Filed under: Movie Reviews | Tags: Amazing Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield, Aunt May, Captain Stacy, Curt Connors, Denis Leary, Emma Stone, Gwen Stacy, Martin Sheen, Peter Parker, Sally Fields, The Lizard, Uncle Ben
Spider-fan, Spider-fan, watches whatever a Spider-fan can and grabbing the Independence Day release in 2012 is The Amazing Spider-Man – a reboot which brings the much loved Marvel character into the 21st century. Although, ten years after Sam Raimi brought the character to our cinemas and a mere five years after Spider-Man 3 brought his directing run to an end – did the big screen really need a new Spidey so soon?? (Spoilers ahead)
In general, and as a lifelong Spider-man fan, I’d have to say yes. Director Marc Webb takes the reigns from Raimi and steps into his first blockbuster movie – previous film being 2009’s (500) Days of Summer which would make Webb the perfect choice for the turmoil of teen life that the early years of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) would involve. The only doubt for me is how the other half would fair – the high-action, web-swinging side that had to be part of the fine balance. The trailers had not convinced me that this was going to work and managed to almost discount the possibility that Garfield could make a geek in any shape or form.
Thankfully, I was proved wrong as the re-telling of Spidey’s origin focuses on the mystery surrounding his parent’s involvement with Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) and his experiments. A break-in to the Parker home sees Peter’s parents flee during the night via a stop-off at Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) for Peter. Saying their farewells and disappearing into the night, only to reappear as headlines of their untimely death in a plane crash is reported back.
The movie flashes forward to the teenage high school backdrop that we expect and cue the skateboarding, super-smart Parker bumbling his way through class after class. Credit to Garfield for this, as he pulls off the socially stunted, super-genius with real style – giving him depth and a real feel of “teen vs the world”. With Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) breezing in and out of his view we see a chemistry between two love-interests that we maybe haven’t seen explored in previous Spider-Man releases – this being more of a distraction or dealt with too bluntly.
This is where Webb and the cast excels in the first half of the film – the topsy-turvy life of Peter Parker as he weaves in and out of his responsibilities at home, his school-work and his growing interest in Gwen and for good reason (if only there was a “Sexiest Female Character in a Spider-Man Film” Oscar).
This part of Peter’s life-intermingles further with the discovery of his father’s scientific past and the experiments he was involved in with Dr Connors – who currently works at Oscorp trying to create his cross-species formula that will help him replace his missing arm – and save the life of the unseen Norman Osborn. Parker bluffs his way into Oscorp as an intern and we get the “bitten by a radioactive spider” sequence we’d expect – followed by his quick development of spider-sense and wall-crawling abilities which are introduced with ease and is the first glimpse that maybe Webb can pull off the action-packed side we hope for.
The death of Uncle Ben snaps that excitement side back into reality with the heart-breaking loss of Pete’s father-figure and Aunt May’s husband which seems to accelerate his anger at the world and ultimately takes him down his quest for vengeance and eventually his acceptance of his new role as protector of the people, a role which brings him into direct conflict with Gwen’s father, Captain Stacy (played by Denis Leary) – who is immediately gunning for the masked vigilante.
Further developments in Curt Connors experiments see him use the new formula on himself with the Lizard erupting onto the streets of New York, twisting Connor’s aims to do well, into trying to make himself ‘better than human’. The mild-mannered scientist is played well by Ifans and the switch to mad-scientist/Lizard combo is testament to choosing him for the part. What follows is a series of set-piece battles where Spider-Man saves members of the general public while keeping The Lizard in check and as the effects of the formula wear-off, Connor’s disappears into his lair to try again. This leaves the film with a steady switch from real-life to battle for the remainder of the film and holds onto the mixed-up life Peter now faces – where fighting a giant Lizard can mean he forgets all about the eggs he promised his Aunt May.
A few twists and turns later and it all culminates in a rooftop battle as Spidey tries to stop The Lizard from turning everyone in the city into a cold-blooded monster. Not everything work out in the end though, as there’s a bittersweet twinge to the final confrontation as Spidey saves Gwen and teams up with Captain Stacy to foil The Lizards plans, only to have Captain Stacy die and Pete to promise him that he’ll stay away from Gwen. Something he keeps for the next few weeks but the heart wants what the heart wants and a subtle hint in the closing scene suggests that there’s more to come from this on-screen couple.
Given that it’s the earliest years of Peter parker – there’s no Daily Bugle on show, apart from a short headline section within the movie…..and the only issue I have with that is that there’s no J. Jonah Jamieson gunning for Spidey as the movie progresses – maybe in future films we’ll see him appear, although I doubt it’ll top the J.K. Simmons performance on that one….time will tell. There’s also the obligatory Stan Lee cameo too – which got more than a few laughs plus the usual mid-credits scene where we see what happens to Connors after the battle and hints at more intrigue and mystery to come as it hints at the second movie.
There are some minor downsides to the reboot which may be down to my love of the Spider-Man character as I’ve read it over the years, but the 3D didn’t seem to add much and the first-person sections that didn’t dazzle me in the trailer almost seem a bit too gimmicky when they’re used here – feeling forced and almost clambering to keep the viewer involved. Another downside for me was The Lizard, visually he just didn’t seem as intimidating as he should’ve been – almost having a stoned smile on his face while trying to look menacing – big let down given the attention to detail and artistry in giving Spider-Man his fluid movements. Spider-Man also seems to take his mask off at a drop of a hat and the notion that in a 21st Century with all its CCTV and phone cameras – that he could keep his secret identity, all seems a bit lazy in a film that is trying to hold onto as much reality as it can…..albeit it’s about a guy who can climb buildings like a spider.
Those grumbles aside, the strong characters and casting holds the movie together and the constant flip from one life to another for Parker brings us the deeper involvement and much more of a vested interest in how this plays out. It manages to engage without letting that soap opera drama feel seep into what is essentially a boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy turns into spider-powered being, boy saves world, splits up with girl but still loves girl and girl feels the same.
It’s Garfield’s movie though and the quick-witted tirade towards criminals, the cops and The Lizard all combine with some of the slickest CGI Spidey swinging we’ve ever seen – couple that with the angst of teen life and the bittersweet feeling which surfaces regularly and you’ve got a sense of realism an f ilm about the most unreal things. Ten years on from Raimi’s first film it’s no real surprise that the physical & visual side of Spider-Man has improved – but I still think Raimi’s initial two films have their merits, lets not forget that Raimi’s films broke box-office records in their day too.
A fun reboot for Spider-Man, in a movie with enough heart and thrills to warrant one or two viewings at least – a well-rounded story with enough of intrigue and excitement to make that hint at the next movie all the more important.
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