12:07pm

Tue July 3, 2012
Movie Reviews

A Lanky Teenager On The Path To (Super) Power

Originally published on Tue July 3, 2012 7:06 pm

I know you're skeptical. Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man was last slinging webs just five years ago. Broadway's Spider-Man started singing about webs less than two years ago. Now here comes another Spider-dude: This Andrew Garfield guy. So he'd better be really something, right? Well, as it happens, he is.

Garfield's no younger than Maguire was when he first played Peter Parker — the slightly stir-crazy kid who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and starts climbing the walls more literally than most high-schoolers — but Garfield's a lot more appealing, and is also one thing that Maguire kinda wasn't. He's convincing as a teenager.

Skinny and lanky, as if he's just shot up three inches and is still growing into the extra height, Garfield' s Peter Parker is a skateboarder, so suddenly having sticky fingers and toes definitely comes in handy. Superstrength, too, though you get the sense that he'd trade it for a little superconfidence around the girl he has a crush on. (Of course, supershyness has its appeal, too.)

Garfield and Emma Stone are terrific together, and they're surrounded by performers with the acting chops to root a comic-book narrative in the real world — Sally Field and Martin Sheen as Aunt May and Uncle Ben, Rhys Ifans as a one-armed doctor who has good reason to wonder about the ability of geckos to regrow an amputated tail — not just to repair himself, but to create "a world without weakness."

Grand plans, those, to go with a new back story about Peter's scientist dad, plus new gadgetry for web-slinging and new subtext about abandonment issues.

All of which means director Marc Webb — yes, that's his real name — isn't just reweaving the origin tale spun by Sam Raimi 10 years ago. Webb's only previous feature, a quirky little indie romance called 500 Days of Summer, hardly seems to qualify him to make a special-effects blockbuster, but a youthfully quirky vibe turns out to be just right for the story's romance, and it doesn't hurt when Webb is, say, imagining the kinship that crane operators might feel for a guy who swings from tall buildings.

It's only when the rules of the genre require that our hero meet a giant lizard atop a skyscraper that The Amazing Spider-Man gets a little less amazing. There are only so many ways to bring the characters back down without bringing the audience down.

Still, this origin story has had enough nice surprises by that point that even those who like their genre plotlines very taut will be inclined to cut The Amazing Spider-Man a little slack.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. It's looking like superhero summer at the movies. First, "The Avengers" set box office records with a six-pack of heroes in spandex. In two weeks, those records are expected to fall to the final chapter in Christopher Nolan's "Batman" trilogy, "The Dark Knight Rises."

And today marks the reboot of the most popular comic book movie series ever, "The Amazing Spider-Man." Critic Bob Mondello suspects that moviegoers will find themselves caught in its web all over again.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: I know you're skeptical. Broadway's Spider-Man started singing about webs less than two years ago. Tobey Maguire's "Spider-Man" was last slinging webs just five years ago and here comes another spider dude already? This Andrew Garfield guy had better be really something, right? Well, as it happens, he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN")

MONDELLO: Garfield's no younger than Maguire was when he first played Peter Parker, the slightly stir-crazy kid who gets bitten by a radio-active spider and starts climbing the walls more literally than most high schoolers. But Garfield is a lot more appealing and is also one thing that Maguire kind of wasn't. He's convincing as a teenager, skinny and lanky as if he's just shot up three inches and is still growing into the extra height, Garfield's web-crawler is also a skateboarder, so suddenly having sticky fingers and toes definitely comes in handy.

Super strength, too, though you get the sense that he'd trade it for a little super confidence around the girl he has a crush on.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN")

ANDREW GARFIELD: (as Peter Parker) So you want to - I don't know...

EMMA STONE: (as Gwen Stacy) Want to what?

GARFIELD: (as Peter Parker) I don't know.

MONDELLO: Of course, super shyness has its appeal, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN")

GARFIELD: (as Peter Parker) I don't know. We could - I don't know. We could - or we could do something else or we could, if you don't - we could...

STONE: (as Gwen Stacy) Yeah.

GARFIELD: (as Peter Parker) Yeah?

STONE: (as Gwen Stacy) Yeah, you're on.

GARFIELD: (as Peter Parker) OK. All right. Good. Sounds good.

MONDELLO: Garfield and Emma Stone are terrific together and they're surrounded by performers with the acting chops to root a comic book narrative in the real world. Sally Field and Martin Sheen as Aunt May and Uncle Ben, Rhys Ifans as a one-armed doctor who has good reason to wonder about the ability of geckos to regrow a missing tail.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN")

RHYS IFANS: (as The Lizard) I need to fix myself. I want to create a world without weakness.

MONDELLO: Grand plans to go with a new back story about Peter's scientist dad, new gadgetry for web slinging, new subtext about abandonment issues, all of which means director Marc Webb - and yes, that's his real name - isn't just reweaving the origin tale spun by Sam Raimi 10 years ago. Webb's only previous feature, a quirky little Indie romance called "500 Days of Summer," hardly seems to qualify him to make a special effects blockbuster, but a youthfully quirky vibe turns out to be just right for the story's romance.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN")

STONE: (as Gwen Stacy) How did you get out there?

GARFIELD: (as Peter Parker) The fire escape.

STONE: (as Gwen Stacy) Twenty stories.

GARFIELD: (as Peter Parker) Your doorman (unintelligible).

MONDELLO: And it doesn't hurt when Webb is, say, imagining the kinship that crane operators might feel for a guy who swings from tall buildings. It's only when the rules of the genre require that our hero meet a giant lizard atop a skyscraper that "The Amazing Spider-Man" gets a little less amazing. There are only so many ways to bring the characters back down without bringing the audience down.

Still, this origin story has had enough nice surprises by that point that even those who like their genre plotlines very taut will be inclined to cut "The Amazing Spider-Man" a little slack.

I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.