The Amazing Spider-Man Review

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by Casimir Harlow Nov 26, 2012 at 8:36 AM

  • Movies review

    The Amazing Spider-Man Review

    Too soon?

    It was a risky move rebooting Spiderman so quickly after the close of the last trilogy. This wasn’t just another ‘Hulk’ scenario, where there was some justification in rebooting the series to get it right – Raimi’s original 2000 Spiderman had been one of the first great successes for Marvel and, alongside X-Men, set the benchmark for superhero blockbusters for years to come.

    Notwithstanding Spiderman 3’s critical panning, rumours were that Raimi was planning an epic fourth film. Alas, he was unceremoniously dismissed and a reboot was announced, much to the chagrin of many of the franchise’s followers. Beyond this outrage, and the overt money-grabbing motivations of the Studios – and, of course, if you can get past the often-familiar ‘origins’ plot – 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man is actually pretty good; fresher than you might expect, tonally spot-on, and with character, narrative and action elements all well-balanced to provide what is arguably closer to the definitive Spiderman Begins than Raimi ever got.

    Indeed if it wasn’t for the fact that it was released in the shadow of the preceding trilogy, The Amazing Spider-Man would have probably been readily regarded as a top-tier second-generation comic-book superhero blockbuster.

    “Do you have any idea what you really are?”

    Stop me if you’ve heard this before: geeky, scrawny high school student Peter Parker – orphaned at a young age and living with his Uncle and Aunt – sneaks his way into a laboratory which is conducting experiments on spiders and promptly gets himself bitten by one. Over the subsequent days he develops unexpected strength, unprecedented speed and new skills, finding that his body has been permanently changed – and enhanced – by the spider-venom.

    Initially he uses his skills to fight back against high school bullies who have been laying into him but he soon finds that he can use his newfound powers for a greater good; taking to the streets to combat criminals. He soon finds that he needs a disguise, however, to keep his true identity from both the criminals he apprehends and the cops who would, in turn, like to apprehend him, regarding him as little more than a vigilante. To this end he dons a mask and becomes the ‘spider-man’.

    Juggling the dual lives of now super-cool student and vigilante superhero is not easy, however, and Parker has to learn the hard way – his reckless actions costing the life of someone he loves – before he can fully embrace the great gift that has been bestowed upon him.

    Despite the fact that this loose synopsis could just as easily apply to Raimi’s original 2000 adaptation as it does to this new reboot vehicle, 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man actually somehow manages to inject new spider-venom into the old framework, resulting in a film which feels fresh if not in its story then certainly in its delivery.

    “Are you ready to play God?”

    Of course Spider-Man fans would be quite justified in their cynicism over this project but, however ill-advised it was to make this reboot so soon after the last film (compare the eight years between Batman & Robin and Batman Begins with the mere five years between Spiderman 3 and this film), there was some method to the madness behind the studio’s actions. For starters, those very same fans of the colourful comic-book personality – the most popular of Stan Lee’s annoyingly alliterative Marvel creations, arguably up there alongside DC’s Batman and Superman – should probably be celebrating this slightly new take on Spider-Man; not only does it allow them to enjoy new and previously unexplored characters from the comic lore – like the heroine Gwen Stacy and the super-villain, the Lizard – but it also takes the time to re-jig the basic origin tale for Peter Parker himself, drawing us an interpretation that, in many respects, is far closer to the character’s original comic book history.

    Although, to some, the changes may go unnoticed, the devil is in the details and little things – like having Peter Parker develop mechanical web-shooter attachments rather than shoot webbing directly out of his wrists; like having his ‘first love’ relationship with Gwen Stacy explored without even any mention of his latter love interest, Mary-Jane Watson; and like even adopting the same loose character arc for Stacy’s police dad as was present in the comics – will surely find the comic book fans rejoicing at the respect that has been paid towards the source material.

    Those less familiar with the character’s official background will still enjoy some of these differences – they will likely enjoy anything that distances this interpretation from Raimi’s – even if the effect upon them is probably less noticeable. Ironically, perhaps this is where the reboot has found its most enthusiastic followers – those unfamiliar with Spidey’s comic background (whether or not they’ve seen Raimi’s version) will certainly be more forgiving towards the fairly integral elements that the new franchise has sought to change; elements which the die-hard fanboys are probably up in arms over. You see, whilst the comic book story has been more closely followed in many peripheral aspects, the basic foundation has been rocked to the core – Peter Parker’s personality and motivation appear to be different.

    “Oh, no! You have found my weakness. Small knives!”

    You see Parker was always supposed to be the ultimate bespectacled nerd, a fairly feeble victim of a character who had the affectation of a young Woody Allen; a socially awkward and somewhat clumsy neurotic through and through. Mocked and bullied by all and sundry, he seldom got the attention of the girls he liked unless it was for the wrong reasons. Indeed it was only his changing into Spiderman that had a significant effect on him, giving him a protective superhero shell within which he could finally let loose.

    The trouble with 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man is that, whilst they pretty-much get the post-bite confidence and charisma right, Parker’s personality prior to being bitten is never really established as that of a convincing geek outcast, and his motivation afterwards is simply not given the same driving force – as it should have been – when his negligence causes the death of someone close to him. Dare I say it, this guilt was dealt even better in Raimi’s original Spidey debut.

    We should still be fairly forgiving to this new production, however, because although it doesn’t paint the character quite right, it only has a limited amount of material to work with, and embellishes the origin story with plenty of new elements, giving it added depth – particularly with respect to the previously underexplored death of Parker’s parents – whilst also updating it for modern audiences.

    To this end, the casting of Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, Never Let Me Go) should also be seen in a positive light because, whilst he doesn’t quite embody the Peter Parker that comic book fans have grown up with, or the Parker that Tobey Maguire so capably embraced, he gives us a cooler, 2012-relevant interpretation of the same. Apparently Garfield has stated that he used the near-anonymous power of social networking as an inspiration for his portrayal and, although this may sound odd, it actually fits into his version – he sees the donning of the mask to fight crime as giving Parker the same sort of confidence that you can find when on the internet, tweeting and sending messages with impunity, across the net, but from the protection of your own home. Certainly that arrogance comes across in his portrayal and, for the most part, it is actually fairly beneficial to the movie. Perhaps his Parker is more Tony Stark than he should be, but, from an entertainment point of view, he is also a much more engaging character to follow. Fans may struggle to embrace the less earnest; less goodie-goodie and considerably more snappily sarcastic 2012-mould interpretation, but it’s sure to get plenty of laughs.

    “Peter Parker’s one of Midtown Science’s best and brightest. He’s second in his class.”
    “You sure about that.”
    “I’m pretty sure.”

    There’s also no denying that his chemistry with co-star Emma Stone (Superbad, The Help, Crazy Stupid Love) as his first love interest, Gwen Stacy, is even better than that between Maquire’s Parker and his second love, Mary-Jane Watson, as brought to life by Kirsten Dunst. In fact, it’s so good that you could imagine these two getting together without the benefit of Parker’s spider-inflicted enhancements. It’s a tonally perfected romance for the new generation, mildly let down by only one final mistake – the positively whimsical betrayal of a promise made to a dying man. They should have come up with a better angle than this, as it just smacks of Parker having learned nothing from his previously tragic negligent behaviour, and will only make Stacy’s potential final fate (if they follow the course of the comics which, with the casting of a Mary-Jane Watson counterpart for TAS2, seems likely) even more of an annoying ‘You were warned that this would happen’ element. Suffice to say that this is the bad side-effect of Parker’s new, more flippant manner.

    Introducing us to a new villain, this reboot goes for the Lizard as Spider-Man’s primary opponent, and manages to do well to craft a decent backstory to Dr. Curt Connor’s tragic self-experimentation-gone-wrong. I know that the Lizard isn’t the greatest of Spider-Man’s opponents, but it was only to be expected that they would use a new villain in this reboot (like they did with Batman Begins, before returning to the more traditional villains further down the line), lest there be even more comparisons with the original interpretation, and it’s certainly the best we could have expected from the Lizard, even if he doesn’t stand up to Doc Octopus as being arguably the greatest Spidey opponent (until we get a decent Green Goblin, that is). Rhys Efans certainly convinces in the mad scientist part – dabbling with the kind of prototype that Jeff Goldblum established in The Fly – even if he can’t do anything with the CG beast that is ultimately realised; a creature which still works, but only for the action sequences.

    Rounding out the cast, Denis Leary is surprisingly effective as Gwen Stacy’s police Captain, who sees Spider-Man as nothing more than a vigilante, and both Sally Field and Martin Sheen make for a capable Aunt and Uncle to the orphaned Parker. Sheen, in particular, is on expectedly good form, even if his story-arc is not as well realised in this interpretation as it perhaps should have been.

    “Thirty-eight of New York’s finest, versus one guy in a unitard.”

    Beyond the capable cast, James Horner’s score superbly enhances the proceedings; rousing in all the right places, energetic for the action sequences, and unobtrusive for the more character-driven sequences. Screenwriter James Vanderbilt (who worked on the underrated The Losers comic book adaptation, and is working on the upcoming Robocop reboot) goes for whip-smart dialogue over earnestness, and it certainly works in the entertainment department, even if – as already alluded to – it does not always fit in with the traditional Spider-Man formula. His blending of the various characters’ story arcs is largely impressive, drawing effective parallels between the fate of Curt Connors and Parker himself; playing off the irony of Parker dating the daughter of the police Captain who is trying to hunt down his alter-ego; and creating a decent foundation in the ominous looming Oscorp building which will surely only grow in importance with the sequels.

    Director Marc Webb also acquits himself well on his first blockbuster outing. Whilst his only prior experience really comes from numerous Music Videos and from the disappointing indie flick 500 Days of Summer, he effortlessly balances romance, character development, a dozen interconnected story-arcs and a volley of spectacular action set-pieces to give us everything we could have hoped for from a Spider-Man reboot. Sure, his version may take a while to get going – the opening set-up is painstakingly slow in its establishing of the characters – but it mostly pays off as the film progresses, allowing you to care for, and side with, the people that he has brought to life in this world.

    Indeed in terms of action there are some memorable moments on offer here, from the first confrontation on the bridge – which doesn’t dip too far into saccharine unsubtlety with its denouement – to the closing skyscraper battle, with only the slightly over-the-top choreographed crane-moving bit coming across as too silly for its own good. Little moments – like the early fight sequences and training montages – also remain engaging, and even the first-person Spidey shots are well-integrated into the action.

    “We all have secrets: the ones we keep, and the ones that are kept from us.”

    The Amazing Spider-Man was certainly considerably more enjoyable than I ever anticipated. After enjoying Raimi’s trilogy, I was particularly cynical about such a swiftly-turned-around reboot, but, if you forgive the disrespect, there is plenty to enjoy with this slightly new interpretation. From the now-more-fun Peter Parker, to the sparkling romance between him and his first true love, Gwen Stacy; from the reasonably epic action set-pieces to the surprising fate for at least a couple of the characters. Sure, it misses a few beats; sure, it spends part of its runtime walking the same path as its predecessor, but the end result is still a new, fresh approach which sets things up for further, different adventures. Don’t just dismiss it for being the same – there’s much to enjoy in what could easily grow to be the definitive Spider-Man interpretation, and this resoundingly exciting, at times rousing, opening chapter sets the stage for a whole new action-packed trilogy of web-slinging antics. Watch this space.

    The Rundown

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