The Amazing Spider-Man (Film Review)

Spider Man is back. Read what we made of the latest reboot.

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5 years after Spiderman 3, a new director has approached the Spiderman franchise fresh, (500) days of summer’s Mark Webb. Taking on the titular role of Peter Parker and Spiderman is the eternally youthful Andrew Garfield, who at 28 years old looks the part for the teenage superhero, where his forbearer Tobey Maguire always looked too old. It’s an inspired casting decision. Another pro for the amazing Spiderman’s is that the suit looks like it was designed in someone’s bedroom. The cast is completed by Martin Sheen, Rhys Ifans, Emma Stone and Denis Leary.

Spiderman’s origin is one of the most well-known in comic book culture, up there with Superman, Batman and the Incredible Hulk. Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider and it genetically alters his DNA, giving him the reactions and agility of a Spider along with superhuman strength. However instead of going down the regularly travelled path of the Osborne dynasty and Mary Jane, the script by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves explores the dramatic potential of Peter Parkers missing parents and his relationship with Gwen Stacey.

Before his disappearance Peter’s father is working on something and after someone attacks his study he takes his son and places him under the care of Uncle Ben and Aunt May. It’s only when he’s a teenager that he discovers what his parents were into thanks to looking into one of his father’s old work colleagues, Dr. Curt Conners. The very same Curt Conners that becomes Lizard. An equally iconic supervillian as any Raimi incorporated, whether it was the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Sandman or Venom. Although smaller in scale than Sandman, he suffers from the same issue, his construction is computer generated and thankfully Lizard has heft, he looks like he exists in the world. As one of the trickier characters to jump from page to screen, credit has to be given to the design team for a miraculously designed monster.

The same sentiment doesn’t extend to his plot arc. The well realised schizophrenic mad scientist played by Rhys Ifans becomes drunk on his new-found power and goes on to enact the “supervillian plan of choice”: To use the city’s tallest building as a conduit to take over the city.  Curt Conners and his history with Peter Parker is far more fascinating than that, all told it’s a wasted opportunity.

Another issue is the contrivances. There are many occasions throughout the film where something happens only to blatantly set up a plot device, whether that is a rescued child or the fact that Gwen Stacey just so happens to work for Curt Conners of all people. Tacky is the best way to describe these occurrences, tacky but rare enough to just be a silly quirk and not something film breaking.

For the comic book and action community, that feeling of wasted opportunity will permeate the entire film, that is to say the spectacle is left wanting. The fights are more often than not over before they begin. To leap the defensive there are two ways to read this, the first is that Mark Webb isn’t comfortable with the fight scenes, given his earlier work on (500) days of summer this is a natural assumption. The second would be that the amazing spider-man is an origins story in the truest sense. This is before Spiderman is comfortable as protector of New York; he doesn’t know what he is truly capable of. The latter point is vindicated through how regularly his mask is taken off either by other people or by himself.

It’s only through his growth that Peter Parker realises what he can become. Nevertheless there is still a marque action sequence in the high school. It fills the destructive and chaotic quotient required for comic book films; nothing sums this up better than Stan Lee’s best cameo yet.

The real strength of the amazing Spiderman comes from the actors and drama. Andrew Garfield is a superior Peter Parker to Tobey Maguire. The many dramatic moments are given gravity far greater than is common for the comic book genre. Of which the relationship between Garfield and Emma Stone blossoms, it’s no surprise that they became a couple through this film. There is a fire, a real chemistry between the two, a world away from the fakery of comic book relationships. Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Denis Leary, they are all pitch perfect if underutilized. The only thing that lets down the side is the unsatisfactory arc for Rhys Ifans.

More outright romance than superhero movie, ensure that the amazing spider-man to be a divisive entry into the Spiderman mythos that doesn’t do enough different to justify the quick turnaround. At its best this has set up a fascinating new series, at its worst this is a muddy proposition.

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