When considering the numerous comic books that have been made into successful films recently it is evident that we, as average civilians, are drawn to the supernatural crime-fighting theme. In just a few years we have seen two Iron Man blockbuster hits, Thor, a taste of Captain America, an appearance from The Avengers and finally, most recently, The Amazing Spider-Man. When dissected to the bare bones the comic-book films are quite formulaic, and it is only the quality of the ingredients mixed into the formula that determine the critical success of such films. Action and plot are two basic elements the recipe relies on, and director Mark Webb’s balance of these commodities in The Amazing Spider-Man creates a product, worthy of the Marvel franchise.
Andrew Garfield, known for his role as the ex-business partner of Mark Zuckerburg in The Social Network, brings a certain quality to the character of Peter Parker that has not been a focus in previous interpretations of the comic. Parker has always been recognized as a social outcast, a troubled teen who is somewhat alone in the world and looking for a purpose, but Garfield exceeds this expectation in his performance by magnifying the true adolescence of Parker’s character. He is tall and scrawny, not at all built like a typical ass-kicking hero, and even after being bit by a radioactive spider he is still awkward and not entirely sure of himself. As he grows accustomed to his powers he gains confidence, but the transformation into the superhero psyche doesn’t happen immediately. Most the film takes place in either Parker’s high school, or on the rough streets of New York City, and the contrast between the two environments highlights the growth of Parker’s character. In the same day, he desperately summons up the courage to ask out Gwen Stacey (played by Emma Stone,) and practices climbing up walls. Instead of mere web-shooting and face-punching, we see depth and the emotional struggle one might face if they were in the position Peter Parker is in. The drama is balanced by humour, and Garfield gives us a window into how a teenage boy could react when transforming from awkward and shy high-schooler into a superhuman. Webb has Parker mature from Spider-boy into Spider-Man, and it is this “growing-up” angle to the film that makes it original.
The other great expectation of a comic book movie is the action element, and it is in this category where the film does not exceed. The graphics are good, much like in other recent films, and the battles between Spider-Man and the evil lizard-monster, though not cheesy or overacted, are not brilliant. The fight scenes are formulaic, the action is textbook, and the tension does not quite build to the breaking point. The plot itself is rather convenient, but we are not watching The Amazing Spider-Man merely for the 136 minutes of dialogue and building-leaping. Instead, we are investing in Garfield’s performance and the introduction of a new hero who is full of promise in case of any other instance the world might be threatened in the Marvel future.
In mixing together these ingredients, Webb has created a new web for Spiderman (sorry, it had to be done). The offshoots include several legitimately funny instances of Parker struggling with his newfound powers in typical modern situations. To weave together the new placement of an old hero, Webb uses classic elements of the Spiderman franchise that would be a travesty to ignore, such as the red costume and the nerdy glasses. Garfield’s earnest performance and the strong artistic and visual effects strengthen the strands of the web, but at the center there is character. The exploration into Peter Parker’s person and the events that cause him to become a hero make The Amazing Spider-Man a movie worth watching, and the attention to humanity in the superhuman is what makes the film an important chapter in the Marvel series.