By Nicholas Davies
There are many ways I could start this review: I could launch into one of my usual cantankerous rambles about the franchise model of film-making that has radically altered the way that most blockbuster films are now produced; or I could write a brief blurb discussing the state of the sub-genre of comic book films that have over the last decade or so consumed the film industry. Instead though, I am going to try something different: a revelation. By this point in our shared history, which is to say the long period of time that you the audience have spent listening to and ultimately allowing me to indulge in my long winded tête-à-têtes, it has become abundantly clear that I cling on to many things that I love from my childhood. (After all, who really wants to grow up?) In this particular case, I wish to describe my enjoyment of Spider-Man. Actually, scratch that…I ADORE Spider-Man; granted, I share that sentiment with many, many others but the character of Peter Parker and the ever-expanding mythos that has surrounded him for 50 years now has intrigued and entranced me time after time through various mediums. It should come as no surprise then that the Sam Rami directed trilogy of Spider-Man films, beginning 10 years ago with “Spider-Man,” peaking with the brilliant “Spider-Man 2” and then completely falling apart with the train-wreck that was “Spider-Man 3,” were a large part of my formative years and, somewhat unsurprisingly, I met the news of the franchise’ planned reboot with an especially raised eyebrow. The finished product, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is ultimately an enjoyable popcorn flick, if still very, very rough around the edges.
“The Amazing Spider-Man,” taking its name from the long-running Marvel comic of the same name, is a composite of multiple arcs: the origin and ascension of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) into his role as the web-slinger, the origin and subsequent downward spiral of Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), and the blossoming romance between Peter and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). It is in these strands that the film runs into its two largest problems: the first being the ludicrous length of 136 minutes; (I am sure that there are 10 minutes or indeed entire sections of the film that could be cut out to give it a bit more pace and verve.) the other problem with the plot is one that is not necessarily intrinsic to this particular film alone and that is the worrying sense of déjà-vu that occurs, especially in the films opening third. This glaring problem can ultimately be pin-pointed to one issue: everyone knows the Spider-Man origin story at this point, no matter how one views it; after all, its only been 10 years since the first Sam Rami film and there have been multiple incarnations of the character through various mediums in the 50 years since the character first appeared in issue #15 of “Amazing Fantasy” in August of 1962.
By the mid-way point of the film, I was having to clutch at other straws to keep my attention because I was absolutely fed-up with director Marc Webb and credited writers James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves, working from a story by Vanderbilt, beating the dead and decaying horse of Spider-Man’s origin. Thankfully, there were many figurative straws to clutch at, especially in the lead performance of Andrew Garfield who absolutely pitches the character of Peter Parker perfectly, completely understanding the social awkwardness of the character and the freedom that Peter feels when the mask is on; furthermore, Garfield gives the character a bit of an edge, moments of fury and anger that was not present in previous incarnations of the character and I hope with every fiber of my being that he is given good material in the inevitable sequel (assuming that he returns, that is) as he has built a platform from which he can build perhaps a definitive film version of the character.
The plot thread that is the absolute heart of the film is the developing relationship between Peter and Gwen and it is here that Webb excels as a director, finding the much more intimate human moments more interesting than the bombastic fight-sequences. Along with Vanderbilt, Sargent, and Kloves, who I was collectively berating earlier, they are aided by the plentiful and jubilant chemistry that Garfield and Emma Stone share, chemistry so radiant and palpable that I thought the screen would explode in a quivering wreck of romanticism. (A note on Stone before I move any further: I still believe, especially after her lovely performance in this film, that she is one of the most magnetic and likeable screen presences in Hollywood at this moment in time.) The rest of the cast provides a mixed bag of performances, with Martin Sheen providing an immensely enjoyable performance as Uncle Ben, whilst Denis Leary is criminally underused as Captain George Stacy and my head is currently raw after scratching it for so long, attempting to decipher why Sally Field or, somewhat by extension although more by design, the character of Aunt May is the film, considering how little the character is ultimately utilized. (I have yet to decipher that particular mystery) Rhys Ifans does what he can with the material that he is often laden with and it is to his credit that Connors does come off as a somewhat tragic character, though no one has yet to depose Alfred Molina’s performance in “Spider-Man 2.”
Even exterior to the film’s major narrative plot threads, the film is a little all over the shop; the CGI varies in quality, sometimes looking slick and clean whilst at others infuriatingly dull. The design of the Lizard also leaves a lot to be desired, coming off simply as a very artificial splodge of various shades of green rather than a menacing creature with traces of its humanity hidden beneath. Certainly, however, especially as the film progresses Webb seems to understand and utilize the particular plasticity that makes the motion of Spider-Man so unique to that particular character; in other words, Webb and the various people involved with making Spider-Man come to life, from Garfield through the stunt actors and to the visual effects team fully grasp how graceful Spider-Man’s acrobatics can be, culminating in the films final shot, which in and of itself is most reminiscent of the final shots of the first two Sam Rami films and, along with the awkward exchange between Gwen and Peter in the school hallway, is one of my favorite moments of the film. I do also wish that James Horner is brought back as composer for the sequel for, while the score in “The Amazing Spider-Man” is not a masterpiece by any sense of the word, there is enough promise to build upon that a sequel could help flesh out the major musical ideas present in the score.
In the end, “The Amazing Spider-Man” has enough going for it that I am willing to overlook its many flaws, especially as it is a fundamentally better film than “Spider-Man 3,” and give it the benefit of the doubt, hoping that Webb and the creative team are able to take stock, figure what works and what does not, thus allowing them to move forward. Moreover, considering that I had a giddy smile plastered upon my face when Garfield put the famous costume on for the first time, then they have must have done something right. Say it with me: “With Great Power, there must also come great responsibility.”
Editors Note: “The Amazing Spider-Man” is now available on various home video platforms.Tweet