Acting Makes A Difference In ‘Spider-Man’


We really enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s a good movie that provides a good measure of fun for its audience. When you have to spend a good bit of cash to see a film, simply having good 3-D special effects is not enough. Happily, the story is the important thing in this movie, and, performed by really good actors, it holds together better than any of the other summer films this year.

Its biggest flaw, ironically, is that the script and the actors are so good. Most superhero films have vivid heroes with cardboard alter egos. Who would go to a movie about Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent? The vanilla personalities basically serve as a contrast to the superherodom (if that’s even a word) of the other sides of the equation. That held true to a lesser degree in the earlier Spider-Man series. Tobey Maguire was properly stoic as the hero, and Kirsten Dunst fainted daintily and beautifully while being rescued as Mary Jane Watson. The first two movies, at least, were nicely done and made a lot of money. The third was not as good. So why have a fourth?

This movie, however, turns the formula on its ear. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is an intelligent and sensitive teen. Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is strong and amusing, and takes part in the action. For those interested in these things, this is close to the original story done by Stan Lee a half-century ago. Instead of simply being bitten by a radioactive spider as in the first movies (and being bitten by a radioactive spider is probably no worse than being bitten by a non-radioactive one in the real world), Peter’s father was a pioneer in “trans-species genetics” who was murdered when Peter was a boy. Now a teen, he finds some of his father’s old papers and looks up his former partner Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) at his ultra-modern facility, where he gets bitten by an experimental spider which causes the changes.

Garfield is a fabulous actor; every emotion flashes across his face. He stands up to bullies even before he gets his power (and gets beaten for it). He adores the very popular, brilliant Gwen from afar. He is confused at his seeming desertion by his parents and the death of his uncle. Of course, he does get his power, and the two kids begin a relationship that is both tender and fun.

The biggest problem I had in the film was that every once in a while, Peter put on this weird suit, covered his face with a mask and went out to battle this evil super-lizard. Frankly, I really didn’t care; I wanted to see those two really nice kids get together. Even better (to the father of a couple of very capable daughters), Gwen plays a major role in defeating the bad guy even while staying in character. She has no superpowers but is just a strong young woman.

The acting, not only by the two leads (if there is an award for best acting as non-villains in a superhero movie, they should win easily) but by the whole cast, is excellent. Sally Field and Martin Sheen as Peter’s aunt and uncle could sleepwalk through the parts but gave strong performances. Denis Leary was exceptionally good as Gwen’s father, a police captain who is determined to jail Spider-Man. Ifans was good as the bad guy but, for a change, the real emoting is done by the heroes.

The action scenes, in 3-D or not, are beautifully done. This is, after all, a superhero summer film, and Spider-Man has to swing from buildings and do a lot of special stunts. Those are fine.

But what really pulls the film together and helps it rise far above the typical superhero sequel is its really strong script (James Vanderbilt and Alvin Sargent were the lead writers of a committee) that focuses on character. Peter’s growth as a person, learning that responsibility is more important than revenge, becomes the central focus rather than a sidebar of the story.

That makes the movie special all by itself. There was ample evidence in a quick scene at the end of the final credits (don’t run out the theater door as soon as the regular ending happens) which made it clear that a sequel is planned. And I would be delighted to see the story of Peter and Gwen move forward. Bad guys, watch out!

This is a movie to see. It ranks with The Avengers among the best movies of the summer. So wait for a spot of rain and start swinging through the streets with Spidey.