The Amazing Spider-Man (Cert 12)
1 Disc (Distributor: Sony) Running Time: 131 minutes approx
Hollywood has comes under fire for quite a few years now for the paucity of fresh ideas for their output and the subsequent reliance on remakes, reboots and adaptations of old TV shows and video games. If ever there was a film which plays right into the hands of the complainers this is it.
In all fairness The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t that bad a film, rather it is just an unnecessary one for the most part. Sam Raimi’s much lauded and hugely successful big screen outing for Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s legendary comic book creation was just ten years ago with the third film arriving in 2007. Since the proposed fourth film from Raimi was cancelled in 2010 the baton was passed onto Marc Webb, who opted to go back to the beginning the next adventure for Peter Parker and his masked alter ego, a bold move since Raimi’s films are still relatively fresh in everyone’s minds. This then is the biggest setback Webb’s film is blighted by and arguably the main reason for much of the vitriol and disappointment it has engendered from its polarised audience.
Since the “origin” story is being retold, a few changes are thrown in to freshen up what is now a fairly iconic yarn. Of course, messing with the classics will automatically alienate purists who expect certain intrinsic facets to remain intact. Writer James Vanderbilt and his team took a huge risk in making such changes in what appears to be a timesaving operation more than anything. This may be prudent since a blow by blow rehash would be futile and while it follows the basic blueprint of the tale we all know and love it is the absence and altering of some of the more familiar and integral threads that blots the copybook.
Following in Tobey Maguire’s footsteps as our web-slinging superhero is Andrew Garfield while the Mary Jane role has been supplanted – more accurately for fans of the comic book – by Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Garfield’s Peter Parker may look nerdier and ganglier than MacGuire but he is slightly bolder and a bit more “hip” with his skateboarding, lack of glasses and concerted defiance against school bully Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka).
Rather than a random visit to Oscorp Industries where the fateful spider bite takes place, Peter has a different reason to be close to radio active creepy crawlies – as a kid Peter’s parents suddenly up and run away after his father’s study had been broken into. They leave their son with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) only to die in a plane crash shortly afterwards. Years later, Peter discovers that Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a former colleague of Peter’s father, may know about the reason for their hurried escape and subsequent death. Connors happens to work at Oscorp, researching the possibilities of combining animal DNA to heal humans, where Gwen is also an intern.
The bulk of what happens next you will know, with a few changes here and there as mentioned before. After the initial stages of Peter’s life altering transformation are out of the way, he has to contend with a rampaging man sized lizard after the one armed Dr. Connor’s attempts to regenerate his missing limb with reptilian DNA goes a little awry. Playing Spidey’s moralistic opposite hampering his superhero duties is Gwen’s father, police captain Stacy (Denis Leary). Yup, no J. Jonah Jameson here – a glaring change. In all fairness the second half of the film which deals solely with Spidey vs The Lizard works a lot better and suitably demonstrates why this film could have been a simple continuation of the franchise (a’la James Bond) with a new cast instead of the ill-advised reboot.
Putting aside grumbles about the premise and approach of this film, there are still some needling cavils which stick out to the more discerning eye. Webb’s background is in music videos – just one feature film (500) Days Of Summer to his name – and it shows, with a palpable style over substance feel to the proceedings. Pacing issues are also prevalent – it races through the first half to set up not just Peter’s becoming Spider-Man but also Dr. Connors thread.
One key gripe is how Connors goes from a mild mannered scientist to raging sociopath in one leap when surely such a reasonable and learned man would experience a more exponential change. In a similar vein, Peter’s sudden Herculean strength and incredible agility does little to raise eyebrows among his peers and onlookers alike. He first exhibits arachnid mannerism on a crowded underground train where he dozes off and is awoken by a cold beer on his head, leaping from a laying position to the roof of the train. The reaction of the others on the train? A woman moans about having beer spilled on her!
Character development is not one of the strongest points of the script, resulting in veterans Sheen and Field being wasted in their roles as Uncle Ben and Aunt May who are forgotten for most for the film. Of course the big selling point, and no doubt what Webb and co were banking on drawing the crowds in was the fact this was shown in 3D and with Spidey’s skyscraping swinging action, this is probably a thrilling use of said technology; Sam Raimi however managed to create an equally exhilarating and heart pounding effect with his non-3D films, so it honestly doesn’t make that much of a difference to the enjoyment or effectiveness of the CGI anyway.
Complaints and criticisms about this film didn’t do any harm to its box office success and its inevitable sequel is pencilled in for 2014. The idea for the reboot approach is debatably the film’s biggest handicap and while The Amazing Spider-Man is by no means perfect, it at least delivers enough blockbuster action that the genre demands.
Filmmaker Audio Commentary with Marc Webb, Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach
The Oscorp Archives – Production Art Gallery
Ultra Violet version
Rating – ***
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