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Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Amazing Spider-man

It's kind of odd that a new Spider-man movie seems like a small deal when held up against The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises and yet The Amazing Spider-man does feel like it came out of nowhere. Relatively speaking anyway. And yet here we are. Still, don't be put off by that or the fact that it isn't as good as The Avengers and presumably won't be as good as The Dark Knight Rises, it's still a very neat little film. 

Also since this is a Channel24 review, I had to keep it within a certain word-count so at the end of the review I've added 5 extra bullet points that I think are worth noting about the film. The essentials are in the review but they're just an added bonus for readers of my blog.

What it's about

After being bitten by a genetically enhanced spider, Peter Parker soon learns that with great power comes great responsibility as he becomes New York City's masked defender, Spider-man, all the while dealing with death, love, a mutated supervillain called The Lizard and enough secrets to ensure that his life is never more than one step away from spinning wildly out of control.

What we thought

Whatever the Amazing Spider-man gets wrong and for all that it gets right, there is one massive hurdle that it struggles to overcome: Sam Raimi's Spider-man, which covered much the same ground, came out all of a decade ago. Even after the rather catastrophic mess of Spider-man 3, few would argue against having a new Spider-man film in our cinemas – there is a reason the character has endured for fifty years and counting, after all – but did we really need yet another re-telling of his origin?

Even kids too young to have seen the “original” in cinemas are undoubtedly well aware of how the Web-slinger came to be thanks to a decade of what can easily be called “Spidey-mania” in the form of various cartoon incarnations, television showings of the Raimi films, video games and (perhaps overly optimistically on my part) the comics themselves. The film, as it turns out, does have plenty of reasons for existing but it really needn't have existed in this form. Take Spidey back to high school, sure, but at this point why not just take his origin as read and take it from there?

Most damningly, director Mark Webb and screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Alvin Sargent seem to realize this as they spend the first hour or so of the film tying themselves in knots to ensure that every detail of Spider-man's origin plays out just a little bit differently to before. It's done well, sure, but there was a pervading sense that it was different just for the sake of being different. Worse, The Amazing Spider-man has been set up as the first part of a trilogy (what isn't nowadays?) so it plays out like a first act anyway so the origin stuff does feel like unnecessary set up for a film that is itself setting up two future films.

The good news though, is that aside for a few niggling problems, the redundancy of the origin is one of only three major serious flaws with the film – and even then the other two are somewhat more forgiveable. First, the storytelling does feel a bit messy as there is so much to fit in but, on the plus side, that does mean that the film never becomes boring. Besides, it's absolutely no worse here than in Raimi's first Spider-man film. Second, The Lizard is simply a totally rubbish villain with questionable motives and an over-reliance of CGI but, again, even that could be forgiven, as he really just exists as a generic monster against whom Spider-man gets to strut his stuff.

Now, considering that I just spent half of the review bad-mouthing the film, you might be wondering how it is exactly that so seriously flawed a film can still earn a mightily respectable four-star rating. The answer is simple enough. The Amazing Spider-man might be frustratingly inconsistent but the bad stuff is never that bad and the good stuff is simply really, really good. It is, in short, far more than the sum of its parts.

The action scenes might lack the verve of those in Spider-man 2 - but then, what doesn't? - but for a guy who is primarily known for indie comedy-dramas, Webb proves himself to be surprisingly adept at big budget set pieces. He is also helped along by effects that are simply in another league all together to Raimi's films with (apparently) a greater reliance on physical effects and, The Lizard aside, CGI that blends seamlessly with the physical effects and, once and for all, truly has us believing that “a man can swing”, to paraphrase a competitor superhero franchise.

More importantly though, as all Spidey fans know, the fighty and swingy bits might be fun and all but the real appeal of Spider-man has always been the character moments and it is here, ironically enough, that the film really takes flight. Webb simply knows how to wrangle out oodles of terrific emotional beats from Peter Parker and his wonderful cast of characters, while at the same time he, Vanderbilt and Sargent have finally made a Spider-man film that is, oh so crucially, very, very funny.

Best of all though, and what proves to be the film's great ace in the hole, is its mind-bogglingly great cast. Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben? Genius. Dennis Leary as Captain Stacy? Cranky awesomeness. Rhys Ifans as Curt Connors? Wonderfully slimy. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy? Loveable beyond words. An underused Sally Fields aside, what we have here is a stellar cast of actors cast into roles that they were born to play, but no one is more responsible for the ultimate success of the film than Spidey himself, Andrew Garfield. Time and space does not permit me to gush over just how perfect Garfield is in this role but lets just say that with all due respect to an otherwise perfectly decent actor... Tobey Maguire who?

It's far from perfect but The Amazing Spider-man is a fairly terrific (re)introduction to a superhero trilogy that looks to only get better from here.


1) It's worth mentioning that Peter Parker is played rather differently by Garfield, coming across far more as a regular teenager who happens to be really smart and yet socially awkward, rather than Maguire's straight up nerd. Or, for comics fans, Garfield's Spidey is the Ultimate version, Maguire's is his 616 counterpart. 

2) The quips, how can I not mention the quips! One of Spider-man's great trademarks is his tendency to lay on the jokes while in costume and this is an aspect that was greatly missed in Raimi's films. Not only are the quips present and accounted for, most of them are genuinely funny. 

3) The chemistry between real-life couple, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, is almost palpable and is one of the great driving forces in the film. You can't even begin to compare it to the increasingly damp chemistry between Maguire and Dunst in the original films. And, yes, Emma Stone is a far, far better Gwen Stacy than Kirsten Dunst was ever was as Mary Jane Watson - even though the latter is generally a very good actress, she wasn't a great fit for the part.

4) The mechanical web shooters should satisfy the purists but since Peter largely stole the technology, one has to wonder what the point was.

5) Stan Lee's cameo in this film is very probably the best he has ever done. Really, really funny stuff!

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