2009’s (500) Days of Summer remains one of my favorite indie romances of the aughts. I’ve always thought of it as the modern update to Annie Hall (although obviously not quite as good). I watch it at least once a year. I actually watched it with my ex-girlfriend (well, she wasn’t my real girlfriend cause we were never official) and it proved to be an eerie presage to the fate of our relationship (i.e. I was far more involved with it than she was and she never really wanted to date but I did and shortly after we broke up she finally found a boyfriend). I bring up (500) Days of Summer because before this year, it was the sole feature film of director Marc Webb (besides a documentary about My Chemical Romance). He seems like an odd choice to helm the reboot of one of the most successful film franchises of all time, the Spider-Man series. He has one other movie under his belt, and it was an indie romance. Whoever made the gamble on his vision over at Columbia Pictures deserves a promotion then because Marc Webb defied my expectations over what I thought was an unnecessary film. Considering that the original Spider-Man movie is only ten years old, re-telling Peter Parker’s origin story doesn’t really seem all that necessary. However, Marc Webb did such a deft job of re-introducing us to the character (and adding his and Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves’ own spin on the story which hews closer to the comics origin because of the Lizard and Gwen Stacy). For all superhero fans, The Amazing Spider-Man is one of the must see films of the summer.

Peter Parker’s origins are obviously well known at this point, but like I said, The Amazing Spider-Man takes a different (read: better) tack on it than the original Spider-Man. Peter Parker (The Social Network‘s Andrew Garfield) is a young, dorky high school student that loves to take pictures and like his (disappeared) parents, he’s a natural science whiz. Ever since his geneticist father and mother disappeared when he was a kid, Peter has lived with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and his Aunt Mae (Sally Field). He’s got a crush on the feisty and gorgeous Gwen Stacy (The Help‘s Emma Stone) who has a job as an intern at the pharmaceutical conglomerate Oscorp where she works for the disfigured (i.e. he’s missing an arm) scientist Curt Connors (Notting Hill‘s Rhys Ifans). One day, Peter visits the Oscorp labs to meet Curt Connors, who knew Peter’s father, when he’s bitten by a radioactive spider that was a part of an experiment Peter’s father was doing on cross-species genetics. The bite radically alters Peter Parker’s DNA and gives him the abilities of a spider including super strength, adhesive hands and feet, and super reflexes (however, true to the comics, he has to make his web himself). After Uncle Ben is murdered because Peter didn’t use his powers to stop a convenience store robbery, Peter vows to use his newfound powers for good and becomes the Spider-Man, fighting crime across New York City (even if it means garnering the ire of his new girlfriend Gwen’s father, a police captain [Dennis Leary]). He has to fight more than just common street thugs though when Curt Connors injects himself with a formula he thinks will help him regenerate his arm but instead transforms him into the murderous Lizard.

After my nearly 2000 word rant about Magic Mike, I’ll try to keep this review brief. Andrew Garfield is a star. I thought he gave a wonderful performance in The Social Network (I was honestly just as impressed with him as I was Jesse Eisenberg), and he keeps up that momentum in The Amazing Spider-Man. What’s always made Spidey such a compelling super hero is that Peter Parker is as important (if not more important) to the storytelling as his masked alter-ego. It’s all about growing-up and using what gifts you were given even if the costs are high. I loved Tobey Maguire as Spidey last time around but he never really nailed the sarcasm and sense of humor that is key to the Spidey persona. Not only does Andrew Garfield nab all of the pubescent angst and growing up themes (even if he’s 28 in real life and looks in no way shape or form like a high school student), he’s able to bring a cockiness and wit to the part that Tobey couldn’t. Give it a year or so, and Andrew Garfield will be one of the biggest young stars in the biz. Emma Stone is good as well even if she isn’t really stretching herself as the thinking man’s love interest that she’s played for half a decade now. It was weird seeing Rhys Ifans (who bears a freakish resemblance to Buffy‘s Anthony Stewart Head these days) in an action film since I will eternally think of him as the weird roommate in Notting Hill. Special props must also be given to Martin Sheen who lent more weight to the pivotal role of Uncle Ben than was given in the other films.

The script takes its time spelling out Spider-Man’s origin story and I applaud the decision to do so. It allows the characters to breathe, and The Amazing Spider-Man is as much a romantic comedy as it is a special-effects ridden action movie. We actually find ourselves invested in the romance of Gwen and Peter (as opposed to how little I cared about Peter’s yearnings for Mary Jane [though I can at least blame part of that on Kirsten Dunst’s horrid acting] in the original trilogy), and it was one of the most enjoyable love stories of the last year. Garfield and Stone had fantastic on-screen chemistry. Similarly, Uncle Ben had a very prominent place in the film which meant his death actually registered an emotional impact and there’s a scene towards the end of the film where Peter listens to the last voice mail that Uncle Ben ever gave him (which he had initially ignored) that nearly made me cry. However, the script does have one major misstep. The Lizard is an awful villain. Whereas the first two-thirds of the film are genuinely compelling material as we get a darker look at Peter’s origins (as well as his motivations to be a hero and some interesting questions about whether his vigilantism is even “right”), the film’s final act falls apart because The Lizard is just not interesting. It’s not Rhys Ifans’ fault and he’s good as the scenes where he’s Curt Connor. However, unlike Doc Ock (Spider-Man 2 is still my favorite entry in the franchise and one of my favorite superhero films ever), the characters motivations and goals just aren’t compelling.

I’m going to draw this to a close because 3000 words in one day is enough (and now I can finally watch the movies I have at home from Netflix since I’m caught up with what I lost out on due to the power outage) especially considering I still have to do my Song of the Day post and I’ve been replaying Chrono Trigger. Some final thoughts. Much like (500) Days of Summer, this film has an awesome soundtrack and I kind of want to buy it. Andrew Garfield would make an excellent Yorick if they ever decide to adapt Y: The Last Man into a TV series or into a movie series (they can’t just do one movie. I’d kill somebody). There’s no way that Gwen Stacy survives the next movie (especially if Norman Osborn finally shows up as the bad guy). Also, now I don’t have to go see another movie in the theaters until the 20th when The Dark Knight Rises finally comes out. Even more than The Avengers, that’s the movie of the summer of 2012 that I want to see, and I’m really ready to see how Christopher Nolan brings his Dark Knight trilogy to a close.

Final Score: B+

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