The Amazing Spider-Man is in theaters now, for everyone who thought there was a need for another Spider-Man origin story just 10 years after the last Spider-Man origin film. The verdict: It's actually good.
The film's cast combines the heft of Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Peter Parker's aunt and uncle with the young fresh faces of star Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spidey and Emma Stone as love interest Gwen Stacy. The relationship between Peter and his uncle, one that proves the inciting incident for his heroism, gets more development here than in the previous Spider-Man film. Denis Leary has a nice turn as Stacy's father, who's also the chief of police.
Superhero films are often defined by their villain, but while there's certainly a villain here in the Lizard, the movie takes its time getting there. The first hour or so is spent building up to Peter as Spider-Man, making you care about the man before he puts on the mask. The shadow of Spider-Man archvillain the Green Goblin hangs over the film due to its inclusion of shadowy corporation OsCorp, with the Green Goblin/Norman Osborn alluded to, but he never stands revealed. The Lizard himself is a tragic villain and proves a worthy adversary, challenging Spider-Man both physically and mentally.
The tone has shifted. Early previews made this look like an attempted to go more Dark Knight with Spider-Man, but while it's not as light as the early Spider-films, it does a nice job walking the emotional line with plenty of fun moments while having more dramatic weight than previous outings. The film sometimes seems to go too far out of its way to draw a distinction with the earlier films, zigging instead of zagging when the other direction made more sense, but it provides a fresh experience if you happen to know the other movies.
Peter's also presented as having a different dynamic with other kids than we've seen before. He goes to a science magnet school, so Gwen Stacy is shown as being not only a beauty but also a brain who works for OsCorp. Peter is more of the dark broody outsider than the traditional nerd depiction, who comes close to being what you'd probably think of as "cool" in a James Dean meets Edward from Twilight sort of way. He's also distractingly shown as a skateboarder, adding to his almost-a-bad-boy vibe.
Once Peter puts on the suit, his powers are kept more grounded than in previous movies. When he swings through the air on a line of webbing, he feels much more like he could fall at any moment — and often comes pretty close. He's continually shown as bearing the marks of battle, with cuts and bruises he fails to explain to his family.
He's also given a deeper sense of mission. The search for a particular criminal becomes an obsession, and Peter's desperation comes through in heartbreaking fashion.
Peter's relationship with Gwen is a turn from the Peter/Mary Jane dynamic we've seen before. Their interactions feel sweet rather than filled with either awkwardness or sexual tension. Gwen also doesn't fall into the trap of damsel in distress nearly as much as Mary Jane would.
The film's biggest problem is numerous unanswered questions. It's become standard for movies to set up some puzzles with no intention of answering them until a sequel (Prometheus being a recent prominent practitioner of this), but several of the film's biggest mysteries give you such paltry rewards for being intrigued about them in this movie that it can prove frustrating.
The most notable is the storyline around what really happened with Peter's parents. We're told that there's more to the story than we know, but what that more is will apparently be in the Amazing Spider-Man 2. You also get an end-of-movie tag that's significantly more baffling than most.
The most notable smaller problem: incredibly distracting product placement for Microsoft's Bing search engine, which no one in the real world actually uses. There's not one but two scenes prominently featuring Peter doing searches on Bing, with that Bing logo as clear as day. It might have served the filmmaking better to turn down whatever the giant check Microsoft shoved their way was worth.
All in all, if you can accept the modern blockbuster style of not giving you everything up front, this ends up as a rewarding movie experience that's also a good film. (You'll be able to get some of those answers in the already scheduled sequel, set for May 2, 2014.)
Watch the trailer below: