The Amazing Spider-Man ★★★★½

Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films ("Spider-Man", "Spider-Man 2", and "Spider-Man 3") are classic comic-book movies with many great character moments. Directed by the aptly named Marc Webb, "The Amazing Spider-Man", on the other hand, is closer to a very engaging coming-of-age drama with many elements of a classic comic-book movie nicely integrated into it—and it is all the better for it. In spite of the film’s flaws, I really enjoyed this more realistic take on Spider-Man, and I definitely like the direction in which it is going.

Much of the narrative is necessarily familiar, but the filmmakers do manage to spring a few surprises on the viewer. The Lizard is an okay villain for an origin-story movie, although his objective does not come across as particularly inspired.

Webb hits all the right notes when it comes to character development. "The Amazing Spider-Man" has plenty of wonderful little moments that elevate it above the majority of superhero movies: the sweet awkwardness that arises when Peter asks Gwen out on a date (or tries to, at least), Gwen affectionately calling Peter “Bug Boy”, and the scene involving a carton of eggs—just to name a few.

The action sequences are handled with skill and coherently choreographed, but I must admit that I did not find them quite as thrilling as they should have been. The bridge sequence struck a chord with me because of its importance to Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s character arc, and the scene in which Spidey sits in an artificial web hoping to trap the Lizard is appropriately suspenseful. Furthermore, while I know the sequence featuring a number of construction cranes is kind of cheesy, the notion of ordinary people returning the favor by helping Spider-Man gives it some emotional power. Stan Lee makes a cameo appearance, of course, and it is simply hilarious.

One detail that annoyed me was that Peter starts wearing his father’s glasses after finding them. While I understand why he does it, how likely is it that Richard Parker’s prescription matches that of Peter? Not very likely, in my opinion. Or perhaps Peter replaces his dad’s corrective lenses with his own? Granted, it is a minor point, but it nevertheless kept bothering me.

During the second half of the movie, the previously efficient editing partly loses its fluidity, which has a negative impact on the cohesiveness of the film. The rumor of significant last-minute changes having been made might have some truth to it, after all, which would explain why certain plot threads are skimped over.

The visual effects are expectedly first-rate in a way that favors realism over razzle-dazzle. James Horner’s score is, on the whole, satisfying, although some of the cues are almost too bombastic.

Andrew Garfield is perfectly cast and immensely likable in the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Playing Gwen Stacy, Emma Stone delivers the other standout performance in the film; she has a solid screen presence and ably transcends what could have been a generic love-interest part. Garfield and Stone have a sparkling, palpable chemistry together (their off-screen relationship probably helps a great deal in that regard). Rhys Ifans’s nuanced turn as Dr. Curt Connors/the Lizard makes for a fairly sympathetic character when he is his human self. Slipping comfortably into the role of Uncle Ben, Martin Sheen turns in an endearing performance. Sally Field provides a different, somewhat younger version of Aunt May, one that initially feels a bit off, but Field’s sensitive acting soon wins the viewer over. Denis Leary is excellent as Captain Stacy, Gwen’s father.

"The Amazing Spider-Man" ends with a memorable, iconic image. It also leaves me wanting to see more of this new Spider-Man and looking forward to the next installment. The extra scene after the first part of the end credits begets speculation as to who will be the villain in the sequel.