– Summary –
Director : Marc Webb
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Dennis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan, Campbell Scott, Chris Zylka.
Approx Running Time : 140 Minutes
Synopsis: Bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker exhibits strange new powers; using these powers to hunt his Uncle’s killer, Peter becomes the mysterious Spider-Man, hunted by police and feared by criminals.
What we think : Lengthy, yet crucially fast-paced this revamp of the Spider-Man franchise delivers another version of the Origin Story, albeit in a fresh and invigorating manner. Garfield is wonderful as Spidey, Emma Stone is the definitive Gwen Stacy (sorry Bryce Howard) and Ifans’ performance as the tragic villain is solid back-up. Overall, a pleasant diversion and a great take on Spider-Man, and I can’t wait to see where they take this next.
Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can…..
Okay, so I, like many, wasn’t sold on the idea of a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise so soon after Sam Raimi’s efforts to bring the web-slinger to the big screen. Heck, it’s only been a decade since the original Spider-Man graced the screens in the post-9/11 era, and the last film of Raimi’s run, Spider-Man 3, hit barely 5 years ago. The dust hadn’t even settled yet, before Sony ponied up the cash and told the world a new Spider-Man film would come out, and it would retool the franchise to take it in a new direction. Meeting this news with a wet thud of no anticipation whatsoever, and a fairly benign response from the fanboy crowd, director Marc Webb saddled up for a turn at bringing Marvel Comics most prized character – yeah, I went there, X-Men and Iron Man fans – to life once again. It was a gamble, for sure; after all, how many people would be willing to sit through yet another origin story about Peter Parker’s fateful spider bite, or his Uncle Ben’s untimely demise at the hands of a two-bit hood, or his angst at being persued by the very people he was trying to help? It had been done, and recently at that. So was the effort to bring Spider-Man to the big screen once more worth it? Is the end result just a poor rehash of previously made material, or is The Amazing Spider-Man able to offer us something new and interesting about a character we’d seen “born” on screen only a few years ago?
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) yadda yadda bitten by a spider yadda yadda love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) yadda yadda develops super-human abilities yadda yadda Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) gunned down by a thief yadda yadda Aunt May (Sally Field, who doesn’t know he’s Spider-Man) yadda yadda Oscorp scientist Carl Connors (Rhys Ifans) yadda yadda joke about nomenclature alliterative skills yadda yadda cameo by Stan Lee (as some classical music DJ?) yadda yadda tragic villain wrestles with humanity yadda yadda and plenty of swooping, slinging and leaping across the Manhattan skyline. That’s the general gist of things.
If you somehow manage to slip into an alternate dimension and forget all about 2002’s Spider-Man, and the two sequels that followed, it’s entirely likely going into this movie that you’ll have a great time. If you lack the ability for trans-dimensional travel (like most of us) then The Amazing Spider-Man will come burdened with the expectation of Raimi’s massively successful film series, and unfortunately, there’s very little director Marc Webb can do to escape that gargantuan shadow. That’s not to say Amazing Spider-Man is a disappointment, because I don’t believe it is, it’s just that the lack of time passing between Spider-Man 3 and this reboot is so short, the gulf of association between the two and the stories all the films are trying to tell isn’t wide enough to thoroughly disassociate from. Main characters aside, the bulk of Amazing is primarily the origin of Spider-Man retold – or should I say retooled? – because audiences may not have got it the first time round. Is it well executed? Yes. Are the characters as good now as they were back when Tobey Maguire donned the spandex? Actually, they’re better here. But the shadow of reminiscence looms large, and Webb has a significant undertaking ahead of him in order to extricate himself from what has come before.
The Amazing Spider-Man touches on all the relevant touchstones of the Spidey origin – Uncle Ben’s death, the spider bite, and Peter’s nerdy, scientific mind all play major roles in this story, and yet it’s still fresh enough to offer something new. Instead of Mary Jane Watson, our leading lady here is Gwen Stacey, played by the wide-eyed and utterly gorgeous Emma Stone. Stacy, who appeared in Spider-Man 3 as Bryce Dallas Howard, and whose part in that film was, it must be said, grossly underwritten, is Peter’s first love here, and although not always the object of his affection like Mary Jane was in Raimi’s films, is a worthy romantic entanglement for Peter to stumble around. Gwen’s father, Captain Stacy, heads the New York police department, and for a while in this film actually tries to arrest Spider-Man as a vigilante. While the central romantic angle is slightly different, the scientific-tragic turned villain is replayed once more, with Rhys Ifans essaying the man who would become The Lizard – Dr Curt Connors. It’s a direct parallel to both Spider-Man’s Green Goblin (Norman Osborne, who seeks power through scientific methods), and Spider-Man 2’s Doctor Octopus (who becomes a villain after gaining powerful extra appendages after a scientific accident); Spider-Man 3 lacked the true scientific villain, with Sandman and Venom being more accidental victims of circumstance instead of by-choice Bad Guys. It seems, apparently, that being a scientist in the Spider-Man universe is a bad way to make a living…..
Avoiding comparison for a second, The Amazing Spider-Man does actually work really well as an origin film. Thanks largely to the terrifically taut script, and Andrew Garfield’s stuttering performance of Peter Parker (a trait I envisage will become more annoying if he keeps it up in future installments), Webb is able to maintain a real sense of the modern Comic Book Movie about it all. There’s whimsy, comedy and serious undertones throughout – although the serious sections of the film lack real heft, it must be said – and the light hand of a director who knows this material is appreciated here. Webb gets that Spider-Man is essentially a teenager, and delivers a true coming-of-age story about a teenager (not Tobey Maguire’s twenty-something adult) dealing with the ability to climb walls and swing through the air. Garfield also gets the character, imbuing him with the cheek and arrogance of youth, although still touching on the tragic motifs at play throughout. His Peter Parker is a delight.
The great thing about this film is largely its pacing. Amazing Spider-Man runs just over two hours, which is fairly long for any film, let alone a movie about a dude who can climb walls. Thankfully, however, Webb keeps this thing ticking along with barely a pause for breath; Webb keeps all different tangents of the narrative bubbling away in the background, from Connor’s experiments on himself to Parker’s relationship with his Uncle Ben, and later his Aunt May. I will say that I felt the Uncle Ben and Aunt May storyline here was weaker than in Raimi’s films, and Sally Field felt more like a generic “mother” than what I envisioned Aunt May to feel like. Rosemary Harris’s wonderful performance as May in Raimi’s trilogy was – and is – the definitive performance of the character on film, in my opinion. Martin Sheen struggles with the dialogue and the inability to use the phrase “with great power comes great responsibility”, and it’s a shame this film never picked up on that classic story hook. The alternative mouthful Sheen delivers, something about “if you have the power to help people you have a moral responsibility to do so” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. The film never dwells too much on anything, which some might see as a failing considering the pace at which things occur. There’s really only tacit time given to Peter’s realization of his newfound abilities, and he connects the Connors/Lizard combo much too quickly. Gwen’s father, played by a straight-up Dennis Leary, is also thinly written – he’s more a cliche than an actual character – but the end result of the film for him could have been more potent had we really gotten to know and understand him. Amazing Spider-Man barrels along like a runaway train, never pausing to smell the roses, as if it has some destination other than entertainment to get to.
While the pacing might be considerably fast flowing, it needs to be. The sheer volume of ideas and events that transpire throughout this film would have had Raimi sweating had he tried to include it all. Action sequences, character introductions (although it must be mentioned that neither J Jonah Jameson and the Daily Bugle make an appearance, and nor does Mary Jane Watson, whom I had hoped would be played by Lindsay Lohan in the next film…. sadly, my gleefully antagonistic wish wasn’t granted!) and the general flow of narrative are balanced and entertaining. There’s a lack of fat on this film that works for the story instead of against it. This is a comic book movie, not an outright drama, and the film seems to fit into the visual palette of a comic book page. I commend Webb for his work.
I’m at a loss to determine why I shouldn’t give this film full marks, but I just can’t. While I think the majority of the movie worked really, really well, I was still left with a nagging feeling in my head that I didn’t need to see all of it. I mean, why did I need to see the origin again? Couldn’t we have just taken this as a given and started the story somewhere else? I guess I can understand why the filmmakers chose this path, considering the new “Peter’s parents abandoned him when he was a kid” subplot (which I expect will be revisited in future installments), but part of me felt a lot of the origin set-up could have been brushed aside with perhaps some flashbacks or something. I also found a bizarre subplot with a school bully (played by Chris Zylka) to be extraneous and unfulfilling. Perhaps this is setting up the character in the next film, I don’t know, but neither the character or his story connected with me much at all. Equally as uneven was the visual effects of The Lizard himself. In full lizard form, the character sometimes took on a cartoony, obviously-digital look that tended to pull me out of the movie. I know, the character is almost entirely a digital creation, but it looks like it. The seamlessness of the effects, or their occasional lack thereof, were a considerable weakness in some sections of the film, and I found myself distracted watching those seams showing. It’s a small thing, but it is what it is. That aside, the visual effects were generally outstanding.
It’s pretty easy to see where this film’s $200m budget was spent: the film looks gorgeous, and is truly massive in scope. I was somewhat annoyed that the majority of the film’s major events took place at night (why, can’t Spidey fight in the daylight? Is he secretly a vampire?) resulting in an overabundance of darkness shrouding this movie, which in turn tended to shift focus away from the relatively light narrative style. That said, there’s no real fault I can find here save for perhaps my own fanboy wants, and that’s nothing to do with the movie. As a blockbuster, The Amazing Spider-Man stands proudly amongst the best – it’s fast, witty, delivers plenty of effects and thrills to keep the audience planted in their seat – and has a solid foundation at its core. Much of the criticism leveled at Webb’s vision is less to do with what the film presents and more to do with the film presenting it all – too soon, most people cried, but I think those people’s voices are now less shrill and more contrite. The Amazing Spider-Man may not be the revolution in the character’s history it probably needed to be to escape Sam Raimi’s shadow, but on its own, without comparison, it’s a damn decent film and I’m more than happy to recommend it on that basis.