Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

2012 was, without a doubt, the year of the comic book movie. Back in April Avengers Assemble brought together some of Marvel's biggest names in a fantastic (though not without its flaws) group effort that paves the way for a potentially epic franchise. It was the year that Christopher Nolan fanboys had been waiting for with the release of The Dark Knight Rises, the disappointing end to his Dark Knight trilogy. In between these two highly anticipated releases came the reboot of Spider-Man. After three increasingly terrible Toby Maguire fronted films it was down to Marc Webb (who I assume was approached mainly based on the suitability of his name) to try and breathe new life into the well-known origin story of everyone’s favourite web-slinging geek. Considering it had only been five years since Spider-Man 3 brought an end to the Maguire/Sam Raimi relationship, the question on many people's lips was "is this really necessary?" From the initial announcement of the reboot back in 2010 the internet came together to denounce the film with the expected mix of hyperbole, hysteria and CAPS LOCK. It’s safe to say, there was an awful lot at stake here.


The end result? Marc Webb’s follow-up film to his hugely successful (500) Days of Summer is in no way close to the painful travesty that the internet feared but neither does it seem like a totally fresh reboot to a dwindling franchise. Thankfully, in my opinion at least, it stays away from the exceedingly dark and complex style of Nolan’s Batman Begins. We are instead faced with scenes very familiar to anyone who watched Raimi’s film but with another of Peter Parker’s leading ladies and a different green villain. The film is neither a stand-out nor an utter abomination. The plot doesn’t quite hold up and the action sequences are not the slickest we’ve ever been treated to but, it is important to remember, Webb’s focus for his opening is the characters themselves. The only reason this film doesn’t fall apart under the weight of its own insignificance is the incredibly strong performances on display, especially from the likeable leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.

Since the release of Spider-Man in 2002 the role of geeks in popular culture has changed somewhat. It is computer programmers that run the world and the science nerds of The Big Bang Theory who get all the women. Garfield’s Parker is an updated and slightly cooler young man than Toby Maguire’s version of our hero. He understands science, has epic skateboard skillz and has enough of a badass attitude to skate through the halls of his High School after being told not to. Oooh. The Peter Parker for the 2010s is basically a mix of The Big Bang Theory’s Leonard and Seth Cohen from The OC but with Andrew Garfield’s charm and great hair. Don’t let the hair fool you though, Peter is still as much of an outsider as he ever was. Although, not enough of an outsider that the stunning Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) never notices him. It doesn’t completely add up to the person we are used to seeing. He isn’t the socially awkward, science-loving loner. He is confident enough to step in to help another kid being bullied at the hands of Flash and openly flirt with Gwen. As much as it may pain me to type it, I have to admit that Toby Maguire was actually a more convincing portrayal of this character. Although it is still not that simple because I find that Garfield is a more likeable character. He is cheeky, sarcastic and just enough of a dick. No matter how awful and bratty our hero got during the course of this film I found that I liked him. The only reason for this I can see is Garfield’s talented performance.

Garfield is helped along the way thanks to a superb supporting cast and his new leading lady. Stone’s Gwen Stacey is a great improvement on Kirsten Dunst’s bland Mary-Jane. She is feisty and intelligent and, like all good crime-fighting widows, doesn’t hesitate to get stuck in when it comes to stopping evil. There is no doubt that the chemistry between Garfield and Stone is outstanding. The two leads tiptoe into their romance brilliantly and, despite a few moments where it looks like Garfield has descended into Hugh Grant-esque bumbling, it is lovely to watch them nervously pursue each other. My only concern stems from the fact that both Stone and Garfield are pushing the limits of the acceptable age limit for actors to be able to play teenagers. Perhaps it would have been better if this film had not been a reboot but simply a new direction? 

After all, there really is no getting away from the fact that this film is an origin story. There is very little room to manoeuvre with the story of how Parker becomes super: geeky guy, spider, bite, bingo. Therefore, this all seems a little bit too familiar and tired. That isn’t to say that Webb doesn’t pull it off well. There are some enjoyable scenes where we see Spidey getting to grips with his powers through several moments of slapstick comedy. We also have a fairly satisfying, if slightly aggressive, Revenge of the Nerds style humiliation of bully Flash. Parker isn’t infallible and makes mistakes. It’s refreshing to have a superhero origin story that takes a more comic and laid-back approach and doesn’t give our new hero some kind of autopilot when it comes to crime fighting. Although this would have meant we could avoid the ridiculous rehash of Uncle Ben’s “with great power” speech. Is it just me that can hear the writers madly searching for a synonym for ‘responsibility’?  

In a decidedly Nolan-esque turn, family skeletons are brought out of the closet thanks to the brief inclusion of Peter's parents; most importantly his father, acclaimed scientist Richard Parker. Young Petey is packed up in the middle of the night and left with his aunt and uncle (played by the wonderful but criminally underused Sally Fields and Martin Sheen). It is the discovery of his father’s briefcase and hidden research notes years later that leads him to the laboratory of Dr Curt Connors, Richard’s one-armed ex-research partner. Here he is exposed to a whole new world of scientific experimentation and that life-changing bite. After a few teenage strops and door slamming, Peter is faced with the death of his beloved Uncle Ben and the guilt of deciding not to act to prevent it. The loss is the push needed to start his second-life and attempt to track down all criminals with a similar description to his uncle’s killer. I know there are people who criticised this plot strand but I enjoyed it. It would have been nice if it hadn’t been dropped half-way through the film and just forgotten about. In an ideal world Spidey would have continued to track down his nemesis only to discover that his future lay in heroics rather than revenge.

Of course, the more exciting route is, in a weird nod to Frankenstein, to give Peter the information that inadvertently gives life to his first supervillain, the Lizard, and feel compelled to destroy his monstrous creation. Rhys Ifans’ Curt Connors is a man who dreams of gaining the reptilian ability to regrow his lost limb. His obsession drives his research and his untested serum brings forth a horrific mutant who quickly becomes distracted by his sudden, desperate need to bring forth a new superhuman race. Ifans is a wonderful actor but the character of Dr Connors doesn’t give him enough room to bring his own personality to the table. Any depth that there could have been in the character is removed given his straight change from desperate scientist to a giant lizard out to cause some havoc. The whole plot is rushed and the character remains pretty 2-dimensional. He is used, along with Parker’s parents, to allow the writers to start to create an air of mystery and darkness around the Oscorp Corporation and the unseen Norman Osborn. Like so many bland origin stories, The Amazing Spider-Man was created to open the way for the franchise’s future.

This film had a great amount of potential with a top quality cast and an incredibly likeable leading man. However, it was simply going over much travelled ground and lazily preparing for future films. It is by no means the terrible film that most of the internet community would have you believe but nor is it the great film it deserved to be. It is a stepping stone for the future but was rushed and unconsidered.  The plot is sloppy and there are several glaring holes in the plot. The characters are not given the introduction that they deserve or are utterly wasted. I, for one, would have liked to see a more fleshed out Captain Stacy and a much more satisfactory death (if that was even necessary in the opening film). It was an unavoidable fact that the internet was never going to approve of this film no matter what the final piece looked like but don’t believe the naysayers completely. This film is good. It is by no means amazing but still a very enjoyable ride. My overall message to Marc Webb then: (in the words of Gwen Stacy herself) “I thought it was great what you did out there. Stupid, but great.”

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