Whilst this summer sees one trilogy close with The Dark Knight Rises, another opens in the form of The Amazing Spider-Man. In summary: Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield). Spider. Bite. ‘Ooh, I can climb walls, I can!’. Swinging. Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Improbable bad guys (Rhys Ifans). New York. Soft rock music.
The last time we had a Spider-Man movie was in 2007 with the underwhelming Spider-Man 3, which saw Sam Raimi bowing to pressure from Marvel to make it even more fan-friendly. This resulted in a poorly sketched attempt to bring Venom into Raimi’s universe, which didn’t fit in with the wide-eyed joy that was Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2.
So, what does Mark Webb give us with The Amazing Spider-Man? Well, everything has been rewound and Marvel is asking us to witness the birth of Spider-Man again, with what has been promised as being ‘more like James Bond’ and even compared to the likes of Hamlet.
Up front, it’s just simply not amazing. But what is there is enjoyable enough.
Garfield is brilliant as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. The starched shirts and v-neck jumpers of the Parker Past have been replaced with a Parker not too dissimilar to Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man. He’s geek-chic, cool designed by committee, rides a skateboard and isn’t afraid to be disrespectful to his peers. And yet, despite all that, Garfield makes Parker likeable. Even though he is only a couple of years younger than this reviewer, he manages to radiate awkward teen better than others who have tackled the complexeties of puberty. Cough, Tobey Maguire, cough.
When the mask is on, Garfield is completely believable as the arachnid hero. There was a danger, suggested from the trailers, that this time round, we were going to get a Dark Knight spider; all mopey ‘tude and gritty realism. However, Garfield is as much of a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man as you would expect. Though, we don’t think, in our life time, that we will ever see a reasonable explanation as to how a 17 year old makes a convincing superhero costume.
Read any interview with Rhys Ifans and you’ll see he attacked the role of tortured Dr Curt Conners with a large amount of lovey gusto. As well as comparing the film to Hamlet (see above), he was also quite open about wanting Conner not to be seen as a villain, but a man cheated by God. We’ll be honest and say we didn’t see the theological layers he added to the part, but what we did see was excellent enough. Ifans never really taking Conners to the level of father figure the script suggests he should have been doing, but still showing a man in turmoil.
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, whilst confident and, whisper it, pretty funny, does suffer from having absolutely sod all to do in the film, except pretend to be caught in a triangle with Garfiled and her screen father, Dennis Leary. This total lack of background means Stacy becomes many things to many people throughout the film (we counted no less than three separate vocations for Ms. Stacy); leaving the impression that she’s just being used as something to move the plot along and provide exposition when needed.
The surprising part of Spider-Man is Martin Sheen. We never thought we’d ever write this sentence, but Sheen is adorable as Uncle Ben. Whilst Parker is doe-eyed for Conners; Sheen’s Uncle Ben waits paitiently at the sidelines for Parker to find his way back home. And you’d have to be living under a rock for 60 years to not know how that works out. However, we won’t lie. SPOILERS! The loss of Uncle Ben’s infamous pep-talk is sorely missed; the scriptwriters – unfortunately following that old linguistic joke of never using big words when diminutive ones will suffice – giving us something that felt like a 3am decision. END SPOILERS!
Mark Webb’s decision to stay away from CGI as much as much as possible is certainly welcome and goes that long way to making a man swinging through New York City absolutely believable. For us, the fight scenes were some of the best parts of the film. It’s a shame that the Spidey POV that was pushed into our eyeballs on a regular basis in the lead up to the release, is used so sparingly in the final result. Anyone who enjoyed the two minute run across the rooftops from the trailers will be dissapotined to hear that it’s been chopped up and moved around. But that’ s a minor quibble when you sit through the punch up that sees spider versus lizard in high school. For those wondering, yes, that is exactly how a fight in EBFS is resolved – whoever punches the other through a wall first wins.
With regards to the plot, with it already having been decided that Spider-Man is going to be a trilogy/quadrilogy/dodecahedrilogy, plot lines are picked up and dropped in a way that suggests that Columbia – and let’s be honest, this commercial part of the film has nothing to do with anyone but the suits – really expect us to think ‘wow! I can’t wait for the sequel’. Rather than enticing us, it just left us annoyed. Elements of Uncle Ben’s death are left unnecessarily unresolved for what appears to be, for no other reason, than to stretch it out across the subsequent chapters. And to be blunt the missing parents storyline was, in this film at least, a laboured way to get Parker to meet Conners. This is a shame because for us it was these plot elements that overshadowed the genuinely excellent and thrilling parts of the film.
In summary, EBFS still believe that this could easily have been a Spider-Man 4 or a even a stand alone film not reliant on sequels. We look forward to seeing what the team do with the sequel and new material. It’s just a solid superhero movie rather than a shining example of what could have been done with Spidey’s origins.