The Amazing Spider-Man (12a)
Directed by: Marc Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Rhys Ifans
Running time: 136miins
Peter Parker finds a clue that might help him understand why his parents disappeared when he was young. His path puts him on a collision course with Dr. Curt Connors, his father’s former partner.
Ok, so it’s a reboot of a series no-one even really knew was gone. And it’s a story we all know inside out. Or is it?
Marc Webb had an unenviable task with The Amazing Spider-man. As soon as it was announced people were full of hate. The latest in a long line of reboots no-one wanted to see. Of a character that was so familiar it almost seemed pointless doing it. Put that all together with a summer that is bookended by The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises and the odds seemed stacked against the very aptly named Webb’s movie. Which is a shame, because it’s actually damned good.
I’m not going to dwell much on the story because it is familiar. Peter Parker (Garfield) lives with his aunt and uncle, is very smart and a loner. One day he gets bitten by a radio-active spider and becomes one of the world’s greatest and most enduring heroes… Spider-man.
However, this time around Spider-man’s world feels much, much larger. With a history that starts 12 years before that spider-bite, with Peter’s parents leaving him with his aunt and uncle as they flee from a mysterious threat and right away we know that, despite the familiarity, this is new territory.
And it’s the new territory that works here. Much like Batman Begins, The Amazing Spider-man kicks off with a villain that is familiar to the fans, but not so much to the casual movie-goers, it’s a clever move not kicking off with Goblin, Venom or Doc Ock as it means the villain, Dr Curt Connors (Ifans) is given time to develop and is given an intriguing backstory. Had he something to do with what happened Peter’s parents? What has he to do with the mysterious, unseen, Norman Osborne? And what will lead him to becoming the monsterous Lizard?
Emma Stone’s take on Gwen Stacy is perfectly fine, but sadly, while she is strong and confident, she suffers as most love-interests do in superhero movies and acts very often as mere eye-candy. And her police chief father, played by Denis Leary, is an interesting character but any hopes we had of him becoming a James Gordon type ally are soon shattered.
The real strength here is Andrew Garfield. After his superb performance in The Social Network, Garfield’s casting as Parker/Spidey was a welcome one. He perfectly embodies the Nerdy cool that defines Peter Parker and really demonstrates how vulnerable he is as Peter and how cocky and confident he becomes with the mask on – the duality of character is handled wonderfully and Garield’s performance in both roles totally railroads over Tobey Maguire’s performance in Raimi’s trilogy.
Which brings us neatly to the inevitable comparisons… is it better than the others? Well, yes.
This is a much more grown up and human take on Spider-man. It doesn’t have that awful unreal, airbrushed look and feel that Raimi’s movies had. In this reviewer’s opinion Raimi’s take was too cartoony (ironic, huh?) and never really possessed the right balance of real world and comic lore. From Willem DaFoe’s horrendous Green Goblin, to the dreadful handling of Venom, Raimi’s movies never truly worked. However Webb’s does.
True, it isn’t without its faults… signposting some things to the point where you feel like saying ‘ok, I get it, that’ll tie into the end’ and treating the audience like fools at least once – the scene where we find out what happened Peter’s parents from an Oscorp lackey is laughable. And indeed one scene where Ifans’ duality sees him arguing with himself harks back to the DaFoe’s character from the first Raimi movie – homage or accident, it doesn’t work. Also, the lizard’s plan makes little sense when you actually think about it.
Another fault lies in the effects, not in Spidey’s wall-crawling or swinging through New York – they are stunning, but in the lizard character. He’s scary and occupies real space in the movie but never truly looks real. He’s not Scorpion King bad, but it is a little distracting in parts.
All that said, the highlight of the movie - where the lizard attacks the high school – is on a par with anything in the Avengers and the character of Spider-man has never rang more true on film. He’s scared but cracking one-liners at a rate of knots while he and lizard demolish the building – and look for a nice piece of Gwen Stacey (Stone) foreshadowing Spidey fans.
The Amazing Spider-man is an overall success. Standing head and shoulders above most superhero movies, it’s smart, funny and confident and clearly writer James Vanderbilt is a fan of Spider-man. It’s not as good as Iron Man, but better than any of the other pre-Avengers Avengers movies. And, most importantly, it hints at a larger universe, a world that Spider-man can inhabit that is filled with characters yet to be discovered.
It’s a great start to a series that no-one realised needed rebooted until now.
Yes, it’s flawed, but the short-comings are far, far outweighed by the strengths here. Spider-man is a fun and exciting movie that ticks all the important boxes in a story that could so easily have been un-necessary. My one big regret was that we will never (never say never?) see this Spider-man stand alongside Downey Jnr’s Iron Man or Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk. Yes, it really is that good.
Just do us a favour… go see it and give Spider-man a fighting chance this summer, because we can’t wait to see what’s coming next.