Director Marc Webb, with the help of an able cast, has spun pure gold from the overworked tale of a boy, a spider and the birth of a superhero. With “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Webb offers us a fully fleshed out origin story that is entertaining, at times comic and always involving.
Framed by IMAX 3D special effects that literally make you catch your breath, Webb never loses sight of his principal character’s humanity.
So many popcorn movies this year have offered the razzle-dazzle of CGI over a plodding plot played by wooden actors smaller than their super suits. Not so Spider-Man. The elements may be familiar but the way they are put together gives the audience shades of grey rather than black and white.
The film opens with a 4-year-old Peter Parker (Max Charles), big-eyed and spooky as anything in “The Haunting,” being taken by his frightened parents to stay with his aunt and uncle. Why did his parents abandon him? Peter hasn’t a clue.
Quick cut to the teen-aged Peter (Andrew Garfield), a geeky amateur photographer and outsider at a high school specializing in science. As per formula, Peter has a crush on the brainy and beautiful Gwen (Emma Stone), a student who interns at Oscorp, in the Marvel Comics universe a weapons manufacturing firm but here a multi-national, mega-millions pharmaceutical company. Gwen works under Dr. Curt Connors, a one-armed scientist experimenting with the regeneration of tissue.
When Peter happens across an old briefcase of his father’s, he finds a photo of the senior Parker and Dr. Connors inside. His uncle tells him that the two used to be partners and Peter discovers that they were working on a project to mix cross-species DNA in order to improve mankind. Posing as a potential intern, Peter visits Oscorp and sneaks into a restricted lab where he is bitten by the spider that gives him super strength, agility and the power to adhere to surfaces. Re-examining the briefcase, Peter finds a formula that completes the cross-species algorithm Connors has been unable to solve.
Obsessed with re-growing his missing arm, Connors realizes that the formula Peter found will allow him to create an experimental serum. He injects himself hoping to re-grow his arm but instead turns into a supersized amalgam of man-lizard rampaging through the city. Returning to his original form and intoxicated with power, Connors plans to turn the world into hybrid cross-species creatures like himself. The newly fledged Spider-Man is determined to stop him.
As Peter, Andrew Garfield is at once awkward, graceful, uncertain and resolute. He is reminiscent of the teen-aged Harry Potter up against the supremely powerful Voldemort and it’s no coincidence that screenwriter Steven Kloves, the scribe of the Potter series, is one of the film’s screenwriters.
As Peter’s female love interest, Gwen (Stone) brings the same assured insouciance that she showed in “Easy A.” They have the help of an outstanding supporting cast that includes Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Rhys Ifans and Denis Leary.
If there is one word to sum up “The Amazing Spider-Man,” it would be confident. Writing, acting and directing work together to put the amazing back into the sticky arachnid’s bag of tricks. I see sequels.
See you at the movies!