Judge Clark Douglas' Spidey-sense is tingling. Well, he thinks it's his Spidey-sense...
His past was kept from him. His search for answers has just begun.
"Secrets have a cost. They're not free. Not now, not ever."
Facts of the Case
You know the story. Well, a good chunk of it, anyway. We're reintroduced to Peter Parker when he's just a young boy, as his father (Campbell Scott, The Spanish Prisoner) and mother (Embeth Davidtz, Junebug) are preparing to flee from…something. They leave Peter with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen, The West Wing) and Aunt May (Sally Field, Smokey and the Bandit), who essentially become his new parents. Flash-forward a decade or so, and Peter (now played by Andrew Garfield, The Social Network) is an intelligent yet somewhat moody high school student. As before, he's a science whiz who gets picked on by school bullies, but this time he wistfully pines after classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, Crazy, Stupid Love) instead of Mary Jane. Eventually—through a series of somewhat contrived circumstances—Peter is bitten by a radioactive spider and begins developing strange powers. One day, he will have to use these powers to fight another dude with powers.
Like a lot of folks out there, I had trouble working up enthusiasm for The Amazing Spider-Man. After all, Sam Raimi's popular take on the franchise launched just a decade earlier; did we really need a reboot of the series already? Did we really need to sit through the same old origin story once again? As such, perhaps The Amazing Spider-Man's greatest accomplishment is that it manages to make a pretty persuasive argument for its own existence. Yes, it covers a good deal of familiar ground, but it also tweaks enough elements of the origin story to keep things fresh—and while it's at it, it improves on many elements of Raimi's series considerably.
It might have felt run-of-the-mill (especially since Raimi's first Spider-man flick is still pretty fresh in our minds), but Webb and his actors inject all kinds of compelling details into the proceedings. For starters, Garfield's Peter Parker is considerably more interesting than Tobey Maguire's. Quite frequently, Garfield's take on the character is reminiscent of Anthony Perkins' turn in Psycho; stammering sheepishness on the surface and a sense of darker inclinations lurking within. In fact, when Parker first gains his new powers, his immediate reaction is to use them for purposes that are selfish at best and ugly at worst. To be sure, he'll be noble and heroic by the final act, but the journey there is organic and well-earned.
If Garfield's Spider-man is a small improvement on Maguire's, then Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy is a huge improvement on Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane. Stone has quickly proven herself as one of Hollywood's most charismatic young actresses, and the film permits her to be smarter, more complex and funnier than the vast majority of movie girlfriends. She feels more essential to this series than Mary Jane ever did to hers, and she and Garfield share a somewhat loopy chemistry together that makes the romantic scenes every bit as enjoyable as the big action set pieces.
Speaking of which: the film's inevitable climactic showdown is a doozy. While many superhero flicks turn a little dull when things start exploding at the end (think of the manner in which Captain America: The First Avenger and Iron Man dipped in quality during their final acts), this one—much like The Avengers—seems to get better as it chugs along. The villain in this case is Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans, Pirate Radio), a tormented scientist who will eventually transform into the humanoid reptile known as "The Lizard." Conners is an engaging baddie, and the fact that he's a bit reminiscent of The Green Goblin is offset by the bruised soulfulness of Ifans' performance. The large-scale throwdown between the hero and villain benefits from exceptional CGI, plenty of smart moments that further flesh out the characters without slowing the momentum and Webb's efforts to ensure that there is always visual clarity amidst the chaos. The whole thing is given a considerable boost by a soaring score courtesy of James Horner, who bucks the current trend in blockbuster film music and opts for defiantly old-fashioned orchestral heroism.
A handful of key supporting players boost the movie even further, with Martin Sheen and Sally Field proving very comfortable fits as Peter's warm parental figures. Sheen in particular leaves a strong impression, and delivers one of the film's best little moments. It's a scene in which Peter pays his uncle a profound compliment, and Sheen's face is overcome with a immensely affecting blend of surprise, joyfulness and embarrassment. It's those tiny, exquisite touches that keep us so invested in the characters during the louder scenes. Denis Leary (Rescue Me) does strong work as the police captain who also happens to be Gwen's father, initially coming across as a stern authoritarian but later revealing nuanced shades of his own.
Honestly, the film's biggest liability is also its biggest virtue: the fact that it's an origin story. On the one hand, there's a certain frustration that comes with having to start this whole process over from scratch. On the other hand, it feels like the foundation of the franchise is considerably stronger than it ever was. While this movie doesn't quite overtake Raimi's Spider-Man 2 as the web-slinger's finest big-screen adventure to date, it's certainly laid the groundwork for a sequel that very well could achieve such greatness. I certainly wasn't expecting much from this reboot, but there are more than a few moments in which The Amazing Spider-Man actually manages to live up to its title.
The Amazing Spider-Man (Blu-ray) has received a spectacular 1080p/2.40:1 transfer that is nothing short of flawless. The digital cinematography (shot with the ever-reliable RED camera) is spectacular to begin with, so the level of eye-popping detail this transfer offers makes the flick that much more of a visual feast. Colors are bright and vibrant when they need to be, while the numerous shadow-heavy sequences benefit from exceptional depth, deep blacks and impressive shading. Just gorgeous from start to finish. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is similarly exceptional, delivering in a huge way during the action sequences and giving your speakers a riveting workout. The aforementioned Horner score shines as well, and the mix treats the more delicate moments with as much respect as the pounding action cues. When that choir kicks in during the third act? Goosebumps, man. Dialogue sounds pristine throughout, as well.
The supplemental package is generous and thorough. The highlight is a feature-length documentary entitled "Rite of Passage: The Amazing Spider-Man Reborn" (109 minutes), which covers the making of the film from start to finish. It's an engaging watch and features thoughtful interviews with nearly every key cast and crew member; well worth your time. There's also a slightly dry but nonetheless informative audio commentary with director Marc Webb and producers Avi Arid & Matt Tolmach, sixteen minutes of deleted scenes, twelve minutes of stunt rehearsal footage, some pre-vis sequences, storyboards, progression reels and a brief featurette on the video game based on the movie (which looks a little clunky, honestly). For iPad and Sony tablet owners, there's also a second-screen experience that allows viewers to dig through plenty of behind-the-scenes material while they watch the movie (which almost certainly ensures you won't be paying that much attention to the movie). Finally, there's a DVD copy and UltraViolet digital download.
If you rolled your eyes and passed on The Amazing Spider-Man when it was in theaters, consider giving it a shot on Blu-ray. It's a considerable improvement on Raimi's origin story and comes with a magnificent transfer, spectacular sound and excellent supplements to boot.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2012 Clark Douglas; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.