4 July 2012


A question- is there anyone out there who wouldn't rather have seen Spider-Man appear in The Avengers, than watch a reboot of the origin story that arrives in cinemas just ten years after the last widely-acclaimed, hugely successful attempt at that story? I'm happy to report that The Amazing Spider-Man is better than it has any right to be, given how it's an effort to keep the character from reverting to the stables of the newly-minted Hollywood powerhouse Marvel Studios, but less happy to say that I'd still rather have seen that happen.

In case you haven't been following the story, and somehow swerved Sam Raimi's variously well-received trilogy of movies about the web-slinger, Peter Parker goes from high-school outcast to superhero, after being bitten by a genetically altered spider. In this version, Peter is also battling with the secret of his parents' deaths, and finding his first love in a fellow student and science prodigy, Gwen Stacy. In a mishap that is not unprecedented for characters played by Andrew Garfield, his search for answers causes a biological mishap for Dr. Curt Connors. He's subsequently transformed into a giant, rampaging lizard, and only Spider-Man can stop him.

The marketing has really done this movie no favours, especially when you consider that most of the trailers' really cringe-worthy dialogue about "the truth", and a hint at a retcon of the origin story that would make Peter's origin story a pre-determined fate, rather than an accident, don't even make it into the film. Looking at those trailers was actively putting me off seeing the movie for a while, and not because I felt it was too soon after Raimi's interpretation. Aside from a couple of cute dialogue scenes between Peter and Gwen, (more on which later), it just looked boring to me, despite the fact that I liked everyone involved.

That's a problem that plagues much of the film proper- it's full of things I like, but it's less than the sum of its parts. I actually prefer some of the actors here to their counterparts in the last iteration. I like Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker better than Tobey Maguire. I like Martin Sheen's Uncle Ben better than Cliff Robertson. Denis Leary is absolutely perfect as police captain George Stacy, especially compared to James Cromwell's supporting role in Spider-Man 3. Hell, there's no point at all in comparing Gwen Stacys, because even if I'm a little behind the curve, this was the point where I completely fell in love with Emma Stone. I just wish the film, which feels like such a mercenary construction, knew how to use them all a little better.

At its worst, it's doing things differently for the sake of it, though it avoided some of the pitfalls. I liked the idea of organic webbing all along, but the use of mechanical web-shooters weren't as bad as I'd anticipated. The problems lie in the unnecessary backstory of Peter's parents, and the change to Uncle Ben's fate. Both of these take precedence in the first hour of the film, before Peter dons an uglier, if more believable version of the red and blue outfit, and are forgotten thereafter, despite setting up for pay-offs that are apparently reserved for the sequel. As for Uncle Ben, I'd like to re-state how great Sheen is in the role, and it's a crime that he wasn't allowed to deliver the famous line about power and responsibility. This script's equivalent reminded me of that round from Never Mind The Buzzcocks, in which you have to describe a song title without using any of the words.

I don't disagree with comparisons to Twilight, and nor do I think that we should be totally averse to a version of this story that amps up the teen romance angle, or aims at a female audience. Raimi left high-school behind in the first act of Spider-Man, but if this kick-starts another series of films, it looks like the plan is to stay there for a while longer. Director Marc Webb, who has form for awkward romance in (500) Days of Summer, gets incredible mileage out of Peter and Gwen. Though Stone's love interest role isn't hugely well-written, she's completely lovable, and her relationship with Garfield is just beautiful, proving that you don't have to embed Edward and Bella's toxicity in every appealing teen romance.

Alas, it's the rigid action movie structure that lets this reboot down, partly because it doesn't let us have more of the interaction between those characters, but mostly because it's just plain dull at times. The film runs for 135 minutes, and by spending the first hour dawdling through a rehash of the origin, the rest of the movie is severely underpowered. Rhys Ifans is wasted as an initially sympathetic version of Curt Connors that is quickly reduced to cackling to himself and planning world domination, once he's augmented with truly awful CGI to become the Lizard. Does that make sense? It doesn't even make spider-sense.

The effects are so poor, and so hard to take seriously, that you can almost understand why Captain Stacy is often more fussed about capturing the masked vigilante than stopping the rampant monster. Almost. You see, the predicted wave of darker, grittier superhero movies, after the success of Batman Begins and particularly The Dark Knight, seemed to have been countered by the rise of Marvel's fun, living comic-book adventures over the last few years. This one feels like it slipped through the net, hence the fixation on Spider-Man's status as an outcast, and a far more half-arsed attempt at a psychological bent that would pass muster in a Christopher Nolan film. The only similarity between Raimi's Spidey's New York and Webb's darker rendition is the proliferation of friendly citizens who provide some nice deus ex machina.

The Amazing Spider-Man doesn't quite mask the smell of a quickly assembled reboot, which has been designed by accountants, and somewhat salvaged by the very talented people who have enacted that design. It's much less colourful than Raimi's films, and it's a weaker film than any of those- you can say what you like about Spider-Man 3, but it's far more fun to watch than this. If there's a single superhero who looks more out of place in a Nolanised adaptation than Spidey, I can't think of them right now. Andrew Garfield is a better fit for Spider-Man than Maguire, but the character as scripted is less likeable. Ultimately, his first fling never reaches its full potential, due to an under-written villain and too much willingness to postpone satisfaction until the sequel, already announced for 2014.

The Amazing Spider-Man is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Amazing Spider-Man, why not share your comments below? Emma Stone appreciation is very welcome- there will definitely be tears if the sequel follows the Gwen Stacy saga to its famous conclusion.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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