July 3 (Bloomberg) -- Maybe a Spider-Man reboot wasn’t exactly screaming to be made, coming just a half-decade after Tobey Maguire ditched the bodysuit for good.
But “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a sweeter, quirkier spin than Sam Raimi’s blockbuster action franchise trilogy. The dazzling newcomer swings decidedly on its own terms.
Director Marc Webb (was “Spider-Man” his destiny?) laces the skyscraper-scaling crime-busting with a fetching, awkward romanticism that made his “(500) Days of Summer” such a low-key charmer.
Not that “Spider-Man” skimps on battle time and CGI heroics (though the 3-D seems rote). And to cut to the chase: Andrew Garfield is terrific in the lead role as a younger, more self-effacing superhero than the Maguire version.
With a grin that seems wider than his shoulders and a fumbling modesty that’s neither too soft nor overly calculated, the winning Garfield (“The Social Network,” Broadway’s “Death of a Salesman”) skitters to the top of his generation’s sensitive-hero heap.
Webb clearly knows what he has in the star. A full hour passes before the tale’s spider-bitten outsider makes his full, Spandexed transformation, giving the goofy-handsome Garfield plenty of time to get under our skin as soulful high schooler Peter Parker.
The screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves (based, of course, on Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Marvel comic) taps the familiar story. Peter’s an orphan, raised by Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), bullied by jock Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka) and smitten with the beautiful, brainy Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).
In this telling, Peter’s long-dead dad (Campbell Scott) was a scientist studying cross-species genetic engineering. His mysterious death left his research partner Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) to carry on alone.
And carry on he has, developing a serum to give humans the regenerative powers of lizards. The one-armed Connors has his own selfish motivations (obviously) and soon bears a decided resemblance to Godzilla.
Webb, with cinematographer John Schwartzman, puts New York City through its paces, with Spider-Man dangling from the Williamsburg Bridge, scaling glass-towered peaks and swinging down avenues. His Lower Manhattan smackdown with the Lizard follows “The Avengers” in essentially refighting a re-imagined, but exhausted, 9/11 trope.
The film’s greatest victories are its smallest. Garfield, in Peter’s discovery of his newfound strengths, finds the horror and promise of adolescence humorously magnified, and his chemistry with Stone is delightful.
Sheen and Fields, meanwhile, show the kids how it’s done. Every year of experience shines in their performances and, near-wondrously, on their faces.
“Spider-Man” is exceptionally well-cast across the board. Denis Leary, as Stacy’s apparently well-to-do police chief dad, can’t help but suggest the working-class grit of a former beat cop.
He sounds like old New York, even as his character pushes young Spidey forward into the inevitable sequels.
“The Amazing Spider-Man,” from Columbia Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Very Good ** Good * Mediocre (Zero stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include James S. Russell on architecture and Hephzibah Anderson on books.
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