Midweek Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (3D)

No doubt about it: franchise reboot The Amazing Spider-Man is a lot of fun, and successfully rectifies many of the gripes that audiences – or was it just vocal comic book fans? – had with Sam Raimi’s stylised, borderline cartoony take on Marvel’s most iconic superhero.

This said, cinematic reboots are supposed to be a golden opportunity to break an over-used mould, and start fresh. Free of franchise formula and the narrative restrictions set by series predecessors, the filmmaker can do what he wants. Except, sadly, in the case of The Amazing Spider-Man, the big decision makers seem to have lost the courage to go all the way. Despite promises that Amazing was going to be “The untold story of Spider-Man’s past,” the old, familiar “origin” mould has been reassembled and reused with a bit of extra buffing. The result? Retreading much of the same narrative turf and themes as its Spidey predecessors, The Amazing Spider-Man feels like a pop art painting that’s simply been replicated in a more realist style.

Admittedly this sticking to formula is more apparent in some areas than others. For example, the character of Peter Parker (played by Andrew Garfield) has been thoroughly, and gratifyingly, overhauled. Instead of Tobey Maguire’s painful, much abused nerd caricature, we now meet Peter as a likeable loner. He’s one of those guys that everyone can recall from their high school days – the extremely smart outsider who’s not really interested in applying himself, but is certainly no walkover. He’s a bit tongue-tied, a bit shy but people know his name.

In the 21st Century this is a far more relatable interpretation of the “professional wallflower”, and Garfield is fantastic, both in and out the tights. With his lanky frame and lopsided, adorable grin he’s the antidote to Maguire’s moping, sad-eyed Parker. There’s a strong sense that when Garfield’s Peter dons his costume, it’s done with glee because it’s a chance to step out of his skin and escape his problems. Not so with the Maguire Spider-Man, whose issues stuck to him even behind the mask (to power-sapping detriment in Spider-Man 2).

Anyway, Garfield’s exuberance is paired with Emma Stone’s sassiness as Gwen Stacy, Peter’s classmate. Character and casting is really one of The Amazing Spider-Man’s greatest strengths, and here again Spidey’s love interest has undergone a major revamp. If Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson was the sweet, pretty girl-next-door archetype, Gwen is the fantasy full package deal – the ultimate babe for nerds: witty, smart, beautiful, courageous and totally rocking the mini-skirt and knee socks combo. Gwen is evidently an independent agent like Peter, and their charming courtship plays out more like that of Superman and Lois Lane in the first 2 Superman films than Maguire’s pining Spider-Man and Dunst’s perennially in-peril MJ.

As a side note, although I admittedly missed Rosemary Harris’s fragile, elderly Aunt May (replaced here by a take-no-shit Sally Field), Martin Sheen makes for a far more realistic, less saccharine Uncle Ben – although curiously his fate is nowhere near as affecting here as in Raimi’s original.

In terms of other highlights, there’s an outstanding bridge rescue scene, and equally engaging final “Spider-Man in action” sequence before the credits. However, there are multiple other niggles that prevent The Amazing Spider-Man from being anything more than good.

For example, why are we treated to yet another Spidey villain who takes the form of a scientist sent crazy by botched self-experimentation? The Lizard AKA Doctor Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) isn’t a bad man but very quickly, a la the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus, he’s arguing with the malicious, power-hungry voice in his head. Now the CGI Lizard isn’t poorly realised – although I personally would have preferred him to be more bestial and less monologue-prone – but The Amazing Spider-Man is a reboot. And as already mentioned, that means it’s an opportunity to try something new. To promptly trot out an antagonist pretty much like every one that preceded it is tired, overdone and disappointing. It’s like the first few seasons of Smallville where every single episode a local resident would be exposed to kryptonite, develop special powers and turn evil.

Also, it’s better if you don’t pay too much attention to the plot of The Amazing Spider-Man, which seems to suffer from a bad case of Attention Deficit Disorder. The film starts with a lengthy set-up depicting Peter’s abandonment by his parents. The teenager’s desire for answers drives the story for maybe 30 minutes until he receives his famous radioactive spider bite. Then the mystery is forgotten while Peter applies his new powers to skateboarding and parkour. Oh, but wait, there’s a tragedy and Peter accepts a revenge quest… until he starts having too much fun in his new Spider-Man costume, chirping criminals and wooing Gwen. And, seeing as every superhero flick needs a Big Bad, every so often the film cuts to stressed Oscorp employee Connors, and these disjointed scenes grind all energy and charm from the movie.

Frankly, if The Amazing Spider-Man has just been Peter Parker romancing Gwen Stacy while dishing out quips and disarming low-level thugs, I would have been happy. It could be argued that the film’s tendency to highlight certain plot points and then apparently forget them is part of a set-up for a whole new trilogy. That argument, however, grates me because I’m weary of studios holding back on resolution, assuming that they’ll always have an entire series of films to work out plot and fix mistakes later... while also assuming that the audience will always come running. This kind of presumptuousness leaves a bad taste in the mouth, even if you won’t necessarily notice the dropped plot threads until after leaving the cinema.

These gripes aside, The Amazing Spider-Man is still worth viewing on the big screen. Despite failing to deliver on its promise of an “untold story,” the film is technically polished and cruises quite a distance on the appeal of its young leads. It probably won’t be as enjoyable for Under 10s as Raimi’s colourful trilogy though.

As a final note, don’t bother watching this one in 3D. Even though it was specifically shot for 3D (instead of being a post-production conversion), The Amazing Spider-Man is a massive letdown in this regard. What should have been the perfect marriage of subject matter and format is unimpressive and curiously underutilised.

3.5 stars out of 5.


silentcoder said…
The character difference is the main reason I avoided the comic branch this movie is based on, and why I remain a die-hard fan of the Raimy original and the original comic.

Perhaps these days the geeky type character is really rare, but I grew up as one - and spiderman was my favorite superhero from a very young age, exactly BECAUSE he was a geeky social reject like me (geeks were NOT cool when I grew up).

More-over what you describe seems to me almost the antithesis of what made Spiderman great in the FIRST place. He was the hero whose problems followed him into his mask. Who had a real life that was difficult,full of multiple real issues - issues that he couldn't avoid when he donned his costume, on the contrary - the costume just added another layer of difficulty.
In fact Spiderman never actually came to LIKE being spiderman, if anything he hated it throughout - even his wisecrack quips was a thin-cover for the fact that he was doing a job he felt miserable about. He was never a superhero because it was fun, but because he felt it was his responsibility - he was bound by a duty rather than a desire to be the webslinger.

That is the quintessence of what Spiderman was - right from his first appearance, and what made him the mould of a whole new TYPE of superhero back in the 60's - what made Marvell great in fact, was the tradition that Spiderman first began.

There are many times you can and should re-imagine a classic tale in a new light and this is often a great way to tell a new story, but if you lose the essential feature of the original then you also alienate all who loved and associated with that character.
Breaking formulas is great, but if the wicked witch isn't wicked anymore then Snow White won't have a real enemy - and we won't sympathize with her.
In the same way, if Spiderman isn't well ... like Spiderman anymore, if Peter Parker isn't a science geek anymore, then you've lost the chance I would even bother to see the movie.

Raimy turned Spiderman's web into a superpower (in the comics it is not, it is a technological device he designed to augment his powers), but that was fine, he was still Spiderman even if he didn't have to refill his web cartridges (sometimes at critical mid-battle moments). This new movie... seems to be just about a character with the same name, powers and costume, but nonetheless a completely different character.

Personally, I'm not going to bother with it.
Unknown said…
I agree that all too often, we see films begin to set up elements of a story that never come to fruition, shelving them for future films in a franchise. This sometimes means that they take their eye off the ball of the film that's in front of them. Disappointing. I enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man, but they have left themselves with a lot to do in the planned sequel if they hope to make this rebooted franchise a success.

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