The Amazing Spider-Man | reviews, news & interviews
The Amazing Spider-Man
The Amazing Spider-Man
Tonally confused reboot is bolstered by a pair of authentic lead turns
Let’s be honest – there is no non-cynical way to justify remaking a barely 10-year-old franchise film. With a Batman “reboot” already on the cards for after Christopher Nolan ends his directing tenure with the upcoming Dark Knight Rises, and a similar fate rumoured to be in store for the Twilight saga, Hollywood seems to have embraced its inner Ouroboros and resigned itself to an infinite cycle of re-stagings.
In one sense, there’s nothing especially wrong with this. Superheroes have often been compared to modern-day mythological figures, and just as we think nothing of three or four different actors performing Hamlet in a given year, there may come a time when parallel blockbuster incarnations are seen as the norm – although there’s an admittedly glaring difference between the two in terms of production price tag.
All this aside, though, Marc Webb’s take on the story of tortured semi-arachnid teen Peter Parker has plenty going for it. In leading man Andrew Garfield he has a rare, emotionally muscular screen presence, an actor who can seamlessly play world-weary alongside naïve. In leading lady Emma Stone, he has one of the most likeable, authentic and palpably intelligent young performers working in Hollywood today, an actress incapable of playing the meek damsel in distress even when the role is written for her. The pair of them combined are Webb’s ace in the hole, and what’s fortunate is that he seems smart enough to realise it, because in truth there’s very little else in The Amazing Spider-Man to set it apart either from its predecessor (Sam Raimi’s 2001 Spider-Man, in case you need reminding) or from any other superhero movie of its ilk.
A quick précis for the uninitiated: Peter Parker (Garfield) is a moody teen with better reason to be so than most. In past incarnations he’s been an orphan, but here (for reasons which seem tied more to future instalments than in any way pertinent to this one) he’s merely an abandoned child, left in the care of his aunt and uncle with no explanation for his parents’ departure. It’s difficult to say whether getting bitten by a radioactive spider and bestowed with superpowers is an improvement to his lot or not – on the one hand he can swing enthusiastically between New York City skyscrapers and pluck up the courage to ask out the object of his affections Gwen (Stone). On the other, it’s just one more reason to feel estranged from his peers, not to mention that he’s forced to contend with the machinations of Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans, pictured overleaf), whose hubristic attempts to create “a world without weakness” just might not go wholly to plan.
Ifans’ villain is one of the surprisingly few aspects in which Webb veers far too close to Raimi’s film. The scientist overreaching his grasp and undergoing an ugly transformation as a result is exactly the same character Willem Defoe, and for that matter Alfred Molina, played in the original trilogy, although this is an issue with Spider-Man’s repetitive villain canon more than anything.
But this script has tonal issues all of its own – it crucially never recovers from a brutal first act death that’s played well but seems to exist in a vacuum, having no real impact on anything else. The result is that the incident feels as though it’s there purely because comic book lore demands it, rather than because it makes any sense at all for the story that Webb and his scripters (who include Zodiac scribe James Vanderbilt) are telling. Similarly there’s an enjoyable streak of well-judged slapstick humour centring on Peter’s unfamiliarity with his newfound abilities, which sits awkwardly alongside moments as dark as the aforementioned death, and the quiet sense of long-held, paralysing rage Garfield places at the centre of his Peter Parker.
The rest of the cast – most of all Ifans and Martin Sheen – are largely wasted in underdeveloped roles, Denis Leary’s briny turn as Gwen’s police captain father being a notable exception. But it really can’t be overstated just how much pleasure there is to be had from watching Garfield and Stone on screen together. Their shy, frequently goofy, improv-inflected courtship feels for all the world like real first love, and what’s crucial is that Stone is given the scope to be as charmingly smitten and caught off her guard by it as Garfield. Too often, the blockbuster female love interest is treated as the untouchable higher being, the passive prize with no strong emotions of her own. The Amazing Spider-Man puts genuine time and effort into making its central romance feel authentic, and for that it is exceptional. In every other respect, it isn’t.
Watch the trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man
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