The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man

****

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Okay, so let’s get the big question out of the way first – Is The Amazing Spider-Man different enough to warrant rebooting the franchise? Well, unquestionably, it isn’t necessary in the same way that the magnificent Batman Begins was, per se, thanks to the popularity of Sam Raimi’s (not actually that) recent trilogy. But while it doesn’t offer anything which is spectacularly new or game-changing, appropriately-named filmmaker Marc Webb ensures that there is enough to get excited about. So yes, while the major beats and broad strokes are familiar by necessity (with a character like this, you’re obviously limited with how much you can deviate), the details are altered, refreshed and rearranged just enough to remain interesting. In actuality, this is more of a re-imagining than a reboot.

Undoubtedly, many have complained it's come too soon (this was all anyone seemed to talk about during the lead-in), but Raimi’s original was TEN YEARS AGO (yup, a whole decade) and there have been five years since the last. Despite how terrific Sam Raimi’s first two spider-flicks were, his over-stuffed and surprisingly disappointing Spider-Man 3 left us in such a position that a fresh take was surely preferable to carrying on that way. Plus, as noted by Marvel super-producer Avi Arad, content is more important than time. So while it’s inevitably not equal to Spider-man 2 (still the high water-mark), The Amazing Spider-man ranks above the first and the third.


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Orphaned as a child and taken in by his kindly Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), lonely outsider Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has spent his life wondering what happened to his parents. After clues lead him to his father’s former partner, eminent scientist Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), Peter is bitten by a genetically-engineered spider which imbues him with super-human abilities. As Peter uses these abilities to become a masked vigilante known as Spider-man, he attempts to romance classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), whose father (Denis Leary) is Captain of the Police, while Connors’ reptilian experiments transform him into a savage creature.

While it doesn’t offer the “untold story” that we were promised - one of the many plot threads which seems to get forgotten about - there are a few key differences here. This time there’s no Norman or Harry Osborn (although the former casts a shadow), no MJ Watson and no J Jonah Jameson (which is probably a good move, since following JK Simmons’ version would be thankless). While Raimi’s Spidey was primarily inspired by the classic modellings of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Webb blends a welcome hybrid of Nolan’s Bat-verse and Brian Michael Bendis’ rightly-acclaimed Ultimate Spider-man run. Where Raimi’s approach was energetic, quirky and comic book-y, Webb’s is a modern, edgier, hipster version. This friendly neighbourhood you-know-who has a mobile phone, and he’s not afraid to use it.

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So what else is new? Well, we’re back to home-made web-shooters after the decision to have organic ones, while his infamous spider-sense is all but ignored, although there is a very cool scene where the web-head creates a web to find his prey. More notable is that this Spider-man takes a battering and is constantly bruised or cut to shreds, while Webb really understands how the character moves – arguably even more so than Raimi did. Previously, it was all-swinging-all-dancing, but here he’s acrobatic and does more wall-crawling. There is also a neat (and logical) bathroom sequence where our hero discovers his new-found strength.

But still, the movie’s biggest asset is undeniably Garfield. While Tobey Maguire was superb in the role, the likeable British up-and-comer is instantly a more definitive Peter Parker. Notably, Garfield’s interpretation is more of a brooding and introverted outsider than Maguire’s endearing goofball (it is hip to be a geek nowadays), while he’s fully convincing as a moody teenager despite being 28 years old. Lean, charming and with great bed-hair, he’s note-perfect in every shrug, every half-smile, while the occasional wise-cracking (“you’ve found my weakness, small knives!”) is well delivered.

Which brings us to the film’s main flaw – its choice of villain. While Ifans is surprisingly well-cast as Dr Connors, the Lizard itself brings the movie down and feels out of place with Webb’s generally grounded feel. An ambitious well-meaning scientist whose experiments result in a green meanie? We’ve seen this before. Only with Willem Dafoe’s Goblin, the talking-to-himself bits were well-sold as part of a duel personality. Here it just feels silly. In general, the Spidey-vs-Lizard showdowns never manage to thrill, but that’s more to do with comic movie finale fatigue than anything else.

More frustrating, is how the finished product feels like it has suffered from significant cuts in the editing room. Certain plot threads never fully blossom in the way you hope, some feel rushed (“Here’s the formula/antidote you need!”) and others are forgotten about (Aunt May? Ben’s attacker?) for long periods. Both Stone and Leary are great as Gwen and Pappa Stacy, but neither are really given enough to do.

There are also narrative niggles (surely Peter had Googled his father before?) and dodgy logic (Spidey saves a bridge from a huge lizard creature and the police target him?) that bring the overall down. Aside from a cringey New York citizen rally, Spidey has no real connection the city this time. A more distinctive score is also definitely needed. For all that though, Sheen is fantastic as Uncle Ben (likewise Fields as May) and we get the best Stan Lee cameo ever.

Though many will argue that it’s not different enough to justify a reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man offers enough variation on the familiar tale to prove worthwhile. It’s brought down by a poor choice of villain and frustrating plot niggles, but there’s a lot here to like.

Reviewed on: 19 Jul 2012
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Peter Parker tries to get to the bottom of his parents' disappearance.
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Stephen Carty ****

Director: Marc Webb

Writer: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves, based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Chris Zylka, Max Charles, C. Thomas Howell, Jake Keiffer, Kari Coleman, Michael Barra

Year: 2012

Runtime: 136 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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Spider-Man 2