The ‘Amazing’ Spider-Man?
So… The idea of rebooting the Spider-Man films so soon after Sam Raimi’s last outing at the helm seemed ludicrous, especially when so nakedly motivated by Sony’s desire to prevent the rights to the character reverting to Marvel. It is of course actually ludicrous as well as seeming so, especially since they’ve opted to start from scratch with a retelling of Spider-Man’s origin story, but The Amazing Spider-Man takes the essence of these already over-familiar elements and alters their form enough that it still cleaves closely in tone and tenor to these core elements without feeling like a re-treading of the previous silver-screen incarnation of the same story. Nonetheless the excision of the mantra which has defined the character and the comics almost from their creation; to wit: “with great power comes great responsibility”, understandably motivated though it is by the desire to not ring quite so familiar to the pop-culture-only Spider-Man audience, feels somewhat forced as the characters dance a semantic bossa nova whilst trying to impart the same meaning absent the aphorism. To similarly distancing effect the film’s influences are more self-consciously cinematic than the comic-book flavour favoured in the Raimi/Maguire years; its dominant palette and aesthetics, even without the sickly grey-green wash that the 3D glasses impart, being not nearly as bright or borderline camp.
The script, also drawing on the more emotionally overwrought seriousness of Nolan’s Batman Begins & The Dark Knight, downplays the more farcical aspects of the Peter Parker, keeping his scientific acumen and social awkwardness without setting the character up as the butt for all of the film’s jokes. Andrew Garfield seems a more natural fit for the character, his gangly discomfort and perpetual slouch playing nicely off the smooth lines and elegant motion of a Spider-Man who moves more like his arachnid namesakes and whose physical tenseness is a precursor to action rather than indecision. He also seems more comfortable with dual-identity aspect of the leading role, his Peter Parker suffering an ineloquence less deliberate than Tobey Maguire’s where the brashness and panicky quips of his Spider-Man are a more convincing release of adrenaline and understandable terror. In something of a simpatico, at least to the civilian side of his identity, comes Gwen Stacey: more his equal than previous versions of the character or Kirsten Dunst’s Mary-Jane and handled as ably as always, and despite the somewhat fetishized school-girl outfits, by the inestimable Emma Stone, who provides compelling impetus both for the romantic subplot and the main storyline. Rhys Ifans’ completely CGI Lizard will probably age badly but holds up rather well in comparison with other contemporary examples, but his on-edge, internally raging Doctor Connors is second only to Alfred Medina’s Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man’s silver-screen outings.
There are some rather tedious missteps: Peter Parker exploring his newfound abilities in a skateboarding scene which feels like the offcuts of an advert for an urban fashion range or an energy drink, for instance, or the two occasions on which the camera goes into a web-swinging POV that lent the trailers a sense of energy when intercut with lines of portentously expository dialogue (which aren’t used, or even particularly relevant, in the film as-released) but are oddly out of place by dint of their scarcity and their pointlessness and, in by-far the laziest moment of the entire proceeding, a set-piece leading to the final clash between Spider-Man and the Lizard is so unapologetically heart-warming as to be painfully embarrassing, almost impossible to watch without wincing. All things considered The Amazing Spider-Man is fairly thin, more of a visually impressive action film than anything more substantial; a sop to nerds rather than a particularly meaningful experience, but a rather well-executed example of the same. It’s no Avengers, and will be almost-certainly be outstripped by The Dark Knight Rises, in ambition if not in realisation, later this month, but remains a more-than credible outing for a comic book adaptation not attempting to be a cape and cowl Godfather, a spandex Citizen Kane.