So, after spending the last few months telling anyone who would listen that I thought that superhero movies were coming to the end of a cycle, last night I saw The Amazing Spider-Man. Aha! At this point, you probably think that my preaching is about to go into overdrive. Crazy bulging eyes, wild gestures ‘n’ all… But it won’t.
It won’t, because the film’s good… it’s really good.
“But it’s a reboot!” I hear you cry.
“A reboot of a film franchise only launched in 2002, whose final entry was only released in 2007!”.
Yes, when you put it like that, it does sound terrible. You’ve got to believe me though, I approached this film with all that skepticism in mind, but it won me over. Let me tell you how.
First though, I should probably tell you what it’s about (although since most people saw the 2002 Spider-Man, you could probably dictate it to me). Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) lives with his aunt and uncle in Manhattan. In this incarnation, Peter is a high school outsider with interests in photography and science, whose primary mode of transportation appears to be skateboard. He seems to be less of an overt geek than in the 2002 version.
Pursuing said interest in science, Peter befriends Oscorp company scientist (and former friend to his deceased father) Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Connors lost his arm earlier in life, and is intent on re-growing it through research on lizards, who are able to grow a new tail after losing it.
During all this, Peter begins to get romantically entangled with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), his progress with her being rudely interrupted by an incident at Oscorp where he is rather inconveniently bitten by a radioactive spider. This bite gives him superhuman strength and agility, and a ‘spider-sense’ that allows him to anticipate short-notice danger. To say any more would be to ruin the plot, which, it has to be said, is not terribly original.
However, since we’re dealing with a story that has recently been told, more or less beat-for-beat, it would be harsh to hold that against this version of the film too much. It does detract from the impact of some of the initial story developments, though, as the (by now) well-worn superhero origin story is trotted out again. You get the sense that the director, Marc Webb, knew this, as well, because it’s not overly dwelt on. A neat touch is that this time, Peter uses his scientific prowess to construct web-slingers, rather than organically producing his spider web himself, something he also did in the comic books. Martin Sheen and Sally Field do their best to enliven the Uncle Ben and Aunt May schtick, but it proves difficult. I felt that Uncle Ben’s arc packed more emotional punch this time around, though.
So, how does Garfield do as Spider-Man? Very well, actually. Helped by a redesigned suit, and improved CGI, his physicality is more wiry and fast than Tobey Maguire. In short, he’s more spider-like. His Peter Parker is less shy, more brooding, and, in these less cliquey times, this makes him seem all the more modern. His Spider-Man is given more quips and more practical effects shots too (including some cool first-person sequences), allowing the viewer to get to know him. Emma Stone does a lot with a little, meaning that her Gwen Stacy is more than a damsel in distress, without ever quite becoming the fully-rounded character we crave in a female lead. With less screen-time having to be given over to the origin story, hopefully the inevitable sequel will allow her to develop more, as Emma Stone deserves room to stretch her undoubted talents. Rhys Ifans suffers from the lack of character-arc often given to villains in origin stories, as his transition from friend to foe seems slightly undercooked, although his performance makes up some of the shortfall. Performances on the whole are uniformly strong, even in the midst of some frenetic action scenes.
Ahhh the action scenes. If (500) Days of Summer made you think that Marc Webb wouldn’t know how to shoot action, allow me to reassure you. The Amazing Spider-Man has some genuinely tense and blood-pumping action scenes. An intentional use of as little CGI as possible gives them a more visceral feel, and a recurring use of close-up makes the fights feel real, and all the more painful because of it. With more time to develop the story, you trust that this adrenaline-laden nous could be augmented with some real emotional resonance in any future instalments.
So, any flaws? Well the script suffers from the familiar problems that befall the first film in any superhero franchise. Too much screen time needs to be given over to building the character of Spider-Man, which creates problems elsewhere. Some genuinely funny quips aside, the focus seems to be on quick and economical plot exposition, leaving little time for characters to breathe. Sally Field’s Aunt May is just one of the crowd of characters given short shrift when it comes to impactful character moments, and a compelling villain is something that should never be neglected. Still, Spider-Man doesn’t make his first appearance until around 40 minutes in, so they haven’t rushed things too much. I can’t comment on the 3D, as I am carrying on my one-man campaign to only patronise 2D screenings where possible.
Overall, this is probably my favourite Spider-Man film. Sam Raimi is a great director, and in fairness, his Spider-Man was released in a slightly different time, when superhero films were thinner on the ground and we didn’t quite know what to expect. This Spider-Man is a hero for the here and now, and the whole film has a more modern sheen. The bright colours and eagerness to avoid straying too far into the kind of dark, angsty territory frequented by Batman contributes to giving this the Marvel touch. Let’s hope that the film’s success gives Marc Webb more leeway to assert himself on future projects.
Agree, disagree, or other? Comment below and let me know!