The Amazing Spider-Man arrives after Sam Raimi’s aborted fourth picture allowed Sony to decide what the world really needed was another attempt at an origins story. How did Peter Parker, high school geek supreme, become Spider-Man? Well he got bitten by a radioactive spider in a lab and this messed with his genes. There’s also an evil scientist being, you know, evil. The rest is superhero history.
There’s a problem at the heart of this film and one it fails to overcome. Marc Webb’s blockbuster is less a reboot proper (think Burton to Nolan’s vision of the Batman character) and more a smart remake. Some things are done differently but there’s plenty of moments that are repetitious and too fresh in the memory to be truly effective. Why not be radical with the text? Of course what we have is a Hollywood blockbuster and experimenting with tone is not an option, especially, with a director with no previous experience of handling pictures of this scale. Webb isn’t exactly a safe pair of hands but he does not fumble the job either.
What ultimately saves The Amazing Spider-Man is Webb’s direction of leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Mary Jane is replaced by Gwen Stacy in an attempt to change love interests, though, the relationship remains pretty much the same. There’s a bit of awkwardness, a crush is formed and romance blooms. Another major plus are those splendid moments of sheer joie-de-superhero. The point-of-view shots of Spidey climbing and swinging through the city are well done and fizz with excitment. Garfield, it must be said, is a much better Peter Parker/Spider-Man than Tobey Macguire. The British actor might be playing geek chic but it works and his Spidey is allowed to give off a bit of believable teenage attitude that the straight laced previous version only got to exhibit in the utterly naff Spider-Man 3. (A film that will haunt Raimi for the rest of his days.)
It seems very clear Webb was told to bring what he brings to the table (comedy, emotional angst, heart and romance) and leave the rest to the tried and tested formula. Moments such as the death of Uncle Ben (less a spoiler and a more a narrative inevitability) never quite pack a punch as they should. The Amazing Spider-Man only stretches itself in aesthetic areas and character interaction and seems quite a rushed enterprise. It’s that studio fad of announcing a release date before any actual thinking has been done. As Fritz Lang once said of modern Hollywood (and this was in the 1960s): “We don’t shoot movies anymore we shoot schedules.”
And yet … and yet. When The Amazing Spider-Man gets going: it really gets going. The choreography is stunning and the camera style frenetic, sometimes even graceful. The setpieces are well-imagined and never descend into the one-note smackdown tone of Marvel Avengers Assemble. Yet neither does it feel like a classic rebirth or give us an iconic moment (except for maybe for the final moments). These issues could be ironed out in the sequel (which will definitely happen).
Rhys Ifans landed a massive gig as Dr. Curt Connors and The Lizard. The character is less total villain and more traditional mad scientist undone by his own folly. The design of the monster isn’t great (rendered in CG) and never convinces or scares. Ifans’ upper crust British accent takes a trip around the UK from Wales to Liverpool to the Thames Estuary, but he makes for a creepy screen presence.
And then there’s Garfield and Stone, whose on-screen chemistry is clear to see and has spilled over into real life. Webb does not allow Gwen Stacy the traditional damsel in distress role as she plays an active part in proceedings. Is Hollywood finally understanding modern, forward-thinking sensibilities? That female characters can be empowered and more than a pretty face and love interest? The jury is still out on that one. Whether the refreshing approach makes the film a ‘blockbuster for women’ – as has been touted – seems a bit of wishful thinking. The geek dollar is not gender specific.
The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t exactly ‘amazing’ but certainly delivers. Exciting, funny, sweet and finishing with a superb sequence in which Spidey treats the night-time cityscape as a personal playground, Marc Webb’s film is high quality entertainment.
UK Release Date: 3rd July
US Release Date: 4th July