Saturday 5 January 2013

Movie Review: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012)

Saturday 5 January 2013

It's the superhero movie few people wanted, unlike when Marvel decided they should have another stab at The Incredible Hulk when Ang Lee's ill-advised psychodrama flopped at the 2003 box-office and they called in Louis Leterrier for 2008's quasi-sequel. What rankles more about The Amazing Spider-Man is how they don't even pretend Sam Raimi's still-warm trilogy existed, and ask audiences to just accept the change in cast and darker tone. So here comes the well-known origin story yet again, minus all excitement that we're seeing the character transposed from page to screen.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a brainier and hunkier version of the hero Tobey Maguire played, which is a huge plus because I wasn't a fan of Maguire's sulky performance and spent Raimi's movies wanting to give him a slap. Garfield's approach is more palatable to me, and I was particularly glad Marc Webb's movie spent some time reminding us that Parker's supposed to be a science whizz—even if that does also mean they resurrected the comic's idea of giving Spider-Man handmade web-shooters, because the notion of a hybrid man-spider who can't spin natural webs sounds ridiculous to me. Making webs is a spider's USP, after all.

Casting is probably the key thing this reboot improves on, as Garfield's joined by winsome Emma Stone as girlfriend Gwen Stacey—a more agreeable screen presence than Kirsten Dunst, although her romance with Peter didn't quite click for me, which is odd considering the actors became romantically involved for real during the shoot. Screen legends Martin Sheen and Sally Field also appear as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, respectively, and bring more to the table than Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris were ever allowed to. The only disappointment is Rhys Ifans as this go-around's villain, Dr Curt Connors, who transforms himself into a giant psychotic lizard in his quest to regrow a missing arm. Ifans isn't bad, but the role's so thin it became very clear why better actors turned it down. He's easily the franchise's least enjoyable villain (particularly when compared to Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina), and that's partly because he spends a considerable length of time just providing the voice to a computer-generated image of dubious quality. Shame Dylan Baker didn't get the call, having spent Raimi's trilogy on the subs bench.

It's perhaps not fair, but you can't watch The Amazing Spider-Man without playing compare-and-contrast with what's come before. It's interesting to note where the movie improves on things, and where it falls down. I much prefer how Peter gets bitten by a spider in this version, and for the darker twist on Uncle Ben's demise that's genuinely painful for Peter to live with, Spidey regains his wisecracking nature from the comics (although his Ninja Turtle attitude flies in the face of the film's tone at times), I was pleased the story didn't keep Peter's identity a secret from some major characters—because that aspect of superhero stories has become very frustrating—and I really liked how the animators found ways to make their CGI Spidey behave like an arachnid. There's a lovely scene with him creating a web in a sewer to detect the approach of his nemesis, and a blink-and-miss piece of brilliance when Spidey crawls over The Lizard's body that will give attentive arachnophobic viewers the creeps.

The success of this movie ultimately comes down to which approach you prefer. If you disliked the popcorn flash and colourful zing of Raimi's movies, which had the benefit of utilising the best supervillains, you'll likely find Amazing rather stoical and dishearteningly conformist in its attempt to put a Batman Begins-meets-Twilight spin on the venerable character. Indeed, as more superhero movies seek to exist in a unified world because of the riches something like The Avengers can bestow on a studio, there's probably going to be less and less projects where directors are allowed to put a unique stamp on things. At least Amazing Spider-Man doesn't quite seem to exist alongside Iron Man, Thor and Captain America... although I guess there's time for the sequel to rectify that matter, seeing as this movie was being made before Avengers made over $1bn worldwide.

Ultimately, The Amazing Spider-Man wasn't a bad movie to watch and I definitely got some enjoyment out of it. It even improved on a few aspects of the previous movies, while giving us two much better leads to invest in going forward. It's just a frustrating project because there was no real need or desire to reboot the whole franchise, certainly not this soon after Spider-Man 3, and very little of Amazing's changes feel like they were worth the effort.

directed by Marc Webb / written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent & Steve Kloves (story by James Vanderbilt, based on the comic-books by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko) / starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary & Denis Leary / 136 mins.