An adolescent boy's gossamer dreams are beautifully captured in what should deservedly be one of summer's biggest hits, The Amazing Spider-Man. Astutely cast, soundly directly, and penned by a bevy of screendom's top writers who among them have scripted Ordinary People, most of the Harry Potter installments, and Zodiac, this actioner swings from effective drama to endearing teen romance to campy monster brawls, all in glorious 3-D.
That these disparate elements meld so well will be no surprise to fans of director Mark Webb. In music videos such as the one for The All-American Rejects' "Move Along" and in his film (500) Days of Summer -- one of the top 10 indie love stories of the past decade -- he has been able to seamlessly hyphenate "joyful-angst." And that's what Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is all about.
Orphaned at an early age, Parker is raised to teenhood by his saintly Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). Considering what life can hold, all is going well for the young man, except for some bruising bullying in high school and an unrequited crush on a blonde science whiz, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Then one day, Parker discovers his late dad's briefcase. Inside are notes detailing Pa's top-secret cross-species genetic research.
Curious, Parker seeks out the one-armed Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans), an old colleague of his dad's who seems to be carrying on the cross-species experimentation at a huge corporation, OsCorp, which is funded by a dying billionaire. Well, Parker gets bitten by a spider and starts spinning webs on villains; Connors becomes a giant lizard; and if all isn't set right, the inhabitants of New York City might soon become scaly and develop a hankering for flies.
Well, the ending is preordained. In fact, I've just looked out my window and the only aspect of the Big Apple that's currently reptilian might be its morals.
But what's surprising about this little epic is that few of the lead characters are monochromatic, other than the callous capitalists and Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Even Parker, after he first gains his supernatural powers, goes a little crazy, sort of like a Holden Caulfield on a 5-Hour Energy buzz.
Yet thanks to the L.A.-born Garfield, who's one of Britain's finest young actors (Boy A, Death of a Salesman), the character is -- as is the film -- always grounded in a semi-poignant reality, proving Virginia Woolf's adage: "Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible." - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Queer Theater" and "Theater of the Sixties" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. RifkindCenter. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton).