9 Jul 2012

Screen Time: The AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary, Irffan Khan, Campbell Scott
Director: Marc Webb
Runtime: 136 minutes
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: 03 July 2012 


Stewart R:  'Here you go Mr Webb, please take this world famous comic book character, who has been involved in one of the biggest and most successful movie franchises of the 21st Century, nay, of all time, and please just reboot everything if you would?  Please?  Oh and if you don’t mind, use this script fashioned by no less than three different writers who have had to turn to the Ultimate comic universe for inspiration, but whose hands have been tied by the need for variation following the previous iteration, yet who also need to keep the dedicated Spider-disciples happy with nods to the work of Stan Lee.  Oh yes, and we need this all sewn up no less than 5 years after the last Spider-Man film really disappointed the red and blue lycra socks off the world.  And no dance numbers please!  Got that?  Good, see you in July 2012 then!'

Okay, so that’s probably not how the discussion went, but by the shiny sheen of Mysterio’s helmet, it can’t be a million miles away from the general feeling circling around the set of The Amazing Spider-Man during the early days of filming.
Thankfully, Marc Webb - he of pretty much only (500) Days of Summer fame - has come to the project and managed to squeeze out of it close to the best Spider-Man movie effort that he possibly could.  I’ll make the assumption that the story and premise were out of the director’s hands and so there are no Louis Leterrier’s Incredible Hulk  levels of freedom to be had here in terms of getting to the (new) point quickly.  Certainly it's no secret to know that we’re given a fresh update of Peter’s childhood and origin as a masked crimefighter here, though I was a little surprised initially to see how large a portion of the runtime was given over to this  morphed retelling considering the knowledgeable public awaiting it.

But in that surprise comes the realisation that this is where Webb’s talented focus on the pitfalls and giddy highs of youth, and Spider-Man’s rollercoaster ride of self-discovery, come together in celluloid harmony. Where Raimi’s trilogy skipped through the life of Peter Parker with swift abandon to focus on the greater potential of what his powers and good, often tested, will could deliver to the city of New York - his time at high school in the first film is brushed to the side come the middle of the second act - here Webb embraces the idea that with youth comes indecision, the inability to recognise one’s potential immediately, and the effect ultimately that the power of selfishness and blinkered vision can have on responsibility. Yes, that’s a warping of Stan Lee’s most famous exclamation-cum-moral gift to the world, but then that’s what this film feels like it's trying to do; take what we know of this story and show it from an alternative perspective, something contemporary and in that respect it delivers, and delivers well.

Garfield’s Peter Parker is quite removed from the '60s clean-cut, isolated science nerd who graced the comic book pages all those years ago, yet he retains the same yoke of the outsider, and similar echoings of the class-topping intellect. This allows him to win over the audience by displaying moments of convincing self-doubt balanced with occasional releases of well-measured cockiness once Peter identifies the advantageous shift his life has taken. The teenagers’s shock at his transformation is played far longer and for more laughs here than previously realised - a short, early morning display of proportionate strength is a subtle highlight - and it helps to sell this as a part high school dramedy.  Garfield has a great comedy touch and the humorous elements stand out thanks to his natural charm and ability to play far younger than his 28 years. There's little standing in the way of Peter and Gwen's attraction aside from Parker's lack of confidence, and that their relationship blossoms clumsily in parallel with his discovery of himself and his family's past allows this to feel like steady, measured character development. There's also a great deal of chemistry between Garfield and Stone whenever they share the screen together and I found them terrifically convincing as a young, intelligent yet nervous high school couple.

To be sure, there’s far more angst and feeling to be found in Garfield’s performance than bewildered, wide-eyed Tobey Maguire managed to drum up in the entirety of his trilogy’s runtime, but he’s helped in that respect by the script. The idea of loss is present throughout the film; Peter mourns the childhood he could have had if his parents had been around, Ben and May feel like they might be losing the nephew they once knew, Curt Connors longs for his lost arm, and all of the actors get to play out various forms of grief and remorse as the minutes pass.

When it comes to the major villain of the piece I have to say I'm a little conflicted, but that's primarily because I've always preferred the idea that Curt Connors is fearful of his transformation – much in the way that Bruce Banner used to fear becoming the Hulk – whereas here he begins to embrace the change as his situation and his sense of reasoning deteriorates - much in the way that Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock went in Spider-Man 2 - and I think I'd have rather seen Connors be more of a victim than the 'mad scientist' that we eventually end up with. Rhys Ifans is a reasonable choice to play Connors, though it could be said that he's not been given quite enough to do and certainly doesn't share nearly enough screen time with Garfield to make Peter’s quest to save the Doctor as weighty as it probably should have been.  When mutated into his reptilian alter-ego however, the Lizard makes perfect sense as a foil for the arachnid abilities of the hero.

The clashes between young Webs and the Cold Blooded Doctor are frenetic, incredibly well choreographed and really raise the excitement levels when they surface. Each sequence has been clearly thought out and planned so that Spider-Man's abilities to adapt and avoid a far heavier, stronger and beastial opponent are pushed to the ultimate test as he finds himself pursued and confronted in the tightest and confined of locales.  With, claws, teeth and a club-like tail to deal with, the fight scenes are fairly brutal and there's always a feeling that our protagonist could end up needing far more than stitches once the dust settles. I'm really impressed with the sheer amount of use that the effects guys get out of the web-shooters, a welcome technological nod to Peter’s ingenuity, and though perhaps the properties of the webs themselves may not hold up to scrutiny in the continuity department, the myriad of ways that this Spider-Man utilises them is hugely satisfying.

While my praise may be high for The Amazing Spider-Man there are some flaws to be found; the mystery surrounding Peter’s parents is leaned upon heavily in the first half of the film and then disappears quickly as the web-swinging antics begin, Denis Leary’s Captain Stacey is criminally underused, and there’s a feeling that too many plot threads get introduced through the 2 hour+ runtime that then aren’t given the justice they deserve.  But then none of these issues ever seem to threaten the experience as a whole thankfully.  If the creative team could have brushed over the origin in the first 15 minutes, that would have left plenty of space to deal with everything else they seem eager to address, but arguably that would have stolen the lion’s share of the fun from this film and I dare say that treading the origin line once again does make this feel like a genuine reboot rather than a wandering off-shoot.

Where Raimi’s trilogy now comes across as a lighter-hearted, part-'90s romp / part nod to the comics of the '60s, delivered with the punch that a 21st Century blockbuster budget could offer, this new iteration feels like a different monster; happier in its gloomier, earthy colours, more comfortable to take its time in following the protagonist in his adventures from a closer, more intimate perspective, and almost reticent in some respects to actually hold its arms aloft and proclaim itself to be ‘Amazing’ at any point.  I definitely find something to like in that unplanned modesty.  I certainly enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man and I appreciate the fact that Marc Webb has seemingly elected to opt for heart marginally over spectacle in his film, something the summer blockbuster crowd forget to attempt all too often these days.  Odd grumble aside, the lead actors are in exceptional form, the super-powered dust-ups are enthralling and Marc Webb has led me safely into the world of a different Spider-Man franchise, unscathed and eager for more.  8/10

1 comment:

Matt C said...

I'd call it the Average Spider-Man. I liked a lot of the Garfield/Stone non-mask stuff, but there was too many plot threads that just seemed to be forgotten, Ifans didn't really stand out as a strong nemesis, and yes, I'm afraid to say, it was too soon for a reboot. I'd take Raimi's trilogy over this any day (including the flawed Spider-Man 3) but I guess it has enough to going on to say it's worth a look. Just maybe not a cinema visit. 6/10 from me.