I was one of few people who didn’t really care for the 2000 blockbuster Spiderman, so I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from the lead-off movie in the rebooted franchise, The Amazing Spider-Man. But this movie delivered. I loved it. By the way, THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS!
I never cared much for Toby MacGuire as Peter Parker/Spiderman. I didn’t dislike him, but I didn’t connect much to the way he played the character. I could have never fully articulated what his performance lacked until I watched Andrew Garfield pull it off so brilliantly. Garfield 1) plays the role as if he were actually a teenager, and I believed it; 2) cheeses it up accordingly and that works because I believed in his youth; 3) stunningly portrays the heartbreak of losing his parents, his Uncle Ben, and his girlfriend. His acting was excellent and consistent throughout, but he really shined when he was portraying the joy of having his powers and the losses he had to endure.
I really liked Kirsten Dundst as Mary Ellen, but loved Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. I find Stone captivating and generally just love watching her on screen in most things she does, but she was a great choice in this role. She certainly brought some star power, but as America’s unofficial sweetheart (how do these things become official, anyway?), I was fully invested in her emotions. As a father I thought the film dealt well with her relationship with her dad (and NYPD police captain), played convincingly by Denis Leary. It reminded me in some ways of my relationship with my three girls. They don’t always agree with me about everything, but they respect and love me and they know I love them. So refreshing to see normal, loving, and reasonably non-neurotic relationships on screen.
This extended to Parker’s relationship with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. I can’t think of anyone I would connect to better in the role of Aunt May than Sally Field, and I was almost as delighted to see Martin Sheen playing Uncle Ben. Parker’s relationship with them was realistic and I believed at every moment that what I was seeing between them on screen was what I might expect to see in real life.
The dialogue was generally very well written. As I mentioned above, some of the cheesier lines in the film were excusable because that is how a teenage boy might actually talk. Chemistry between Stone and Garfield was really good, and their lines to one another were clever, but usually not overly so.
This move had what I felt The Avengers sorely lacked — heart. There were very few connecting points in that movie, but The Amazing Spider-Man was filled with heart, with realistic emotion. In fact I don’t know that I have ever felt as much like a superhero film gave me a realistic look behind the curtain of the hero’s life. When Spider-Man would finish a fight and then almost immediately pull out his phone and call his girlfriend, I believed it. That is what would happen.
Rhys Ifans did an excellent job as Dr. Curt Connors. His role as Hugh Grant’s disgusting roommate in 1999’s Notting Hill still stands as one of my favorite comedy turns of all time and it was a pleasure to see him in a more serious role.
I am not a comic book fan, so I cannot speak to the film’s faithfulness to the spirit or letter of the comic story. The film’s strong point is in the relationships between the characters. When the movie moves into extended action sequences, it sometimes feels as if some of that heart disappears a little behind CGI and noise, but the scenes are well-filmed and I never sensed they went on so long that I lost interest in the story itself.
This was a really good movie. There were very few moments where I was not fully engaged with what was happening on screen. Overall a very pleasant surprise.
3.5 out of 4 stars.