A doe-eyed child Peter Parker excitedly plays a game of hide-and-seek with his father, but instead stumbles upon his father's secret. From the broken window and trashed files in Richard Parker's home office, it appears a more adult and malevolent game of hide-and-seek is also going on. Frenzied, Peter's parents rush him to the home of his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. As Richard Parker looks at his child for the last time, he searches for the right words. He settles with, "be good."
The Amazing Spider-Man, like its titular character, takes the advice “be good” very seriously. From its elegant script to the intuitive performances of its leads to the rich urban world created by director Marc Webb (yes, Webb), the movie is ridiculously enjoyable. You know how some movies have that tipping point where they lose you for good? The Amazing Spider-Man is packed with the reverse of those moments; scenes that grab the audience and pull them further into the adventure. In short: if you hate fun, you probably won’t like this movie. Otherwise, you’re good to go.
One of the strongest aspects of the reboot is that Parker is more obviously a rebellious boy genius, much like Einstein (a poster of said physicist on Parker’s wall reads “Imagination is more important than knowledge”—a running theme in the movie). Andrew Garfield, who I suspect might be some kind of deity, has an uncanny ability to balance this intelligence with the punkier side of the character, as if he’s half-Doc-Brown, half-Marty-McFly.
This duality extends to his superpowers, which are both biological (owed to the infamous radioactive spider we all know and love) and engineered, owed to Parker’s own crazy-awesome prodigy brain. These two angles converge to make The Amazing Spider-Man not just a fun superhero movie, but a smart science fiction movie. Everything from the decay equation Parker discovers in his father’s suitcase to the detailed contraptions in the Oscorp Laboratory gives the impression that real science nerds had a lot of say in shaping this film.
When Parker and Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) talk about the potential of trans-species genetics, the conversation is somehow profound and natural at the same time. Ifans delivers a poignant, layered depiction of Connors, informed by the reality that underneath the scales is a very good, well-meaning person whose beliefs have been distorted. Connors’ response to Parker’s curiosity—“Why the sudden interest in the cold-blooded?”—has an obviously sinister double meaning, yet Ifans always manages to convey that Connors is just one step away from redemption, which makes the conflict between these two transgenic superbeings that much more interesting.
The Amazing Spider-Man doesn't shy away from the tragic twists inherent to Parker’s story, but rather cleverly integrates them into its thematic arcs (including the interesting treatment of making humans “better” through science). But the movie is also hilarious. Garfield and Emma Stone (as Gwen Stacy) both have a unique comic cadence that is utterly captivating to watch, and they deliver one of the most honest portrayals of high school romance I’ve ever seen. Both are playing smart, charming teenagers, but they so convincingly turn to goo around each other, reaching hitherto unknown levels of adorability.
Garfield and Stone's flirtation is echoed by the more mature chemistry between Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Where Gwen and Peter giggle and gawk in the glow of new love, May and Ben bask in the natural comfort and humor of a loving, decades-long partnership. And as if the cast wasn’t already firing on all cylinders, Dennis Leary’s straight-man performance as Captain Stacy is pitch perfect. His frustration with Spider-Man’s bold takeover is both funny and very understandable: a vigilante is a police chief’s worst enemy.
For all its layers, The Amazing Spider-Man is, at its core, about that first line from Richard Parker: be good. How rare and epic for a superhero movie to actually live up to the ideals of its characters. Let's give our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man a warm welcome back!
How psyched are you to see this!?