Yes, the world might like to forget Spider-Man 3 ever happened, but I’m not sure true believers were clamoring for a reboot so soon — just five years later. It’s like Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire brutally murdered our beloved family cat in front of us. Then, 10 minutes later, the dude who directed (500) Days of Summer and Zuckerberg’s scorned buddy from The Social Network show up with a brand new, adorable kitten, and Emma Stone, in a schoolgirl outfit and thigh-high stockings, cleans up the mess. They’re a fun bunch, but they’re expecting us to so quickly forget the horrible scene we’ve witnessed just moments before. A stab of guilt says we should linger on the memory of our sweet, dead feline friend before moving on, but this new kitty is awful cute, and Thomas Haden Church was just so bad as Sandman.
Dead cats and Mr. Haden Church aside, The Amazing Spider-Man is the best iteration of the web-slinging superhero I’ve seen on any screen, big or small. Even the two good Spidey films Raimi helmed pale in comparison, and thanks rests squarely on the shoulders of the ultra-likable pair of Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker) and Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy).
There’s fantastic chemistry between Garfield and Stone, and though neither of them could convince anyone they’re actually young enough to still be in high school, they pull off the awkward teenage puppy love bit remarkably well.
Director Marc Webb, whose credits include a slew of pop-punk and emo music videos over the past decade and only one other full-length film, (500) Days of Summer, takes the focus away from the mask and turns the lens on the boy behind it. Garfield is rarely in costume and half of the time he is, he is sans mask. And that’s why it works.
Even though the most ignorant of comic and pop culture lore probably know most of the details of Spider-Man’s origins — if you have any exposure to Spider-Man, you’ll know everything that’s going to happen over the first hour — Webb’s retelling packs a punch with solid performances and sweeps of tear-jerking score that kick in at just the right moment. Though we know where this ride is going, we still feel for the characters in a way we rarely did in Raimi’s take.
But, while the focus is what’s going on with the guy under the suit, the action scenes are impressive and easy to follow, a rare treat. This Spider-Man isn’t invulnerable, but he plays to his strengths. He’s smart and fast as hell; he spends more time dodging blows than he does landing them. Well, most of the time.
Before and after he gains his super powers, Peter Parker spends plenty of time getting his ass stomped. Garfield’s Peter Parker is also less of a dork than Maguire’s. He’s still a bit of an outcast and a goody two-shoes, but he’s got a handsome hipster edge to him (e.g., he has a sweet vintage film camera and rides a skateboard). This is all in line with the overall darker tone of the film. (Darker by Spider-Man standards — Webb’s NYC isn’t as bleak as Nolan’s Gotham City.) We normally see Spider-Man in the dark of night as he zips across the black and neon lit backdrop of New York City on a quest for vengeance that becomes a search for purpose.
In the end, it may be the most heartfelt tale we’ve seen pulled from the comics yet. I couldn’t have cared less about the fate of Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight or Robert Downey Jr. in The Avengers, I found myself genuinely concerned about what might happen to Garfield and Stone. For a comic book movie, that’s pretty amazing.