The Untold Story Begins
Not five years on from the last Spider-Man film and we’re back in New York with a new story featuring Marvel’s most recognised character. Acting as a reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man introduces us to a different Peter Parker [Garfield] who loses his parents at an early age, through suspicious circumstances. Years later, Peter is a high school nobody, intelligently gifted but clearly a bit bored with school life (homework, bullies, thoughts about girls, etc). Living with his Aunt May [Field] and Uncle Ben [Sheen], Peter accidentally finds an old briefcase belonging to his deceased father. In it he discovers a formula and seeks out his father’s old lab partner, Dr. Curt Connors [Rhys]. Long story short, whilst exploring the labs at Oscorp, Peter runs into class-mate Gwen Stacy [Stone], gets bitten by a spider, gets spider powers and works with Connors on cross-species genetics, which transforms Connors into a hideous lizard beast thing called.. the Lizard. Action, drama and a surprising amount of emotion ensue.
I really enjoyed this film – that statement is paramount above all else. The Amazing Spider-Man was a fun, engrossing and surprisingly heartfelt release. But despite that, the majority of my review is going to be focused on the very fact this movie exists. In truth, it’s far too late in the day to be discussing the necessity of this film; that was a subject for the pre-production stage. But it’s here now. The film has been released and whether or not it should have been filmed in the first place is irrelevant. So, forget Sam Raimi’s trilogy and try to remember that this isn’t a remake or reinterpretation, it’s a new adaptation of the same source material. As such, we’re obviously going to retread familiar ground and the origin story will have to be covered but that shouldn’t detract from the quality of this movie. And before you bring up the unique take that Nolan brought to Batman, you should consider that Tim Burton’s flick was hardly covered like an origin story and The Dark Knight saga, as ball-achingly brilliant as it is, is far from the comics. Furthermore, when Nolan leaves and Warner/DC decide to reboot the Bat, then you can start bitching and moaning about ‘too soon’ and ‘not necessary’, etc.
One of the key reasons The Amazing Spider-Man works so well is the perfectly assembled cast and crew. Marc Webb’s directorial debut, 500 Days Of Summer, is my absolute favourite romantic comedy and the high point of 2009, so I had complete faith that he would produce something of major significance. The cinematography, camera direction, editing and set design all come together beautifully, creating a rich but evidently darker universe. Equally impressive was the choice of actors. The exceptional casting meant that for the first time we get to explore the life of Peter Parker without rushing to get back to the Spider-Man persona, largely due to his appealing nature, genuine human interest and glorious mix of nerdy shyness and cheeky wit. Garfield brings Peter to life in a wholly plausible way while simultaneously embodying the Spider-Man from the comics – short, wiry, fast and agile. Gwen Stacy is also a nice addition, bringing a very credible and endearing slow-burn love story to the plot without feeling unnecessarily forced or heavy-handed. But one of the more pleasant surprises was probably the inclusion of Martin Sheen and Sally Field. Rather than the holier-than-thou attitude we’re all too familiar with, Field and Sheen bond like a real couple and the eventual demise of the Uncle Ben character not only comes across as sincere but also gut-wrenchingly emotional.
However, this is by no means a perfect release and there are two or three elements that fucked me off so completely. The first is the sinfully terrible score. I’m an ardent believer that a musical soundtrack can make or break a film and movies of this nature need thunderingly epic musical accompaniment with memorable themes. What we got was a handful of after thoughts and half-arsed attempts from the industry’s most overrated composer, James phone-it-in Horner. To say this was a disappointment would be an understatement. In truth, this was a detrimental and damaging element that came close to utterly obliterating the mood of specific scenes. Then there’s the villain. As a mad scientist torn between his work and his moral obligations, Rhys Ifans’ Curt Connors is driven and believable; his transformation to the Lizard, on the other hand, was a bit of a misfire. In the comics and the cartoons, the Lizard works to a degree but the problem stems from his motives, or lack thereof. Connors merely wants to cure himself but slowly allows the power and the serum to corrupt his mind, sending him on an initial quest for vengeance (sort of) and then one of maniacal proportions. I just wasn’t sold on the idea that the Lizard wanted to convert the world into a race of reptilian people. Magneto’s plight in X-Men felt real and, to him at least, justified; the Lizard’s reasons are not only unexplored but verge on unnecessary plot device. All of which, without mentioning the creature itself – gotta say, didn’t like it. The brief nods to the comics with the shredded lab coats were nice, no issue there but then we see his face and hear him talking. What the fuck? Would it have been so hard to alter the voice a little further than additional bass? Bit of a hiss perhaps? But even that’s not so bad, it’s the lack of a snout that irritated me. Yes, you heard correctly: the Lizard’s humany face. Ergh.. annoyed me. Wanted to slap it. He should have looked more like a reptile and less like a goomba from the 1993 Super Mario Bros film because as soon as I made that connection, that’s ALL I saw.
As I stated earlier, one should not compare this release to Raimi’s trilogy, anymore than one should compare different adaptations of Pride & Prejudice but as audiences are fickle and stupid, it would appear we need to devote at least one paragraph to the differences, if only to highlight why this version is better. As stated, the characters in this release feel much closer to the comics and by that I don’t mean the suit-clad Parker of the 60’s but more the tonality of the Spider-Man comics, the humour, the action pieces, the home-life, etc. At the time, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst came off as perfect for the roles but once we got to the third film, both seemed tired to be playing the same unevolving characters and really didn’t want to be there anymore. For that reason alone, Garfield feels fresh but he’s infinitely more likeable as a person than the do-gooding Maguire and his constant dilemma of whether to whine or cry. Having said that, one thing Raimi got right was the casting of J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson – The Amazing Spider-Man could have used a bit of Bugle but I appreciate that would have been far too similar to the other films. Then there’s the web-shooters and the exploration of Peter’s brilliant scientific mind, something that Raimi only explored in the second film and even then it didn’t sell too well because Maguire was a whinging ponce. But the real kick in the balls is the loss of Danny Elfman’s incredible theme. The soundtrack for Spider-Man was pitch-perfect, memorable and basically hit all the notes that Horner completely failed to. In my opinion, this is a much stronger opening when compared to the Raimi trilogy but with the previous films fresh in audiences’ minds, it’s hard to say how well it’ll do.
While I don’t exactly understand how they managed to rack up a bill in excess of two hundred and twenty million dollars, the use of CGI was decent, immersive and largely without fault. The only frustration I felt was the knowledge that The Avengers managed three times as much with the exact same budget. Nevertheless, Webb’s film is undoubtedly the second best Spidey film, directly behind Spider-Man 2 and I have extremely high hopes for the obvious sequel to come. Ultimately my irritations with the villain pales when compared to my irritations with audience comments and ‘complaints’.
6th July 2012
The Scene To Look Out For:
I think it’s safe to say that Peter’s discovery and experimentation with his newfound powers are some of the most hilarious and engaging scenes. First, asleep on the subway before jolting awake and taking out his tormenters with an awkward precision and secondly, the following morning decimating his alarm clock and the bathroom sink. The entire thing is conducted with the same energy and comedic accuracy of silent movie slapstick, without veering into excessively cheesy territory.
Without a doubt, Garfield’s Parker/Spider-Man is bang on and brings something hitherto unseen to the screen; not to mention the wonderfully honest chemistry between Garfield and Stone. But in my opinion, the real runaway character was Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben. Partly due to the man’s cinematic stature, partly due to the family dynamic that’s written between him, his wife and his nephew and partly because of the subtly brilliant performance at hand. What’s more, he didn’t say “with great power comes great responsibility” ..so we don’t have to have that bleated at us over-and-over throughout every single sequel. Maybe I’m just anti-Cliff Robertson. Oh and Denis Leary was pretty awesome too and perfectly cast.
“She looks familiar. That’s the girl from your computer.. He’s got you on his computer”
In A Few Words:
“A better origin story than Raimi’s Spider-Man, graced with real heart and chemistry but falls a little flat when it comes to over-the-top action. Either way, stupidly fun, surprisingly dark and a wondrous setup for future stories”
Total Score: 3/5