Last Saturday I was running rather late for film night and it was my job to bring the movie. I always find being the selector of the evening’s entertainment a commanding role. A good film and everyone enjoys themselves, but a bad one and you’re sat there apologising for two hours, questioning your own taste. In a haste, I grabbed The Amazing Spider-Man on the way out the door. After all, with great power comes great responsibility.
When I saw The Amazing Spider-Man in the cinema last year, I have to admit, I didn’t love it (my Blu ray was still in the wrapper so that is some indication). I just couldn’t see how they justified “rebooting” a franchise so soon after the last film (Spider-Man 3 was released in 2007). For those who have better things to do with their time than keep abreast of film news, the original plan, a somewhat tangled web, was to continue the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire franchise with a Spider-Man 4. Contracts were signed, roles were filled but it all fell through when director and studio had some ‘creative differences’. However, money talks and the studio opted for a reboot in the same vein as Batman Begins to keep the franchise alive.
Director Marc Webb (fitting name), whose only other work was rom-com 500 Days of Summer, was selected to create a darker toned origin story, and Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) was brought in to play a younger, more socially outcast Peter Parker. Several elements that are synonymous with Spider-Man lore are omitted, including Mary-Jane Watson, The Daily Bugle and J. Jonah Jameson, all to give a different feel to the film. For the most part this works and the story is stripped down to its basic premise of Peter Parker coming to terms with his powers after an all-too-close encounter with a radioactive spider and his burgeoning relationship with school sweetheart Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone (Easy A, The Help). Peter must also face Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans, Notting Hill), who as a result of Peter’s help with his cross-species genetic research, does a whole Dr Jekyll/Giant Lizard routine. A new and mysterious spin on the circumstances surrounding Peter’s orphan beginnings also add a layer to the film that was missing from its predecessors.
Garfield brings a whole different level of social awkwardness and vulnerability to the character which in turn creates a likability that Maguire could never achieve (would anyone like Peter again after Spider-Man 3‘s emo dance scene?!). Stone is, as usual, great, although her typical razor sharp delivery is slightly under-used as she plays a not so typical damsel in distress. Given that Ifans’ primary role is to look shifty, he does bring some humanity to the role and you can at least understand some of his reasoning and personal angst with his actions. However, this is most certainly an origin story, and focus is given to Peter’s new found wall walking abilities rather than a truly compelling villain. Legends Sally Field and Martin Sheen are also on hand as Aunt May and Uncle Ben to at least give Peter some semblance of a normal home life.
The film does suffer some common problems one finds with superhero origin stories: it’s slow starting. If you’re expecting levels of action akin to Spider-Man 3, you’ll be disappointed. It’s not a bad thing per se, as at least there is some down time with characters, but you are left wanting just a little more web-swinging fun. The pacing issues are due to the director’s inexperience with the genre and what we have is definitely more a character story than action flick. Other more slightly pressing issues are its clunky and, oh Dear Lord, cheesy script. This cannot be stressed enough: there are Sainsbury’s delicatessen counter levels of cheese in there (although thankfully nothing as jarring as Spidey’s post-9/11 swing from the Stars and Stripes flag at the end of the original). Webb was a risky choice as director, but for the most part proves his mettle. What action scenes there are, are shot with panache and the jumping through the cityscapes are particularly effective. Next year sees the release of TASM2, so we’ll get to see if he truly has made the swing to summer blockbusters.
Overall, film night was a success. The bangers and mash was great. The Cadbury Dairy Milk Marvellous Creations, awesome. The film… Amazing? No. Good? Yes.