The Amazing Spider-Man
|July 26, 2012||Posted by Sep Gohardani under entertainment, reviews|
Film Information: Released 3rd July 2012; Certificate 12A
Cast: Andrew Garfield; Emma Stone; Martin Sheen; Rhys Ifans; Denis Leary; Sally Field; Irrfan Khan; Chris Zylka; C Thomas Howell; Campbell Scott
Director: Marc Webb
Screenwriter: James Vanderbilt; Alvin Sargent; Steve Kloves
Running Time: 136 Minutes
Peter Parker (Garfield) seems a regular high school kid, but privately he is still dealing with the mysterious disappearance of his parents years before. Living with his uncle Ben (Sheen) and aunt May (Field), he manages to put the past behind him and lead a normal life until he finds his father’s old briefcase and resolves to discover what happened. His search leads him to Oscorp and Dr Curt Connors (Ifans), his father’s former partner in their scientific investigations into the use of animal DNA to regrow limbs and cure diseases – a practice ridiculed by other scientists but that actually seemed to be working. As Parker begins to find out more about his father’s work he must balance his search with his normal life with his aunt and uncle as well as a girl named Gwen Stacy (Stone), a classmate who is smart and pretty and of whom he is particularly fond. One day, while looking around Oscorp, he is bitten by a genetically modified spider and soon begins to notice changes in his physical abilities. This and later events lead him to decide he should use his new-found abilities to settle wrongs and ultimately to prevent Connors, who has managed to transform himself into a powerful mixture of human and lizard after Parker helped him discover the secret to the modifications, from causing havoc. Are Peter’s actions heroic, or will he just end up putting those he loves in danger?
Superhero franchises never end, and this is something we must collectively embrace. Reboots such as this are normally frowned upon in other areas of film unless a dazzling new element is brought into the mix, but the world’s favourite heroes like Superman and Spider-Man have always belted out formulaic and mundane rubbish that is nevertheless lapped up willingly by fans who have long since been blinded from the films’ major flaws. As someone who has held disdain for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy and for Tobey Maguire’s tepid performances therein, I was initially doubtful about this release. With a reboot, however, also comes the promise of a new dawn. Andrew Garfield (The Social Network; Never Let Me Go) was already a promising actor and gave good quality performances in both of the aforementioned films, so his casting as Peter Parker inspired hope that perhaps all was not lost.
Emma Stone (Crazy, Stupid, Love; Zombieland) is also a great find to replace Kirsten Dunst’s tired and clichéd performances as Mary Jane Smith with the infinitely more likeable Gwen Stacy, a female lead that does not succumb to the “damsel in distress” stereotype to anywhere near the same extent. Stacy is stubborn and ready to do what she can to help, and Stone makes sure that even this does not feel strained, with a relaxed performance that only increases her likeability. This, together with Garfield’s innate charm and wit as Parker, makes the partnership a more pleasant one to watch than Maguire and Dunst’s turgid affairs.
Indeed, Garfield is the star of the show in his first real lead role on the big screen. He gives off the air of a seasoned veteran and feels much less strained as an actor than say Daniel Radcliffe, who had years to hone his character as Harry Potter but still came out a bit wooden-faced at the end of it. His emotional pallet is also a lot wider than Radcliffe’s, who sticks to the primary colours of emotion whereas Garfield’s ability to blend them together makes him seem all the more human and not so obviously fictional.
Leaving the somewhat out-of-the-blue Radcliffe-bashing aside, both Rhys Ifans (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1; Mr. Nice) and Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now; The West Wing) put in heartfelt and believable performances that ensure stereotypes are absent and the humanity behind each of the characters can prevail. Denis Leary (Ice Age) also deserves a mention for a strong performance as Captain George Stacy, whose journey throughout the film certainly makes for interesting watching.
With the acting performances adequately praised (kudos to the casting directors), shit, as they say, can officially hit the fan. Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer) actually rivals Raimi for his directorial inadequacies, attempting to force us to believe what is frequently farcical and often counter-intuitive: the sheer cringeworthy cheesiness surrounding one particular scene threatened to turn the whole movie into a festival of cheese, the sort of thing common in rural England where Red Leicester is paraded around like a king. Indeed, Webb’s haphazard switching between attempts to make the concept and plot more human and less ridiculous and the default caricatures so often associated with these heroes ruins the best effects of the former and makes the latter seem out of place. Webb seems to have become wedged between the two variations, lost in a sea of fans of both styles and so plunged into mediocrity. This is a shame, because the film is so well-acted that it really could have been better.
The writing, courtesy of a threefold team of James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves, must also be held accountable for these regular shifts back to the formulaic and the mundane that are associated with the previous Spider-Man trilogy. The film is adorned with the hallmarks of good writing, with a script full of wit and intrigue, but these nuances are so overshadowed by regular lapses into melodrama and head-banging stupidity, especially in relation to the more minor characters, that we are left snarling in displeasure at wasted opportunities.
On the other hand, 3D suited this film as much as it ever suits anything, and cinematographer Jason Schwartzman ensures that the regularly occurring action scenes feel suitably epic, with swooping shots of the city as Spider-Man flies through the air on his ropes. Some of the most enjoyable scenes to watch are courtesy of Schwartzman, so he must also be praised.
This film could feasibly have been more than it was. The threads were certainly there, but sadly it was shoddily spun together into an underwhelming if pleasurable little yarn that probably will never need a second watch. The acting performances might convince you that this is DVD material, but it’s doubtful whether this has managed to win over any non- or ex-Spider-Man fans who had become disillusioned with the films of the preferably forgettable last trilogy (though previous fans may enjoy the metamorphosing of style). The Amazing Spider-Man definitely has its moments, and very nearly dabbles in a bit of social commentary on ethics in science with some well thought-out plot points, but it remains languidly recycled from its predecessors and formulaic despite its best efforts, as though the style were an old childhood friend you want to be rid of for new experiences but can’t quite shake off and so cope with with a sigh of indignation and a stiff upper lip. It’s familiar, but it is fun, and probably worth one watch. Definitely better than the other films to come out of this spider-related tale.