Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man [Review]

The main question on moviegoers’ minds with Marc Webb’s arachnid-hero reboot is, of course: is it worth it? But even after finally viewing the controversial remake, it’s still a tough one to answer.

You know the setup – high-school student Peter Parker struggles to find himself, and then along comes a spider to do it for him. If you’ve seen Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man film (which is still only a decade old) or indeed anything remotely related to the franchise, you’ll know this already. What you might not know, if you’ve only seen Raimi’s trilogy, is just how far from the original comics Spider-Man veered.

So that’s Webb’s first goal here: to take a leaf out of the comic books themselves, which are constantly rebooting, and attempt to get things back on track (as reflected in the title, which is taken from that of Spidey’s first series). So Mary Jane’s gone; instead, Gwen Stacy returns from Raimi’s series, this time as Peter’s (original) love interest and in the form of a very blonde Emma Stone, rather than the two-dimensional plot device that was Bryce Dallas Howard in the lacklustre Spider-Man 3.

Elsewhere, we have a renewed focus on Peter Parker’s backstory; the original film skimped heavily on the man behind the suit, at least where his life before it was concerned. Instead, Webb has reversed the situation: the film’s desire to give us a more complete picture of Parker’s life is so great that it is essentially split into two halves – before and after the suit. And it’s the before that really hits home, with more focus on the human side of things, including an eight-year-old Parker being left with his aunt and uncle by fleeing parents – who received no mention whatsoever in Raimi’s trilogy.

Before we get to that, however, let’s concentrate on The Amazing Spider-Man’s strengths (with deliberate avoidance of the now clichéd use of the ‘does/doesn’t do what it says on the tin’ titular reference). Namely, Mr. Andrew Garfield, aka Tobey Maguire’s replacement. And what a replacement. Doing a fine job of showing just why Webb’s reboot is justified, the babyfaced actor neatly sidesteps the fact he’s playing a character half his age and blows Maguire’s interpretation out of the water.

More convincing, likeable and yet still one to feel sorry for – particularly after the obligatory death of a relative – Garfield pretty much nails the comic version of Parker. If there’s one flaw in his character, it comes purely from the script (as do most of The Amazing Spider-Man’s flaws) – once he dons the suit, his character comes across as a little too cocky and arrogant, and it becomes more difficult to empathise with his plight to avenge the aforementioned death.

Indeed, as Parker’s ‘transformation’ into the Man Spider takes place, the film undergoes its own transformation – from a high school romance drama between Garfield and Stone into a popcorn action flick. While you might be inclined to assume that surely the latter would be more suited to a superhero film, in the post-Avengers world of summer 2012, the former was a welcome relief from brainless superhero action. Thus, once The Amazing Spider-Man’s villain finally emerges in the form of the Lizard (Rhys Ifans), it feels like a step back for the tone Webb has established in the first half.

The action scenes are hardly Webb’s forte – his previous film credits include (500) Days of Summer and, well, nowt else – so it’s clear why the film’s first half, concentrating on the human relationships, is superior. When the Lizard does come into play, his motivations are underplayed, his delivery too camp (and slightly too Raimi-era Green Goblin-esque) and his appearance too fantastical. The tone doesn’t sit flush with what’s come before, and it’s hard not to wish Webb had gone with a different villain. There’s plenty to choose from, after all.

Meanwhile, more script problems hinder the film’s coherency. Plot points feel underdeveloped; a final scene involving New York’s Joe Public assisting Spidey would have had much more impact had we had any inclination that they had had any prior resentment towards the friendly neighbourhood hero. Without any avenue to show this, however (J Jonah Jameson and the Daily Bugle are conspicuously absent, aside from a cameo from the paper, with Parker taking photos for... his bedroom wall?) the only person we really see lamenting the existence of Spider-Man is Gwen’s father, Police Captain George Stacy.

But a few flaws with the film’s second act aside, the first half and tone of The Amazing Spider-Man might well be enough to justify its existence, and just what this critic (and perhaps audiences alike) needed in this post-Avengers world. So that’s two of three major superhero blockbusters this summer, and both have succeeded – if for different reasons – though neither have attained close to perfection. The final of the three seemed the only one likely to in the first place, though... and it’s only a week or so till we find out either way.


Dir: Marc Webb
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans, Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Sally Field
Columbia Pictures, 136 mins, 03/07/12

SynopsisSpider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can... all over again. We're back to square one with Marvel's most popular superhero franchise, in the second of the summer's trio of super-blockbusters, as the experiments of a scientific acquaintance of the young Peter Parker get slightly out of hand...


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