresh thanks to the 2002 version. The differences are mostly cosmetic, and serve only to play up the vulnerability of Garfield’s performance as Parker, as opposed to Maguire’s self-satisfaction with his new musculature. Garfield remains somewhat gawky in the role. He can scale walls, but has to rig up devices to shoot webbing; it doesn’t emerge from his wrists biologically.
Director Webb brings some of the anxiety-prone romantic tension to Parker’s blossoming relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, magnetic as usual, but in a functionally generic way here) that was in full fettle in his most notable previous credit: the Zooey Deschanel/Joseph Gordon-Levitt romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer, a would-be millennial Annie Hall. In scenes where Parker and Stacy dance around their fumbling attraction for each other, Webb gives their discomfort and social ungainliness enough breathing room to reach a nearly breathless point.
And that’s one of the only prominent reasons to recommend The Amazing Spider-Man at all, at least among the things that weren’t already notable the first time out under Raimi’s (much more dynamic) direction. The rest of the action in the 2012 version seems pretty directly lifted from Raimi’s previous efforts, but even if it weren’t, the newly minted history of radically diverse choices for megabudget superhero movie directors (i.e. Kenneth Branaugh, Jon Favreau, Michel Gondry) all resulting in samey product only goes to show that the true auteurs of these movies are the dealmakers and the F/X houses that make stunt people swoop in between skyscrapers.