Audiences might not understand why we need another Spider-Man movie. Sam Raimi’s trilogy came to a close in 2007, but it should be noted that Spider-Man 3 felt like its web shooters were empty. I know, I know, Raimi’s films embraced the idea that Spidey’s webbings were a biological mutation that resulted from his radioactive spider bite rather than spun from his own scientifically beautiful mind, and this is one of the minor points that bugged me despite my overall enjoyment of the first two movies. Part three, well, the less said about the song and dance sequence and Topher Grace as Venom, the better.
But, let’s get something straight about The Amazing Spider-Man, the franchise reboot from director Marc Webb of (500) Days of Summer fame. Comics, especially the new millennial generation editions, have no problems with reimagining and reconfiguring the continuity of these mythic characters. For comic book fans, like myself, from back in the day, the closest we ever came to these kinds of wholesale alterations were in the “What If” issues that Marvel writers would dream up, but these alternative takes were one-offs and not foundations for new storylines. And yet, today’s readers have come to expect these breaks with narrative tradition, in part because they now lead to “superheroes” that are less concerned with meeting the qualifications and standards defined by the epic heroes of old. Comic book protagonists of the now reflect the many faces and social/cultural realities of the current generation — one caught up in virtual videogame modes. Rather than get bogged down in a path going nowhere, just get a new life.
The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t a complete rupture. The title actually harkens back to the comics themselves, since Spidey, a Marvel fan favorite from the beginning, had multiple titles/editions running during the regular publication cycles. So, Webb gets to tap into that line, but he and his team of writers (James Vanderbilt has the sole story credit, with Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves sharing screenplay rights with Vanderbilt) immediately sense that there’s a great opportunity to mix things up by spinning their own brand new web.
A young Peter Parker plays hide and seek with his father (Campbell Scott) around the house. The boy wanders into his father’s recently ransacked office, which triggers a hurried move. Peter gets dropped off with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), while his folks disappear into the dark night. The late-teen Peter (Andrew Garfield), a brilliant high school science student and newspaper photographer with an affinity for skateboarding, is clearly obsessed with the parental absence, despite the fact that his uncle and aunt have done their very best to love and care for him. The random discovery of his father’s old leather briefcase in the basement leads him down a rabbit hole of sorts, to OsCorp, where his father, a biogeneticist worked with the one-armed Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) on a secret project involving the splicing of human and animal DNA and now, his classmate, the lovely Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) serves as head intern. It wouldn’t be Spider-Man without a bite, and we’re off and running.
Webb gives us everything even comic book-averse audiences would recognize from the gospel of Peter Parker. Peter wakes up the morning after, freaks out over his newfound abilities, but then learns to control his awesome powers. Uncle Ben dies in order to teach Peter a lesson about responsibility and revenge. A masked vigilante with a smart mouth attracts negative attention from authority but gains the love of New Yorkers as he fights petty criminals and a much larger and likely more powerful threat.
The visual scheme of the action heroics will dazzle and amaze moviegoers — the effects are certainly on par with the scale and scope of The Avengers — but the real money shots are the quieter moments. Spider-Man, as a character, was always first and foremost about this young man. Early 2012 has already given us Chronicle, another teen fantasy about three boys who acquire great power, but you almost couldn’t have that story without Peter Parker, and that is why Webb was the perfect choice to helm this reboot.
(500) Days of Summer illustrated that Webb innately understood the inner workings of the hearts and minds of young men and women. The action hijinks serve as accents here, which is as it should be. More importantly, Webb’s smart enough to realize that there’s no need to tie up all the loose ends. The Amazing Spider-Man is the beginning of a journey and we will grow and learn with Peter Parker every step of the way.Grade: A