*Warning: The following review contains important plot details and spoilers.
“That was amazing.” As cliche as it is, that’s all I could think after I walked out of the theater, having just witnessed The Amazing Spider-Man. The action is frenetic. The acting is phenomenal. The plot is riveting. It’s as humorous as it is daring, and endearing as it is suspenseful.
Forced to part with his parents after a mysterious break-in, Peter Parker is struggling with his identity long before he gets bitten by that spider. But when he discovers some old research files in the basement of Uncle Ben and Aunt May’s house, he becomes obsessed about finding out what it could all mean.
He tracks down Doctor Connors, a scientist that used to work with Peter’s father and discovers first-hand that Connors and his corporation have been experimenting with crossing human and animal DNA to cure physical disabilities and diseases. Peter suddenly discovers he has developed super strength, as well as an uncanny ability to stick to things. Bullies become less of a problem, and he builds a relationship with a girl named Gwen Stacy.
Peter Parker reaches a tipping point when a close family member is killed. He becomes reclusive, anti-social, and obsessive about finding the killer, reaching disturbing levels of psychological imbalance and volatility. He essentially turns against everyone that cares for him, and even finds himself hunted by the police. When a giant lizard begins wreaking havoc on the city, Peter Parker thinks he has a good idea of who is behind it. But is he strong enough to confront a creature that is gaining more power with each passing day?
Marc Webb directs the heroic web-slinger in his first film since the innovative romantic drama (500) Days of Summer. I believe he was the perfect choice to take the helm for the new Spiderman. As he did with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in Summer, Webb builds chemistry between the two leads, which is a testament to his uncanny ability of connecting with the audience on an emotional level. Elements of a romantic comedy are certainly present, adding to the feel-good yet complicated nature of the film.
It doesn’t hurt that Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, Never Let Me Go) is one of the most promising young talents in all of Hollywood, showing an unusual amount of believable emotion even in this, a superhero movie. Garfield treats every scene he’s in with the utmost honesty and sacrifice as any actor I’ve seen, with the potential to be on the same skill level as Heath Ledger or Leonardo DiCaprio.
Garfield’s gripping portrayal of Peter Parker, corresponding with the film’s themes, echoes James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause in startling ways. In both movies, the central characters struggle with the idea of being alone in the world, fostered by an unstable home life. Like Dean’s Jim Stark, Garfield’s Peter Parker finds himself unable to back down from bullies or any kind of fight. He even confronts the city’s police chief as well as his own caretakers. Parker treads the line between rebel and hero throughout the movie.
The Amazing Spider-Man is geared primarily towards teenagers and preteens who will identify with the rebel/nerd Parker who struggles with the loss of his parents, confrontations with bullies, and expressing himself to females. But everyone can identify with the themes of using our talents and gifts to benefit others, not for our own selfish desires. Rebellion is our natural inclination, while righting the wrongs we’ve committed can motivate us to good, if only out of guilt. It’s only in the final battle scene in which Peter realizes he is “not alone.”
The film poses several questions and answers almost none of them, leaving the door open for multiple sequels. What happened to Peter’s parents? Who is behind Doctor Connors? Will Peter keep the promise he made with Gwen’s father?
Some say it’s too soon for a reboot. I say that this movie couldn’t have arrived soon enough. And in case anyone’s forgotten, the last Spiderman movie was 2007 when we got the convoluted, disappointing Spiderman 3. After that movie, I don’t know anyone who was sad to see director Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire move on to other projects. The first two Spiderman movies were good. But this was the first Spiderman movie that connected with me on an emotional level, bolstered by Andrew Garfield’s ambitious and completely engrossing portrayal of Peter Parker.
I say that this is an amazing movie by most any moviegoer’s standard, well worth the price of admission, and a completely refreshing take on one of the most beloved superheroes of all time. Bound to bring out the kid in you, this is arguably the best Marvel movie of the year. And that, as we all know, is saying something.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5