The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – film review

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Director: Marc Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen
Release Date: 2nd July 2012
Certificate: 12A

Spider-Man is arguably Marvel’s most popular creation. The all-too-human fatherless nerd Peter Parker is easy to relate to for many. Equally the insect-like powers of his alter ego present a seemingly infinite set of possibilities that keeps readers gripped. It seems somewhat surprising then that ol’ web head has only seen the live-action theatre-release treatment within the past ten years.

Following the convoluted catastrophe that was Spider-Man 3, Sony Motion Pictures officially ended director Sam Raimi’s reign over the franchise. So we get The Amazing Spider-Man from the appropriately named Marc Webb. Released in the same year as box office powerhouse The Dark Knight Rises, the pressure was always on to make a lasting impression. So in a film genre of increasingly high standards, does this latest comic reboot stand out from the crowd? Let’s take a look.

As an origin story all the key aspects are there. Parentless Peter Parker is brought up by his loving Aunt May and Uncle Ben. He is bitten by a super spider, given powers and, following the murder of his uncle, rises to be the wise-cracking costumed vigilante we all know and love. However, in contrast to the Raimi trilogy, proceedings are given a run through the youth spa. Parker is a trendy high-school teen played by Andrew Garfield known for his roles in The Social Network and the TV mini-series Red Riding. He carries a skateboard and likes to help the little guy but is still socially inept himself, getting into scrapes with big bully Flash and melting when spoken to by Emma Stone in her role as good girl Gwen Stacey. Following the murder of stern father figure Ben (Martin Sheen), a series of interconnected events brings our protagonist into his role as defender of the city and consequentially into a spat with classic villain Dr Curt Connors aka The Lizard (Rhys Ifans).

Unlike your typical comic-book fare The Amazing Spider-Man is a coming-of-age romance first and an action movie second. Even during fight scenes there is a greater emphasis on strategy and narrative over a non-stop barrage of jumping and punching. Undoubtedly quite a few cinema-goers looking to get plenty of bang for their buck may be disappointed by the lack of wow-factor. Replacing all-out spectacle is a helping of social drama that is unusually strong for a big-budget blockbuster. Leads Garfield and Stone are incredibly charismatic and have an undeniable chemistry between them. From the death of Uncle Ben to the realisation of responsibilities on a bridge The Amazing Spider-Man packs an emotional punch. At times the film is clearly unable to escape the shadow of previous adaptations, most notably with the omission of that special line. Generally speaking however it is far removed from the pantomime camp of Raimi’s films.

The realisation of Peter Parker and Spider-Man is also more satisfying even if it does lack the oomph to get the adrenaline pumping. Unlike Tobey McGuire’s childish soft tones and grounded sensibilities, Garfield portrays eccentric genius often by letting his actions speak for him. A man of two halves, he’s determined and courageous yet equally quiet and clumsy. When he first awakens to his powers, rather than a controlled and calculated school brawl, we get a strictly reflex-driven fight on a train between a gang of hoodlums and a confused Peter Parker who just can’t apologise enough. Mimicking the duality of the character, the human drama is accompanied by a charming sense of humour that is playful and never feels unnatural. In the costume he quips and threatens in equal dose, enjoying social release under the guise of anonymity and doing things solely in the way he chooses. He doesn’t so much embrace responsibility as he is haunted by it. It’s certainly an edgier, far darker take than before.

It must be said however that whilst the drama is immersive and enjoyable in itself, the influences are clear. The life of a young Parker is shattered when his flustered parents leave him with his aunt and uncle, only to die in a mysterious car accident. As a teen years later he shoulders his burdens alone as a concerned Gwen tries desperately to help. That’s right: Harry Potter and Twilight have clearly made an impact. Hell, there’s even an under-the-surface debate concerning vigilantism and morality ala The Dark Knight. At times the familiarity leaks through and threatens to break the film’s own identity. Though perhaps a bigger problem is the ghost of history repeating itself. There are a lot of different storylines at work throughout the film. This is fine as you’re watching but soon afterwards you’ll realise just how many plot threads were so abruptly dropped and left hanging. Sure, loose ties are great for sequels but only when the idea of leaving off is neatly acknowledged. What happened to Ben’s killer? Did Norman’s cronie escape the bridge? And just what happened to his parents? Some people may suggest that in a way this follows the element of realism ”“ not everything in life has a solid conclusion. But that argument only goes so far in a superhero movie. Furthermore, special effects are pretty effective on the whole but the first person sections are ridiculously pointless and break the mood completely; more Mirror’s Edge than Spider-Man. The same goes for the 3D that simply darkens the image and is barely used, not unlike the majority of films that incorporate it. Seriously, when will this craze end?

Like a gift from your children The Amazing Spider-Man can appear ramshackle, feel unstable, and perhaps leave you thinking it could have been cooler. But ultimately you just can’t help but be in awe of the loving effort and quaint charm with which this resonates. It won’t win any prizes but haters of past efforts may fall in love.

All words by Shaun Kennedy. Shaun tweets as @Shaun_Kennedy23.

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