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‘Amazing Spider-Man’ is more complex than expected, lives up to title

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, July 1, 2012, at 9:33 a.m.

Review

‘The Amazing Spider-Man’

* * * 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for sequences of action and violence

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ivans, Sally Field, Martin Sheen

Directed by: Marc Webb

(Opens Tuesday)

Did the world really need a reboot of Spider-Man? No.

That being said, Marc Webb’s new interpretation of the Marvel comic book hero, “The Amazing Spider-Man,” is a surprisingly thrilling, soaring re-invention driven by a marvelous, electric, star-making turn by Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”).

And when was the last time acting was key to a comic book film? Here, it is essential. This “Spider-Man” is more character-driven and more emotionally involving than the Tobey Maguire trilogy of films (the last of which came out just five years ago). The comparisons are inevitable (and just), but this is an entirely different approach here.

That’s thanks to Webb, who was chosen to direct “The Amazing Spider-Man” based on his ability to convey the emotions of young people in the wonderfully inventive “500 Days of Summer.”

He brings that same emotional complexity to “Spider-Man” amid all the spectacle, while injecting the story with a brooding urgency and sense of danger. There is still plenty of action to please fanboys, and the film features some beautiful cinematography tricks and dazzling 3-D special effects (cinephiles will be interested to know that it was shot on the revolutionary RED digital camera, which enables crisp, clear slow-motion shots and scenes that look gorgeous in low-light).

The origin story is pretty much the same, though we get Gwen Stacy (the ever-great Emma Stone) instead of Mary Jane Watson as the female interest.

And since we know the story, it’s amazing that Webb and screenwriters Steve Kloves (“Harry Potter”), James Vanderbilt (“Zodiac”) and Alvin Sargent (Oscar winner for “Ordinary People”) have managed to make it fresh.

Here, Peter is more of a rebel. A lone outsider who bravely stands up to the class bully just because it’s the right thing to do.

He has parent issues, of course, and we’re given the backstory swiftly: His brilliant scientist father was clearly onto something big, but he and his mother had to abandon Peter, leaving him to live with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen).

Years later, Peter is toiling away in high school, roaming the halls listlessly on his skateboard and messing around with photography (there are several changes to the story, most notably no Daily Bugle newspaper). He snaps pictures for the yearbook.

He takes an interest in Gwen, who just happens to be a head intern at the Oscorp corporation, where Peter winds up after discovering an old attache case that belonged to his father, sparking his investigation into what really happened to his parents.

Gwen doesn’t turn him in when Peter poses as a student in a tour group. But he strays from the pack, gets bitten by a funky spider, blah, blah, blah.

But his metamorphosis is almost immediate. He awakens startled on a subway home and immediately jumps and clings to the ceiling. Passengers are naturally freaked out and scared. I just would have taken a picture of it and put it on Instagram.

The rest of the story follows the rise of the villain, Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ivans), who is anxious to perfect his cross-hybrid experiments so he can grow back a missing limb. He impatiently injects himself with a fluid that seems to have miraculous effects, at first. But, naturally, things go wrong. So wrong that he turns into a giant lizard and wants to turn everyone else into one, as well.

All this is told against the backdrop of Peter/Spider-Man doing some vigilante justice, in search of the man who (spoiler alert! — right) killed his Uncle Ben.

The rest of the story unfolds quickly, and the action is really pumped up in the second half.

There’s still humor, though. A particular bit with Stan Lee (creator of the comic book) is absolutely hilarious.

The entire cast is great. Stone and Garfield have nice chemistry.

But, again, it is Garfield that drives the machine. He deftly portrays Peter as conflicted, confused, angry and complex, mixed with a boyish charm and rebel ruggedness.

There’s an obvious set-up for future installments. And while I was perfectly prepared to hate “The Amazing Spider-Man” and originally protested its very existence, it won me over.

And if everyone involved is on board again, so am I.

Reach Rod Pocowatchit at rpocowatchit@wichitaeagle.com.

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