“The Amazing Spider-Man”
The first requirement of a Superhero movie is that it’s supposed to be fun. This one is. It’s even got a good moral at the end. Sure, the story’s been told before, and fairly recently. But this is a strong re-make, with great visuals and even better character development.
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, who’s actually considerably too old for this role, but is otherwise well-suited for it) is a picked-on, nerdy high school student whose scientist-father died in a plane crash with his Mom when he was only a boy. He’s being raised by a doting Aunt May and Uncle Ben (excellently portrayed by Sally Field and Martin Sheen) who had no children of their own, so now all they have is each other. Peter seems to have the scientific intelligence of his father, showing up at a research facility hoping to catch on as an intern, though he’d neglected to apply for the position.
There’s also a girl at school he’s very interested in, Gwen (Emma Stone, who’s also too old for this role, but she’s so cute we’re willing to overlook that), but poor Peter is so tongue-tied around her that he can hardly even respond when she tries to initiate the conversation.
The climactic moment comes when Peter is bitten, at the research facility, by a genetically-enhanced spider, somehow injecting Peter with spider-like qualities. At first, of course, he’s clumsy with his new-found strength and agility, breaking things repeatedly (here insert the “don’t-know-my-own-strength” humor). His first adolescent instincts are to return the taunts of those who had bullied him, now that he has the upper hand, but his soulful Uncle Ben gently lectures him about what it does inside of you to entertain your revenge like that. Uncle Ben is then tragically murdered in a botched-robbery attempt, you guessed it, trying to wrest the gun away from the thief.
Both Peter and Aunt May are devastated, of course, but Aunt May just sinks into her grieving, while Peter is out for revenge. He learns to use his incredible web-spinning powers with a self-devised mechanism to propel the web, which allows him to move rapidly by swinging from one thread to the next, almost like Tarzan swinging through successive grapevines in the jungle, except Spider-Man can shoot his web wherever he wants. But after several evenings of stopping criminals violently, Peter realizes he’s little more than a vigilante, and begins to heed his late Uncle’s pleading about using his gifts to help others. The fact that he’s now in love with Gwen helps develop his tender side, as well.
Here, of course, is where evil enters. Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans, a skilled actor who can pull off the mad-scientist bit), a former partner of Peter’s father, develops a chemical that regenerates cells, similar to a lizard that can replace its tail. But then Dr. Connors becomes The Lizard, a monstrous, destructive presence bent on making the world safe for other mutants like himself. Only Spider-Man can stop him, but he has the police after him, and it doesn’t help that the police chief is Gwen’s father.
Yes, we love all the great action sequences, but even more, we enjoy how Peter learns to persevere, and to become a better version of himself, and even be willing to give up some personal comfort in order to accomplish a greater good. All our heroes should be so altruistic. And emotionally vulnerable.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas