IT’S moodier, gloomier and grittier, but it’s still the same old story of Spider-Man’s origins. So the question is, why bother?
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (12A) Directed by: MARC WEBB
Starring: ANDREW GARFIELD, EMMA STONE, RHYS IFANS, DENIS LEARY, MARTIN SHEEN
Towards the end of The Amazing Spider-Man, a teacher at Peter Parker’s school invokes the old maxim that there are only seven basic stories in the world. As she proceeds to explain, though, there is really “only one…” To which anyone who has just sat through the preceding 130 minutes may be tempted to shout: “No kidding!” Rebooted a mere ten years after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man first brought Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s now 50-year-old comic book creation to the big screen, The Amazing Spider-Man puts a gloomier, moodier spin on the web-slinger’s origins without ever justifying why, exactly, it’s bothering.
Of course, the most likely commercial reason can probably be attributed to the fact that between the much-heralded Spider-Man 2 and the much-derided Spider-Man 3, Christopher Nolan made the brooding, morally conflicted, rooted-in-reality Batman Begins. Next to Gotham’s Dark Knight, the whiny wall-crawler suddenly looked a little lightweight, even though such lightness has always been one of the chief appeals of the teen-oriented Spider-Man.
What’s more – and this is something the makers of The Amazing Spider-Man have chosen to ignore – Nolan’s Batman reboot felt fresh because the character’s origins had never been comprehensively told onscreen before. Spider-Man’s have, which gives this new, slightly grittier version of the same story the feel of a pop band suddenly trying out a more introspective sound for no other reason than they’ve been listening to a bit of Radiohead and want to sound cooler and more credible.
The sense of déjà vu is certainly among the biggest stumbling blocks new director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) encounters. Teasing us with an opening prologue in which the sudden disappearance of Peter Parker’s parents (played by Campbell Scott and Embeth Davitz) necessitates him going to live with his beloved Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen and Sally Field), the film quickly relegates this potentially intriguing plotline to the future-instalment-backburner to walk us through the spider-bite/death of Uncle Ben/discovery of his superpowers thing again. Thus, when we’re properly introduced to Peter Parker for the first time, he’s back to being a non-superpowered high school student with above-average intelligence and below- average self-esteem.
The difference this time is that he takes the not-especially nerdy shape of Andrew Garfield – a fine actor who shone as a troubled teen in Boy A and as Mark Zuckerberg’s betrayed best friend in The Social Network, but who, at the age of 28, is already older than previous incumbent Tobey Maguire when he made Spider-Man 2.
This gives the film a slight 21 Jump Street vibe, albeit without the riotous humour or the acknowledgment that in the decade since Maguire’s debut, smart, sullen guys who look good in skinny jeans and have tousled, bouffant hair are more likely to be found ruling school and having girls dropping at their feet than skulking around the corridors hoping the cute girl they like will talk to them.
In The Amazing Spider-Man, that cute girl takes the form of Emma Stone’s husky-voiced Gwen Stacey, a science fiend in knee-high boots with an over-protective New York City police commissioner for a father (Denis Leary). Like Garfield, Stone is old enough to have served her time in movie high school, but she generates enough chemistry with Garfield to ensure their pairing reverberates with a mild erotic charge. Twi-hards looking for a swooning romantic fix to tide them over until Breaking Dawn Part 2 could certainly do worse than check it out.
Elsewhere, though, there’s not much to get excited about. After being bitten by a bio-engineered spider that imbues him with his arachnid abilities, Peter finds himself again negotiating freaky body changes and sticky secretions, all of which are diverting for a few scenes but grow wearisome due to over-familiarity. It’s a shame, because once in the iconic suit, Garfield’s spindly body proves a good fit; his Spider-Man looks more like the one in the comics and moves with a grace that gives the character a unique quality in an age of city-levelling heroics from the likes Hulk and Iron Man. But the surfeit of needless backstory is too much to bear.
Indeed, even the villain – a one-armed herpetologist (played by Rhys Ifans) whose efforts to regenerate his limb transform him into a snarling, rampaging beast called the Lizard – is caught up in a complex web of unresolved plotting that, judging from a post-credits teaser, seems destined to be spun across another couple of instalments. There’s really no need for this. The Bond films (at least until recently) never felt the need to tediously explain the character’s origins every time a new face was brought in, so why does The Amazing Spider-Man? Just because the superhero template remains the same, doesn’t mean the adventures have to follow suit.
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