The Almost ‘Amazing Spider-Man’

Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield star in Columbia Pictures'

Jaimie Trueblood

Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield star in Columbia Pictures’ “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield star in Columbia Pictures' "The Amazing Spider-Man."

If one thread runs through the current plethora of superhero films, it is the struggle to strike the right tone. Fanboys are already aligning themselves in “Team Avengers” “Team Dark Knight” camps and duking out whether a superhero film should honor the tone of its comic origins or go for something darker and deeper. Luckily, though, our friendly neighborhood “Spider-Man” swings comfortably between Joss Whedon’s sitcom-y epic “Avengers” and Christopher Nolan’s pretentious “Batman” trilogy.

Marc Webb directs this rehash of Spidey’s origin story. But, with his careful hand and James Vanderbilt’s (“Zodiac”) clever and simple script, “The Amazing Spider-Man” dodges the unintentional camp and melodrama of Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 3,” and manages to feel like more than just Spidey 2.0.

“Amazing” tackles the challenge of narrating Peter Parker’s coming-of-arachnia whilst offering a hero-vs.-villian trajectory. While Webb’s film borrows some scenes and plot points from Raimi’s earlier Spider-Man films, his unique take justifies the film’s existence.

Andrew Garfield (the shoulda-been-Oscar-nominee from “The Social Network”) dons the red spandex and infuses Parker with an awkward gentleness absent from Tobey  Maguire’s performance. Maguire’s Parker would not have been out of place in Sheldon Cooper’s apartment. However, Garfield’s Parker is more troubled, more angsty. He has more direct access to his pain and thus a stronger capacity for sympathy. Watch how his posture changes from frail and unsure in the high school scenes to confident and limber during the gymnastics action scenes. Webb, Vanderbilt and Garfield make Parker a bully victim, and so his second-half heroics bare a greater gravity than merely saving New York City with the greatest of ease.

Following suit, nearly all of the thespians are improvements on their Raimi counterparts. The wonderful Emma Stone inhabits a Gwen Stacey who is absent from contemporary blockbusters – a heroine at once smart and sexy, charming and collected; she never feels like a prop. It’s a smart performance in a subtly excellent character. Her scenes in high school with Garfield (and the help of The Shins) recall some of the sweeter moments of Webb’s “(500) Days of Summer.”

Martin Sheen and Sally Field play Uncle Ben and Aunt May with the grace of Jed Bartlett and Mama Gump. And Rhys Ifans brings a sinister swagger and flamboyance from “Anonymous” to the role of Dr. Curt Conners aka The Lizard. While The Lizard ends up being one of the film’s chief weaknesses, I blame the writing more than Ifans. Conners is a compelling character, but there are too many silly scenes in the sewer with mad-scientist-turned-lizard mumbling to himself.

True, “Amazing” treads a similar path as Raimi’s films. “Too soon” is the familiar cry among viral reviewers. Know that going into the film. If the quick reboot bothers you as an idea, avoid the film. Yet, I welcome talented storytellers daring do-overs. We tolerate musical covers, after all. And when a reboot is done as well as Webb’s “Spider-Man,” it does not feel like a cash grab so much as a reimagining. Think of that friend you always let tell a good story that you were involved in just because he/she tells it better than you, or that uncle who’s jokes are tired, but who’s delivery and embellishments give the anecdotes a new form with every new incantation.

While Webb’s “Amazing” is not as amazing as Raimi’s and Chabon’s “Spider-Man 2,” it defeats the other two films. This Spidey is worth a look because of the excellent cast, tight script and Webb’s and Garfield’s careful refitting of Parker.

4/5