Do you remember where you were on May 3, 2002? Because I absolutely do…
I was a freshman in high school. The bell rang at 2:30 and we ran out of the gates and jumped into cars driven by upperclassmen (it was a very small school – I had some seniors as friends) and made our way over to the movie theater to wait in line for the most anticipated movie since The Phantom Menace (or at least equal to the previous year’s other franchise starters of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings). We went in, got our seats, and the theater was abuzz with excitement. The credits started and Danny Elfman’s grandiose score drew us in as names were revealed over red and blue webbing. When Kirsten Dunst’s came on screen, my friend and I stood up and clapped (we were 14 and anything with breasts was our type at the time). And then Sam Raimi took us on a wild ride that we enjoyed ohsomuch, leaving us practically web-shooting our way out of the theater that afternoon. The film made $114 million that opening weekend, the first film ever to cross the century mark in three days. Tobey Maguire was a star, comic book movies were cool once again, and a trilogy was soon on its way.
Fast forward to July 2012…
I’m 25 and comic book movies are more the norm than the rarity. I’ve seen three movies starring a unitarded arachnid-bitten boy (and own two) and I enjoyed them all to varying degrees (obviously there is little to like about the finale, but there are a few redeeming qualities, including the final throwdown where Harry and Peter join forces to take down the Sandman). And now I’m inundated with another origin story, the same movie as I saw in 2002, only with a few differences (cast, villain, etc.). I go into the theater and there’s no electricity buzzing through the packed house like there was on that May afternoon. Yes, it’s crowded, but we are all distracted by other things. Hell, the guy in front of me is playing “Temple Run” on his Smart Phone up until the second the lights go down.
It just felt like we are all… doubtful. But then The Amazing Spider-Man began. And for a little over two hours, I forgot that I had seen this story just ten years ago. And the reason that I failed to recognize the repetition is because it was being displayed so damn well that I’d rather envision this installment over any other when thinking about the character of Spider-Man.
The biggest reason behind the success of the film is featured in that picture above. Andrew Garfield is an absolute stud and the casting of The Social Network alum deserves a round of applause. I think we all just assumed that because Tobey Maguire was just that much of a dork that he worked flawlessly as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. However, the more I think about it, his Peter Parker was one that was difficult to root for. His lovesickness (yes, that’s a Justin-invented word – deal with it) for the equally flawed Mary Jane was at-times insane and other times just pitiful, obviously leading to a point in one of the films when he loses his powers for a time because of the lack of MJ in his life. But Garfield is near-perfect, through his cock-eyed smile, unsure laughter, and dark wit. He is every bit the intelligent student that Parker needs to be while also remaining the rock solid hero that Spider-Man is to become.
The cast is well-rounded, with everyone from Emma Stone (I’ve decided to revive my Twitter hashtag #EmmaStoneWillYouMarryMe for this review’s purposes) to Denis Leary using their time wisely, providing our protagonist something to play off of and then vanish without being missed too dearly. Likewise, Martin Sheen (like Michael Douglas, it’s just great to see them on screen) and Sally Field are a vastly superior Uncle Ben and Aunt Mae to the original trilogy’s offerings. And finally, Rhys Ifans is a sight to see as Dr. Curt Connors, providing a different type of villain to our hero than we have seen yet. His Lizard is moreorless peaking at the same time as Parker is discovering his new abilities and this coincidentally (or not) allows them to not become true enemies but really just two characters both trying to figure themselves out for the first time. They continue to get in each others way, inevitably fighting, but for what seems like so much more than, say, land acquisition (I’m looking at you, Lex Luthor).
The action is intense and easy to follow, the CGI is stunning (there were only a few Lizard shots that looked silly, but I found the facial expressions being more human was a fantastic touch) and the pace is spot-on. Marc Webb (of 500 Days of Summer fame) directs a very deliberate film, in that he doesn’t meander too much. He gives us the proper amount of back story, leaves a bit of mystery, throws in a little love story to boot (the apparent off-screen romance between Garfield and Stone undoubtedly aided in their on-screen chemistry which at times is just so goshdarn cute that it’s nauseating, but they manage to stay above that) and all while making you forget that he’s capably out-directing one of the more visionary directors out there with the same subject matter. The only big issues I had were the ten or so seconds of Spidey POV shots that the initial teaser introduced (still looking like its out of a video game) and a fantastic scene on a basketball court ending in the second most ridiculous slam dunk ever to be captured on camera (I’m looking at you, Woody Harrelson in White Men Can’t Jump)
On Twitter tonight, our co-founder Kai sent out a Tweet saying “not enough people are talking about how good The Amazing Spider-Man is” and I couldn’t agree more. In a summer where we were bombarded right away with The Avengers (both commercially and critically acclaimed) and very soon will be finishing up Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (where early press screenings are earning applause), it was predictable that Spidey might get a bit lost. It’s doing well thus far at the box office (more on that in Sunday’s BOX OFFICE REPORT) and should hold a good amount of audience next week, but I feel that once The Dark Knight Rises comes out that everyone will forget what Webb, Garfield, and Company were able to do.
In a time when it occasionally feels right to wish we could go back to a simpler time (say… 14) where our biggest concern was a pink t-shirt in a rain scene, they created a Spider-Man that doesn’t make me think about what it was like to be young and impressionable and ready to applaud a film for blatantly displaying an American flag. They created a character in Peter Parker that adults can nod and smile at, a hero in Spider-Man that no one will have trouble rooting for, and a movie that, while certainly repetitious in nature, felt exciting and brand new. And for that and so much more, this Spider-Man, the best we’ve seen thus far, isn’t so-much amazing as it is a marvel to be seen.