It has been 10 years since Spider-Man swung onto big screens in theaters nationwide with Tobey Maguire in the dual roles of Peter Parker and Spidey and Kirsten Dunst as his girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson. Maguire and Dunst reprised their roles twice more in 2004 and 2007. Although all three of these films were good, none of them can match “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which opened a few weeks ago.
Appropriately the best Spider-Man movie of all arrived during the summer that the popular superhero is about to celebrate his 50th birthday. Spider-Man made his first appearance in an August 1962 issue of the Amazing Fantasy anthology, and from then on he had his own series in Marvel Comics.
In “The Amazing Spider-Man,” we find Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) as a geeky high school student whose peers make fun of him and bully him. Adding to Peter’s woes is the fact that his parents mysteriously abandoned him when he was young, leaving him to live with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt Mary (Sally Field).
Although Peter loves his aunt and uncle, he continues to be intensely curious about his parents. One day as he’s going through some things at his uncle’s house, Peter discovers a briefcase that was his father’s. Upon looking through the papers in the case, he learns that a man named Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who works at OsCorp, was his father’s partner. Here he also encounters the beautiful Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), Connors’ lab assistant and Peter’s classmate.
In the meantime, Peter has been bitten by a spider, and everyone familiar with the Spider-Man saga knows that this ultimately endows him with his arachnid powers. As Peter is attempting to cope with his new abilities, Dr. Connors is experimenting with the regeneration of limbs in the hope of restoring his missing right arm. The key to his research is a secret formula developed by Peter’s father, and it is derived from the DNA of lizards, creatures with the power of regeneration.
In his rush to grow a new arm, Dr. Connors overdoses and evolves into a giant lizard that Spider-Man must end up battling to the death. And trust me when I tell you that the final confrontation between the two of them is nothing short of a colossal struggle.
I enjoyed the previous Spider-Man films, but I think this one is superior to all of its predecessors for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that both Garfield and Stone are better in their respective roles of Peter and his girlfriend than were Maguire and Dunst. I thought Maguire’s rendering of Peter was just a bit too wimpy, and Dunst just didn’t have as much chemistry with Maguire as Stone does with Garfield.
It is obvious from his terrific performance that Garfield absolutely reveled in playing the part of Spidey, and in the film’s production notes, he explained his affinity for the character and offered an interesting take on it.
“Peter Parker is a hero, not a superhero. He’s already good before the spider bites him. After that, he gets the power to act on what he already knows is right.
“When I was younger, I sometimes felt trapped in my own skin, but we all have that. That’s why this character is the most popular of all the superheroes: he is universal and uniting. The reason Spider-Man means so much to me is the same reason he means so much to everyone: he’s a symbol, an imperfect person in the way that we’re all imperfect, but trying so hard to do what is right and what is just and fighting for the people who can’t fight for themselves. It’s overwhelming to represent him — and believe me, I’m just the guy in the suit. I’m honored to be that, but Spider-Man belongs to everyone.
“The character of Spider-Man has meant a great deal to me since I was a child; my attraction to the character began early. I found hope in Peter Parker’s struggles and the trials he went through week in and week out in the comics, and I connected with that. I found it fascinating; there was something very real in the way Stan Lee wrote him and created him with Steve Ditko.”
Whether he’s playing Parker or Spider-Man, Garfield is consistently a joy to watch. In fact he reminded me of Christopher Reeve, who portrayed the double roles of Clark Kent and Superman with such élan. Garfield is equally at home in either the guise of the nerdy Peter or the web-shooting Spider-Man. He just seems to belong in that suit, and he’s superb at conveying Peter’s conflicted emotions throughout the film because he’s often torn between what he knows he should be doing as Spider-Man and guarding his secret identity from his aunt, who constantly worries about him.
And Stone likewise seems completely natural in the part of Gwen, and in the production notes the actress points out the difference between her character and Mary Jane and also offers a good analysis of the relationship between Gwen and Peter, which she believes is the nucleus for the movie.
“I feel like Mary Jane fell in love with Spider-Man. Gwen falls in love with Peter Parker.
“Marc’s (How appropriate is it that the film’s director is named Marc Webb?) biggest goal was working out that relationship. We’re operating in a superhero universe, but that relationship has to feel grounded and real. I think the reason that so many fans of the comic books feel so protective of Gwen — or Mary Jane — is that those relationships did feel real and did feel grounded. As actors, it’s nice to have that material to build from — it already feels genuine.”
In addition to Garfield and Stone, the film has strong performances from Sheen and Fields (Is she ever bad in anything?), Peter’s loving aunt and uncle, and Ifans makes a fine villain.
Of course in a film like this one you would expect great special effects, and you definitely won’t be disappointed. The fight scenes are choreographed beautifully, the lizard is disgustingly realistic, and the pyrotechnics are spectacular. But literally topping everything off are the breathtaking segments when Spider-Man is leaping, swinging, and gliding from building to building to building. These are so real they will give you chills.
With the new Batman film waiting in the wings (pun intended), “The Amazing Spider-Man” definitely is a worth lead-in for “The Dark Knight Rises.” Although the film’s running time of 136 minutes may be a bit excessive, this excellent adventure thriller gets a final score of nine.
Also, when the closing credits roll by, don’t leave until you have seen the Easter egg that can mean only one thing. And I’ll be in the front row for the sequel.