Following too soon after Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man origin tale and sticking too closely to its narrative beat, The Amazing Spider-Man has no real reason to exist. Though the film is often enjoyable, it’s hard to shake the feeling you have seen it all before in Raimi’s film and countless other superhero origin stories.
Still, director Marc Webb (let’s avoid the obvious puns) and his cast do their best with the familiar tale of how the Marvel character got his arachnid superpowers, became Spider-Man and survived his high school romance. Though there are many flaws in the film, The Amazing Spider-Man has surprising heart for a tentpole movie.
The best thing about the film is Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man — far closer to the spirit of the comic book character than Tobey Maguire’s mopey portrayal. Garfield’s teenage outcast Peter Park is an awkward nerd, but also projects nervy energy and spiky intelligence. And as Spider-Man, he nails the physical and mental agility of Parker’s lithe, wisecracking alter ego perfectly. He even shows himself to be a good physical comedian in a few sequences.
Emma Stone as Peter’s love interest Gwen Stacy is a perfect foil for Garfield. The chemistry between the two young actors and the unhurried pace of their unfolding romance give The Amazing Spider-Man a sweetness that is rare in blockbuster films. Veterans Sally Field and Martin Sheen as the loving blue-collar aunt and uncle who raise Peter, and Denis Leary as Stacy’s gruffly policeman father, all give able support.
One of the major weaknesses of The Amazing Spider-Man is its villain — Rhys Ifans as Curt Connors, a scientist who becomes a massive, psychotic CGI lizard in pursuit of a way to regrow his amputated arm. Ifans never steps out of the shadow of the great villains of Raimi’s first two films.
He is neither as chillingly insane as Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin nor as sympathetic as Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock. That said, The Lizard does work Spider-Man over properly in their confrontations, a nice change from the way that superheroes have breezed through recent comic book films like The Avengers.
Many of the elements are there for a good film, but they don’t entirely add up simply because many of the scenes and sequences are too familiar after Raimi got the story mostly right only 10 years ago. This isn’t Elektra, Daredevil or Ghost Rider, which desperately need to be redone to erase the memory of their recent cinematic mistreatment. It doesn’t help that it all feels a bit tame compared to the ensemble bravura of The Avengers.
Where Webb tries to add new ingredients to the story, he is only partly successful. He injects some backstory about the mysterious disappearance of Peter’s parents when he was a young boy, for example. Though it adds more depth and colour to the character, the narrative strand does not lead anywhere. Presumably, it will be picked up in the inevitable sequel.
Webb is an unorthodox choice for a summer blockbuster, but studio Sony was hoping he could bring a fresh eye to the tired story. The director of the poignant indie romance 500 Days of Summer is deft at directing the comic and dramatic scenes. He is not quite as assured in his handling of big action set pieces as the likes of Joss Whedon or Christopher Nolan.
The CGI is fairly well executed, but there isn’t much here we haven’t seen before, and there’s little of the sense of joy that Raimi found in Spidey’s discovery of his powers. It’s also another film marred by 3D effects that are unnecessary at best and gimmicky at worst, with the last few seconds of the film standing out as a particularly gratuitous use the technology.
Spidey deserved a fresh start with a new cast and director after Spider-Man 3 — a film so bad it seems to have made the whole of geekdom hate its two predecessors in retrospect. But perhaps The Amazing Spider-Man should have fast-forwarded through the origin story and used its new cast to tell a Spider-Man tale we have not yet seen on the big screen.
Comic fans will know that Gwen Stacy features in a classic Spider-Man story arc that is one of the most tragic that Marvel has ever written. The Amazing Spider-Man will probably get there in a sequel or two. But wouldn’t it have been brave and interesting if the film went straight there instead of wasting time on a story we already know so well? — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media