Director Marc Webb's reboot of Marvel's web-slinging hero, aptly titled The Amazing Spider-Man, is a good effort; but fall's short in a few key categories. The film dwells on certain plot points. Then seemingly hurries along to get others out of the way. It's a bit disjointed. A friend that saw the film with me called it "dodgy" and that may be the best adjective to describe it. What works is the romance angle and the exposition of the primary character, Peter Parker; played with a boyish charm by British actor Andrew Garfield. We see Peter from a boy, get to meet his parents, and learn how he gained his 'amazing' powers. Unfortunately it gets a bit loose after laying down a solid intro. I firmly believe this is because the studio was tired of all the 'talking' and wanted to see some Spiderman action scenes sooner in the film.
A young Peter Parker is rushed out of his house and left with his father's (Campbell Scott) relatives, Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). We learn later that they died mysteriously in a plane crash, leaving Peter to grow up into a shy, hyper-intelligent teenager with a love of photography and the courage to stand up to bullies, even though he takes a beating every time. A flood in the family basement uncovers Peter's father's briefcase, which contains a secret folder pertaining to his work at Oscorp, a huge bio-tech company. Peter seeks out his father's former partner, a one-armed geneticist, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Peter is surprised to find out the girl he adores from afar in school, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), is an intern for Dr. Connors. Peter discovers a secret equation in his father's notes that will literally transform both of their lives forever.
The first hour of The Amazing Spider-Man is fantastic. This is not a ten pages and a boom script from writers James Vanderbilt and Alvin Sargent. Peter's life and problems are deeply explored. He's awkward and shy, has a crush on the school's prettiest girl, basically a teen being a teen. But the discovery of his father's work opens emotional issues that were never discussed. This leads to friction with his Uncle Ben as he begins the journey of discovering his powers. The scenes between Martin Sheen and Andrew Garfield are very realistic. What happens to Uncle Ben, which I won't discuss here, but everyone should know, has a titanic impact on Peter's life.
Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have excellent chemistry. This is Marc Webb's strength as a director. Stone's character of Gwen Stacy is the singular best improvement over the previous films. Gwen Stacy is a star, vivacious, smart, and beautiful - rocking some sweet knee-high boots the entire time. It's understandable why she would fall like a missile for Peter, and he in turn would be ecstatic, if characteristically unsmooth in his pursuit. Their relationship is pure magic and will be a great foundation to build on.
My biggest problem with the film is the antagonist. Rhys Ifans is a very good actor, but he's a caricature here. Connor's alter-ego, The Lizard, looks like a CGI cartoon and acts like a lame Bond villain. Webb spends all of his time building up exposition for Peter Parker, but almost nothing on the equal transformation that Connors undertakes to become The Lizard. This is where the film becomes hurried and contrived. Insert diabolical bad guy that plots city destruction which only Spider-Man can stop. Just when we feel we're seeing something fresh, the film dials back into convention and loses that spark of brilliance. It's obvious that Webb's future storyline is being laid down as he drops tidbits about Oscorp, their research, and what it is they're actually trying to achieve; but he needed to shore up the Connors character to be somewhat as defined as Parker.
I was not impressed by the film's visual effects. This is unexpected and to some extent, a big letdown. I've been reading raves about the effects and 3D from other writers, but maybe they saw a different film; because The Amazing Spider-Man is not a great effects film. The action sequences are okay, that's it, not terrible but not awesome either. They do the job adequately. Once again, this is an origin story, so I understand we're seeing Spider-Man powers at their fecund point. But I did expect to be dazzled by the discovery of his powers and the web-slinging through New York City. Maybe my expectations were too high. My hope that the effects would blow the pants off Sam Raimi's Spider-Man franchise were not met here.
I was not a huge fan of the Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy. And it is exceptionally hard to redo a story that is still relatively fresh in the minds of theater goers. So Marc Webb, the filmmakers, and cast deserve credit for making a decent remake of Spider-Man. The film has its good points, the primary leads and romance, but lacks fluidity and presence of a great villain. The Avengers is my costumed hero benchmark for summer 2012. The Amazing Spider-Man is not remotely in that category, but should be a fan hit regardless.