The Amazing Spider-Man is inexcusably good

Comic book story is entertaining, nuanced, and stays close to its origins

<i>The Amazing Spider-Man</i> is inexcusably good
Columbia Pictures

The Amazing Spider-Man, an inexcusably good reboot-thing from director Marc Webb, celebrates the heartwarming arachno-genetic bar mitzvah in which a boy becomes a spider, and a spider becomes a man, a rite of passage last observed in Sam Raimi's uneven but often pretty great trilogy in the '00s.

And there's no getting around the film's resemblance to Raimi's version, partly because both directors made only minor deviations from the original comics.

In the first 45 minutes of any superhero's origin movie, nobody is super, and a bunch of busy plot threads converge toward a moment everyone already anticipates. Boy genius Peter Parker, played charmingly by Chia-haired Andrew Garfield, tours the Oscorp lab of his missing father's former science buddy, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a kindly scientist recklessly tampering with the forces of nature, as one does. Peter sneaks into a large sealed room full of genetically altered spiders. Reader, a spider bites him.

A superhero, but not much of a tailor: Andrew Garfield
Columbia Pictures
A superhero, but not much of a tailor: Andrew Garfield
Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield
Columbia Pictures
Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield

Dr. C. is exploring animal-to-human gene transplants, hoping one day to regenerate his missing right arm with reptile DNA, which, in accordance with the Frankensteinian method, goes badly. His mutagen transforms him into a giant lizard, though his arm does grow back, so that whole thing has to be seen as a partial success, science-wise.

The Amazing Spider-Man deviates interestingly from past adaptations. The organic web glands Peter develops in the older films were a clever innovation, but in keeping with strict Marvel comics Spider-Man orthodoxy, this time he builds his own web-shooting wrist-wear. The costume is rougher around the edges, stretching and wrinkling at the joints, more plausibly the homemade jumpsuit of a kid.

The film is also faithful to the smartassery of the Spider-Man comics, and Garfield's spindly physicality evokes the Marvel illustrations of the 1960s. It's all sharp of wit and sweetly sentimental for lots of reasons, including Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Peter's Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and a peroxide-haired, superbad Emma Stone as a gently ironic Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker's first girlfriend.

A bit boring in the comic books, Gwen is retrofitted here with personality and independence, a damsel in only moderate distress. Denis Leary, as Captain Stacy, father of Gwen and an antagonist of Spider-Man, evinces his signature growly sarcasm.

Remaking such a recent film is a weird undertaking, best explained by a 2011 New York magazine article, which blamed the successively higher salaries commanded by the director and principal actors for each film in a franchise. After film three, it's more cost-effective to hire a new, cheaper team and start from scratch. Credit Sony with making an unconventional choice in Webb, whose great (500) Days of Summer was not the obvious debut for the director of a high-profile, big-budget action film. The Amazing Spider-Man was already going to appeal to a genre crowd. But Webb, with his twitchy, comic sensibility and more nuanced sentimentality than the often ham-fisted Raimi, invites a potentially wider audience.

 
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