The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★
Raised by Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) like their biological son, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has had no closure when his parents never came back for him since the night their house had been broken into. While inspecting a leak in the basement, Peter finds his father’s briefcase which contains scientific research and a picture of Peter’s father with Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans), the leading scientist of cross-species genetics in Oscorp. Hoping to learn more about his parents’ whereabouts, Peter sneaks into the building and ends up in a room full of mutated spiders.
“The Amazing Spider-Man,” based on the screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves, is a mostly rousing entertainment with its roots firmly attached to its heart, but it is at times hindered by computer graphics so sleek, so willing to awe us with its technical wizardry, that it ends up looking too much like a cartoon. The picture excels in showing us Peter as a boy up until he learns to adapt to his new spider-like abilities. Especially with the latter, the emotional heft of the material is neither too light nor melodramatic; there is an overall joyous feeling in his discovery that maybe being different isn’t so bad.
The pacing is quick and to the point, almost deceptively too simple, but it remains highly watchable due to the fiendish charm of Garfield as the conflicted young adult underneath the Spider-Man costume. Garfield seems to fit the role because he is believable as someone who is bullied by a jock (Chris Zylka) as well as a person who oozes an aura of intelligence, keeps to himself most of the time, a sort of outcast with excellent taste, his wall sporting geek-chic to retro-cool.
With the addition of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), Peter’s eventual romantic interest, it is interesting and surprising that the picture manages to balance Peter’s lives as a teenager, as a son on a quest to find justice and closure, and as Spider-Man who feels responsible for protecting his community, from petty criminals to diabolical villains like The Lizard who wishes to turn New Yorkers into reptiles.
After the villain is introduced, however, it is the point when the visual effects becomes the star which is not always appropriate. When the camera focuses on The Lizard, the visuals are effective—a mix of wonder and horror at the sheer size and ugliness of the thing. The computer graphics forces us to appreciate the creature, from its greenish slimy skin to its firm muscles that could easily crush a car, that our superhero will inevitably face.
However, when Spider-Man and The Lizard engage in close combat, while still visually arresting due to the amount of destruction created around them, I began to wonder what percentage of the images on screen is created using a computer. I almost had to snap out of that thought and remind myself that Spider-Man is in danger. In other words, the action isn’t quite an enveloping experience on a visceral level. We only get to fully appreciate that the man behind the mask is human when blood and bruises are shown after a fight. It shouldn’t be this way.
“The Amazing Spider-Man,” directed by Marc Webb, is not without unique touches such as leaving us off-guard with its early revelations of secret identities. However, the screenplay could have been much leaner by excising a handful of scenes in the middle portion that disrupt much of its flow thereby making room for its themes to feel more vibrant and fulfilling.