Just Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Take Two

The most famous line from Spider-Man is probably “with great power comes great responsibility.” While Columbia (and previously Sony) have not always used the power that comes with the rights to the Spider-Man story wisely, they have made some better decisions than previously in the most recent retelling of the classic superhero story.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” once again tells the origin of Peter Parker’s transformation into the masked vigilante who becomes known as Spider-Man. Based off the comics by Marvel legends Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, this retelling sticks with the same basic story (Peter is bitten by a spider in a top secret lab, gets super spider skills, wears tight red and blue spandex and fights both petty crime and big monsters), but includes a few changes. This time around, Peter (played by Andrew Garfield) is a student at a science-oriented high school, and while he’s certainly not at Tony Stark’s level, he comes across as a bit of a science and tech genius as well.

This movie, much like the first of the “Spider-Man” movies starring Tobey Maguire, focuses heavily on Peter’s backstory. It starts with an explanation of Peter’s parents leaving him with his aunt and uncle before disappearing. After finding some of his dad’s old research, Peter decides to contact his dad’s colleague and head of genetic engineering at Oscorp, Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans). This starts the chain reaction storyline created by the accidental spider bite.

However, this storyline is the movie’s main weakness. Even though there are noticeable changes from the previous adaptations, “The Amazing Spider-Man” sticks so closely to the original Spider-Man story that one is left with a lingering sense of having already seen the same movie. It also lacks a distinct focus and does have noticeable plot holes. Although the different visuals and characters (and character traits) do help make this a new and different movie, it’s not quite different enough. Even in the areas where it does abandon the storyline from the previous movies, “The Amazing Spider-Man” still has subtle nods to them (Peter’s still a photographer, the Daily Bugle still offers award money for photos, and his mask is still inspired by boxing costumes).

Where this movie really stands apart from the previous adaptations is not in storyline but in acting. While both Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (who plays Peter’s love interest Gwen Stacy) are much too old to be in high school anymore, they both excel at making their characters feel believable, and their acting is strong while apart and even stronger in scenes together. Garfield portrays the complex emotions that are to be expected from a teenager in Peter’s situation with a finesse and skill that is rare in superhero movies. The movie utilizes Garfield well, giving him a lot of more close-up, physical fight scenes (instead of overly relying on CGI) as well as playing on his slightly awkward gangliness for physical comedy (of which there is plenty).

While many superhero movies simply feel like comic books brought to life, with two-dimensional characters, continuous fight scenes and an overabundance of heroics, the quality of the acting in this movie allows it to feel much more realistic and lends the humanity to the character of Peter Parker that’s lacking in other Marvel superhero movies.

In some ways this movie more closely resembles one of Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” movies than it does of the other Marvel superhero movies. The movie boasts a darker and grittier version of Manhattan than one would ever find in “Avengers,” and Parker’s revenge-fueled vigilante act is reminiscent of Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne.

Even though the storyline could have been much more creative and original, “The Amazing Spider-Man”  is carried through on a wave of action, humor, love interests, good acting, fake science and way too patriotic-looking spandex.