The Amazing Spider-Man shouldn't work. It's a reprise of a movie that was released only ten years ago. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst couldn't be replaced, could they? There was a lasting charm to their relationship. And Maguire nailed the title role with his self-effacing energy.
Certainly director Sam Raimi couldn't be matched, especially by a director who was best known for an indie movie.
The new Spider-Man stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, and is directed by Marc Webb. It turns out that Webb's web isn't frayed; it has a tautness.
The Amazing Spider-Man has surprising agility. Its agility isn't so much in its special effects, which certainly are more than serviceable. Its agility comes in its acting, writing, and direction.
The Amazing Spider-Man retells the story of how Peter Parker suffered a spider's bite, which gave him super powers.
In this version, his adversary is The Lizard, who is the alter-ego of scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who is experimenting with cross-species genetics for the powerful Oscorp. His employer needs it to succeed to save his life.
Connors undergoes a monstrous transformation which threatens New York City. Spider-Man has to stop him.
Tobey Maguire no longer owns the role of Spider-Man. Andrew Garfield doesn't replace Maguire, but he certainly holds his own. He puts his personal distinctive imprint on the iconic character.
Garfield brings special gravitas to the figure of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He makes the alienation palpable. Garfield makes Peter Parker gawky - laidback but sensitive and thoughtful. He grimaces and ponders - then flashes a quick, crooked smile.
Garfield's chemistry with Emma Stone, who portrays Parker's initial love Gwen Stacy, has affecting appeal.
Ifans, who bears a likeness to William Hurt, is apt as the obsessed scientist. Martin Sheen and Sally Field are an engaging uncle and aunt for Peter. And, Denis Leary makes a strong police captain.
If the acting is the film's major asset, the writing gives it a smart human quality. The film is credited to three writers. All three stress character in their previous writing.
James Vanderbilt wrote Zodiac (2007), 85-year old Alvin Sargent wrote the screenplay for Ordinary People (1980), and Steve Kloves wrote and directed the wonderful The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989). Their human touch seems apparent in the screenplay for The Amazing Spider-Man.
They're also clever - the one time "amazing" is mentioned in the film is when Peter says to Gwen, "You're an amazing kisser."
The battalions of special effects people keep busy, but the trio of writers hold sway.
I feared what director Marc Webb might do with Spidey. After I saw Joseph Gordon-Levitt's brilliant performance in Mysterious Skin (2004), I thought he might be destined some day to win an Oscar.
But Webb turned him into a sap in (500) Days of Summer (2009). Gordon-Levitt has never quite recovered his edge as an actor. He's become more popular but less potent. It was his Robert Redford moment (The Way We Were, 1973).
I was afraid what Webb would do to Andrew Garfield, but he shepherds him in a sharp, memorable performance.
Webb and his late production designer J. Michael Riva place a poster from Hitchcock's Rear Window on Peter's wall. This emphasizes Peter's love of photography.
Webb is not Hitch, but he has some scenes of nice suspense, e.g., the fiery car hanging from the bridge. And shots - such as the one in which Spider-Man falls from the shot, then rises on a girder - may remind one of Hitch.
And Webb has sly touches, such as when Peter Parker touches his mouth after he has touched a fly.
It seems that all action movies today keep the accelerator going on special effects more than they have to.
But underneath The Amazing Spider-Man is a sturdy web.
It's buoyant entertainment.
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