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Every nerdy, comic-book-obsessed kid wants to be a superhero. But few get to play out their childhood fantasies quite as spectacularly as Andrew Garfield, star of the most recent film adaptation of the Spider-Man saga, The Amazing Spider-Man.
Garfield, who grew up idolizing the wall-scaling, web-slinging character, says he felt intense pressure to do the title role justice.
"This human being has meant so much to me for so long," he says while promoting the film in Miami at the Mandarin Oriental. "I didn't quite realize how much it did mean to me, and now I have to step into it."
But that pressure also helped him get inside the head of Spider-Man's alter ego, Peter Parker, in a more intimate way.
"I find it much easier to relate to Peter," Garfield explains. "Of course, I think Peter finds it very hard to live up to Spider-Man. I think Spider-Man is something that no person can live up to. That mask is a symbol of something so subconscious and great and hopeful that if any human tried to live up to it, it would be hubris."
That struggle is at the center of the Spider-Man story, down to his motto: With great power comes great responsibility. Director Marc Webb's take on the classic plot has all the basic building blocks: the young Parker, losing his parents at an early age; nerdy teenage Parker, with a knack for science and zero skills in the girl department; and the radioactive spider bite that changes it all.
But Webb's film filters the familiar story through a deeply personal lens, emphasizing each character's struggle to replace what's missing in his or her life. Parker, of course, seeks to fill the void left by the death of his father. (Mama Parker and Peter were apparently not very close.) His nemesis, Dr. Curt Connors, spends the film trying to replace something much more tangible: the lower half of his left arm. Parker's meddling in the doctor's efforts to regenerate that limb via cross-species experiments leads to that life-altering spider bite, giving him the superpowers to save the world, with plenty left over for wacky "don't know my own strength" bits: shattering a basketball backboard at school, tearing the knob off his bathroom faucet, etc. That same research eventually turns Connors into the Lizard, the film's supervillain.
Garfield wasn't the only cast member to feel the "great responsibility" to accurately portray his part. Emma Stone, playing Spidey supercrush Gwen Stacy, knew the pressure was on. "It's the first time we've seen Gwen's story," she points out.
Happily, Stone knows her own strength as an actor and didn't let the pressure scare her away from showing Stacy's vulnerable side. "I thought it was important to be stupid in love and have those moments of faltering," she says.
There is plenty of faltering in The Amazing Spider-Man, especially where romance is concerned. Parker and Stacy's twee coupling scenes would be expected in an episode of Degrassi, but in an action movie already packed with dramatic (and sometimes melodramatic) exposition, Webb would've done better to focus more on the fireworks factory and less on Stone's and Garfield's (admittedly dreamy) stares.
Still, when the action gets going, Webb delivers on the basic promise of any Spider-Man movie: impossible, acrobatic heroics through thrilling explosions high above the ground. And thanks to an on-screen assist by the people of New York, that satisfaction comes with an uplifting message: You don't have to be Spider-Man — or a Hollywood actor — to be a hero.
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