In an ever improving and expanding world of comic book super hero films, Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) give us a new Spider-Man, one that is in many cases, an improvement over what Sony was so desperate to reboot. There’s lots of changes but where to begin? Well everything we’ve previously seen or knew, as to be expected in a “reboot”, has been scrapped. But while this is an almost unnecessary “here’s how we got here” story, meaning that there are marginally few people who don’t know how Peter Parker became Spider-Man, it’s good to see the new blood earn the suit…and earn it he did.
A decade ago, we got the the best screen version of Stan Lee’s Spider-Man to date, and with all the love and respect to Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire, et al, sometimes an update isn’t the blasphemous mess fans dread it will be. Quite the opposite in fact, this version has fun written all over it. The most noteworthy element in Webb’s film is the cast, led by an immensely charismatic Andrew Garfield. What he brings to the role is a tangible human side that really makes him come across as an awkward uncertain high schooler. He likes the girl (Emma Stone), he wants the girl but just isn’t capable of getting her. Peter comes off weak and unappreciated but still spirited and almost defiant, the same characteristic, like his powers, we see enhanced when he becomes the famous web-slinger.
A down to earth approach for a super-hero is nothing new but the formula works well in this case. There’s more credible motivation for all of Peter’s actions especially the catalyst (both the spider and the family tragedies) that establishes him as the swinging/slinging Spider-Man. Since this is the so called “untold story”, this time around we’re given more of the Parker history and more time with Ben so we can really get to know him before his untimely death. Similar to the “with great power comes great responsibility” line we get a sage’s worth of good advice when Ben (Martin Sheen) tells Peter that being capable of helping those in need is not a choice, but a responsibility. Not going to lie, Cliff Robertson and did a lot with his precious few minutes to be a very memorable character, but here Sheen’s Uncle Ben really feels like a father figure. That’s due largely to the fact we get more time to spend with him therefore endearing us to him with equal results.
From casting, to story, to music and art direction, Webb’s story is a well-crafted film in all categories. We get some speedy exposition as to why/how Peter came to live with May and Ben and in a manner that like Peter, goes too quick for you to ask questions, you buy it. Sheen and Field are fine additions to the cast but stealing some of the show is Rhys Ifans playing fan favorite villain The Lizard. Now as much as Doctor Connors was hinted at in the Raimi films he never got his debut. Yet after all that waiting, The Lizard could have been a better villain. Not to say he isn’t very intimidating but his plan for threatening the city is highly laughable and for a film going for a grounded feel, it seems all too comic bookish and mustache twirly. However it’s not the end goal that makes this character work. It’s the human side to the role where we see Ifans walk the line from reserved altruistic scientist to having his hand (no pun intended) forced by his boss, one Rajit Ratha. So like Parker you see both the hero and villain challenged and transform almost in tandem as Webb focuses more on character than actual plot.
Part of this reboot is definitely geared for the kids and it’s pretty much expected there’ll be cheesy elements but it’s all in good fun. We know Spidey, we love Spidey and he’s appealing because of his quasi-disregard for authority, his jokes and all around playful wit. As a person he’s Peter Parker, a kid who’s always had trouble expressing himself, but as Spider-Man, and with the benefit of being behind the mask, he can be whoever he’s always wanted to be and kids (and adults really) can get behind that. Like all rookies thinking they’re hot stuff their egos can rise substantially and Peter is no exception as he allows his heretofore downplayed opinions and sarcasm to be let lose once he dons the mask and suit. But as he controls his emotions and harnesses his power he starts to become an exceptional hero and starts to feel entirely believable showing both confidence and conflict as Peter and as Spider-Man.
For those of you who still have trouble letting go of Tobey in the role, your fears about a new Peter will be calmed once you see Garfield in action. Whether it’s his charming chemistry with Emma Stone or his snarky exchanges with Rhys Ifans, Garfield consistently nails the role. Mileage may vary depending on your loyalty to the Raimi universe but whether or not we needed another origin story, this is an example of a reboot done very well and contains the best Stan Lee cameo to date. The only real gripe is that at 2+ hours the unnecessary “origin story” exposition and set-up delayed in getting to the actual story. It’s a good movie but because it’s overlong, its sluggishness kept it from being great. Regardless, with the pieces in place we can expect a much grander sequel that will hopefully be the full-bodied story fans expect from old web-head for his second at bat. One thing’s for sure, Spidey has never been this much fun.