It’s now almost 1 am and I’ve just restarted this review for about the 8th time. Normally I would have hammered out some scalding but pithy one liner or adulatory hyperbole hours ago, but unfortunately I’ve encountered a problem. See, it’s easy to tear a horrible movie limb from bad tasting limb or to just look up synonyms for “awesome” in the thesaurus when it comes to a great film. But just an average film? No, that’s a whole lot harder.
And as luck would have it, that’s the conundrum I have to solve tonight with Amazing Spider-Man.
When greeted with news of a Spider-Man franchise reboot, just a mere 5 years after the last entry, most people respond with “Why?”. (Usually followed up with “Oh, yeah. Spider-Man 3.”) It’s question that I was hoping that new director Marc Webb would at least answer with this film. Unfortunately, by once again treading a lot of the same ground covered by Sam Raimi’s original trilogy, Webb breeds far too much familiarity for this to be truly justified.
We already know all about the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) aka Spider-Man: the high school nobody, the irradiated spider bite, the sudden and inexplicable affinity for contact sports, the untimely death of an uncle, great power, great responsibility, yadda yadda. Hell, even newcomer villain Dr Curt Connors aka The Lizard (Rhys Ifans), is essentially just another scientist who when placed under pressure to deliver turns himself into a monster with the help of various experimental chemicals (that’s always neon green for some reason). Sound familiar?
What makes this rehashing even more ho-hum, is that Webb chooses to play it far more straight faced and grounded than Raimi ever did, resulting in a huge loss of that sense of wonder as Spidey discovers his powers for the first time. The reboot’s biggest story change, the inclusion of Peter’s parents and the mystery surrounding their disappearance, which I was eagerly looking forward to to stir things up a bit, is also relegated to footnote status almost immediately, presumably to be picked up in the subsequent sequels.
Even the superheroic action sequences of the film, while wonderfully realized from a technical standpoint, mostly have a “been there, done that” feel to them. Spidey is certainly more spritely when engaging in one-on-one fisticuffs, using his web shooters to maximum devastating effect, but the moment the action zooms out again, it’s back to same ol’, same ol’.
And I would have hoped that after all the hoopla made over it, that Webb would have at least leveraged the maximum added benefit of the 3D in these sequences, but alas it was not to be. It’s not as if the 3D is badly done, it’s actually done rather well, it’s just done so infrequently that I spent large portions of the movie with my 3D glasses perched on my forehead without noticing any real difference in picture.
But it’s not all bad news though. As Peter and his masked alter ego, Andrew Garfield is just about perfectly cast. His Peter is less comic book nerd and just more socially awkward teenager, who Mr Hyde’s up the moment he puts on the mask to become a self-confident, wise cracking motormouth that feels like he’s been lifted straight from the comics page, complete with signature chiropractic nightmare poses. Peter’s scientific smarts, which Raimi almost all but ignored, is also finally pushed to the forefront, most notably in the tech-based web-shooters Spidey wears on his wrists.
And he’s also finally given a worthy partner in Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, a combination of brains, beauty and sass, that can actually do more for herself than just lie tied to the train tracks until Spider-Man finds time in his schedule to rescue her *COUGH*mary-jane*COUGH*.
It’s this blossoming relationship between Peter and Gwen that is undoubtedly the strongest aspect of the film. Whereas Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire’s relationship in Raimi’s trilogy was essentially nothing but a non-music montage of cheesy cliches (let’s be honest here), this feels like two real people truly falling in love. And this relationship is given all the more dramatic heft by the fact that we already know what Gwen Stacy’s grim fate is going to be. (Well, at least us comic book geeks do.)
It’s no coincidence that Webb’s only other feature film directorial gig is the highly praised romantic drama 500 Days of Summer. The man undoubtedly possesses a talent for getting to the heart of characters, and his touch shows everywhere.
But it’s not just Peter’s romantic relationships that get some levelling up, as all the support cast, such as Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), Aunt May (Sally Field) and Capt. Jack Stacy (Dennis Leary), are not only also perfectly cast but through a combination of more dramatic acting and the script adding much more meat to them than previously seen on screen, all now feel a lot more like three dimensional characters instead of just walking plot points.
What all of this ultimately boils down to though, is that what Marc Webb has produced is a great romantic story and human drama, dressed in the skintight spandex of a middle of the road superhero movie. As the film has already been confirmed to be getting another two sequels, it could be that Webb and co are playing the long game and that this opening act is just that, an opening act. And if so I’m hopeful, seeing as how spot-on the all-around casting and characterization was and how well they captured the voice of Spider-Man. Maybe the sequels, now freed from the shackles of the origin story, will finally be able to step out from under Raimi’s shadow and hopefully live up to its title and be “Amazing”.
Unfortunately though, this film isn’t quite there yet.
Last Updated: July 5, 2012