For all the talk of Peter Parker’s reshaped DNA via the bite of a radioactive spider, his alter ego, Spider-Man, is really the urban version of Tarzan. Yes, the web-hurler flies higher and is seemingly in more control than his jungle-bound predecessor, but Spider-Man navigates the city in the same way Tarzan swings through the trees, substituting silken threads for vines.
Unlike Tarzan, who lived virtually naked and in close proximity to the wild animals upon which he relied for protection, Spider-Man remains isolated and anonymous beneath his red, blue and black suit, watching the streets below from behind two great blank silver eyes. In some respects his existence is that of any typical New Yorker who crosses paths with hundreds of strangers each day but rarely sees any of them.
When on the job catching bad guys and stopping crime in its tracks, Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) is a wisenheimer, effortlessly tossing off witticisms and one-liners even as he evades cops, journalists and murderous villains.
As Peter Parker he’s sometimes obliged to duck questions from loved ones. Peter’s in a loving relationship with Gwen Stacy, the smart, big-eyed pretty girl played by Emma Stone. Gwen has adjusted to Peter’s absence during life’s crucial moments. When he misses her valedictory speech at graduation, she understands the demands of leading a double life and has the self assurance necessary to cope with problems that arise. If necessary, she also has the strength to go forward in her life without Peter.
Garfield, 30, and Stone, 25, appear far older than their teenaged characters, so it’s helpful the story quickly moves them beyond high school. Appearing as Peter’s guardian, Aunt May, Sally Field establishes a familial sense of intimacy with her charge and struggles to accept his young adulthood.
Although dotted with several major action sequences, the vast majority of this 142-minute film tracks Peter’s efforts to define both himself and his important relationships. When tragedy befalls Peter’s childhood best friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), Peter reaches out and learns that Harry, the sole heir to a multimillion dollar bio-research company, is psychologically wounded. Such wounds aren’t foreign to Peter, whose parents were killed when he was merely 8 years old.
Viewers in their teens and 20s, or those who remember the discomfort associated with drifting toward an unknown future that promises to take us further from all we’ve known, will identify with Peter, Harry and Gwen.
The film also introduces Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a shy electrical engineer who briefly encounters Spider-Man when he saves Dillon’s life and offers him a kind word. But Dillon, lonely and unbalanced, expects the webbed one to treat Dillon like a best friend. These feelings are amplified when Dillon, who works for Harry’s company, falls victim to an industrial accident that transforms his body into an electrical storehouse. Now able to harness fire and lightning, Dillon becomes the cautionary figure Electro — his actions dictated solely by anger and resentment.
Peter wrestles with demons as well but always returns to the guiding force of his love for a select few. Unwilling to let Peter fully come to terms with his future, the film takes a terrible twist and makes the choice for him. He may be assailed in rather silly action bits, but Spider-Man continues to speak to us because his greatest battles are always waged within.