Peter Parker is a tortured soul.
That's the heart and soul of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” director Marc Webb's reboot of the Spider-Man franchise that begins, again, at the beginning of the Marvel Comics story. And Andrew Garfield as Peter is good at inner angst.
This is a dark movie — literally and in spirit — with surprisingly little humor, harder-edged and less comic-book in essence than the trio of movies that starred Tobey Maguire from 2002-2007.
The 3-D digital effects, particularly of Spider-Man flying through canyons of NYC skyscrapers and scampering up walls and alleyways, are a thrill ride, but the pacing drags a bit in the movie's middle section. It feels long at 2 hours, 16 minutes.
Not only do we get a new Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Garfield, “The Social Network”), but he gets a new girlfriend, Gwen (Emma Stone, “The Help”), who just happens to be the daughter of a police captain (Denis Leary) out to capture Spider-Man. These are all terrific actors who elevate the material.
They're joined by Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, who raise Peter after his parents mysteriously disappear. Sheen seems born to play the wise father figure. Field has little more to do than look worried sick or grief-stricken, but you could write a book about what she says without speaking.
Garfield, nearly 29, gets away with playing the shy, gangly high school teen, bullied by the jocks and invisible to the girls. Stone, though younger at 23, comes off as more mature, but she's enough of a charmer that you don't much care.
Everybody's keeping secrets in this story of warped ethics and mutant science, which is why Peter is so tortured. Why did his parents leave so suddenly? What part did his dad's scientific research partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), have in their deaths? What do Uncle Ben and Aunt May know? Who's the powerful silent partner in Dr. Connors' research lab, pressing for results in cross-species regeneration?
The movie, sly like a fox in laying a path for sequels, gives away precious few answers.
Peter has a lot to feel guilty about: the deaths of two dads, putting his girlfriend in jeopardy, providing an old equation of his father's that Dr. Connors uses to turn himself into a lizard monster.
The almost morose central character, the dark cinematography and even the skyscraper shots that induce fear of heights all made me think of another comic-book movie, “The Dark Knight,” which has its own sequel coming up later this month.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” is skillfully made and acted, and fans can debate whether it equals “The Dark Knight” in overall quality. In my book, no way. Nagging questions kept popping up about how the webbing Peter makes appears and disappears; how his fingers and feet are sticky, then not; how his uniform is suddenly smudged with soot for no apparent reason; how quickly he heals from serious injuries.
But for purely escapist fare, this is more than watchable. Garfield and Stone will no doubt be back to kiss and roll around in teen angst another day.
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