FILM REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man

Peter Parker books himself a date with a radioactive spider after he decides to pursue the mystery of his parents' disappearance, meeting desperate geneticist Dr. Curt Connors on the way who may have a small lizard problem.

When The Amazing Spider-Man was announced instead of a Sam Raimi-led Spider-Man 4, the majority of the free world with an emotional investment in the titular web-slinger cried out "Why?!" and went into immediate anger mode. For most, it was just too soon to even consider a reboot, the story was too familiar and Raimi had, despite a woeful third film, left his indelible mark on the franchise. Whilst it still might be a little too recent for audiences to put the other franchise out of their minds, thankfully The Amazing Spider-Man manages to touch on the same plot points whilst putting its own unique spin on the proceedings.

The film opens with a young Peter Parker being left by his parents with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Time goes by and now a fully adolescent Peter, in the shape of Andrew Garfield, has grown into the kind of nerdy kid who gets hit in the face with a basketball but still manages to look winningly attractive in a hoody and can exhange awkward banter with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). After discovering a briefcase of his father's, Peter is led on a trail to Oscorp where he meets his father's partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) and a certain radioactive spider. Then there's the familiar discovery of powers and, through a tragedy, what comes with great responsibility. Running in parallel with Peter's discovery is Connors' own transformation, pushed into testing himself with a supposedly restorative formula only to discover that the lizard DNA likes to take over.

Thanks to the success of Sam Raimi's Spider-man, most people interested in this film will already know the story of Peter's transformation into Spidey, beginning with the bite and ending with the vengeance quest after the death of Uncle Ben. Instead of taking the speedy approach as Raimi did, Marc Webb goes his own way with the story, slowing it down to allow the characters to develop into their various roles. Martin Sheen's Uncle Ben is afforded a great deal of screen time and scenes with Peter so when the inevitable shooting happens, it really packs an emotional punch. This also spills over into Peter's vengeful reaction, seemingly more realistic because the audience has seen the relationship between him and his uncle. The slow pace seems a little odd at first, after all, the big spectacle of the film is the donning of the famous red and blue suit, but it allows you to become truly involved in Peter's development. It adds to the discovery of his powers, so instead of the fast canteen scene that Raimi gave us, Webb offers several comical montages where Garfield displays some great slapstick timing in a fight with toothpaste and water taps which gives the film a light-hearted tone sometimes missing from Spidey's previous incarnation.

That's not to say that the aptly-named Webb isn't afraid to go dark; indeed, the Curt Connors narrative deals with some fairly big moral dilemmas. The great tragedy of Connors is not that he is an inherently bad guy, but one who is initially intent on doing good. His cross-species research that affects both Peter and himself, is born out of a desire to find cures for some of humanity's most feared disorders and diseases. When the Lizard completely takes over, this desire to do good becomes his undoing as his evil plan revolves around the improvement of the human race, rather than the destruction of it. Ifans puts in a decent performance as this version's first villain, morally conflicted yet still with the desire to succeed for himself. I would have liked to have seen more of a descent from Connors to Lizard which only really occurred in one scene. With so much time devoted to the development of other characters, Connors was rather neglected and as one of the most interesting, conflicted villains in Spider-man's vast rogues' gallery, he deserved just that little bit more time.

Previously successful with (500) Days of Summer, Webb knows how to create believable characters and devotes the first act to developing them. The film's biggest strength is the central performance from Andrew Garfield who brings Peter's nerdiness, technical genius (note the re-appearance of the proper mechanical webslingers) and wisecracking to life, giving us a Spider-man that is much closer to the one we know from the comics. Many people doubted whether a 27 year-old could convince as someone ten years younger but he transforms his body to reflect his teenage self. He's helped greatly by his co-star Emma Stone who manages to build a very real, convincing relationship between Peter and his first love interest, Gwen. Their awkward scenes together are less Twilight (as some reviewers suggest) and more reality, conveying the nervous moments like asking someone out or meeting your girlfriend's parents. Speaking of which, Denis Leary gets a lot of laughs in his role as Gwen's father and manages to get a couple of action scenes in as well. I could watch Martin Sheen read the telephone book and he again excels here, giving Uncle Ben the gravitas needed to provide Peter with his chief motivation and his interaction with Sally Field's Aunt May is a real highlight in the first act.

But what really endeared me to this film was the presentation of Gwen Stacey, not as your traditional damsel-in-distress, but as more of a sidekick to Spider-man. Female characters in superhero films, especially the love interests, tend to get given just that to do; turn up, look pretty, scream a lot when they're inevitably kidnapped by the villain. This was something Sam Raimi's Spider-man films never quite got right for me because Mary-Jane never really did anything except conveniently get wet and shout a bit. Recently this has got slightly better in more recent blockbuster superhero films such as Avengers Assemble, but it is still quite rare to see a female character who is actively involved in the plot. It was a real highlight therefore in Webb's version, helped by a great performance from Emma Stone, that Gwen forms an integral part of Peter's development and the big battle at the end of the film.

While Webb is successful at bringing the human element into a genre as fantastical as that of the superhero, he's not quite mastered the action sequences. While the CGI fly-throughs of New York are just as impressive as those in the previous incarnation but sometimes the action is a little lacking in tension. A rescue from a falling car is well-handled, to the point at which it becomes a little more memorable than some of the bigger sequences later. The finale in particular lacks some of the tension that we've come to expect and when this is a movie competing with the likes of Avengers Assemble and The Dark Knight Rises, you would expect the action sequences to be a little tighter. That being said, capturing the way Spider-man moves is no easy task but it is one that succeeds in this film, particularly in his confrontation with the car thief, a scene notable for Garfield's improvised wise-cracking.

Yes the story is familiar and it naturally follows a lot of the same plot-points that the audience knows but Webb and his capable cast successfully create a new spin on it. With a full trilogy planned, this first instalment promises much and whilst not quite the amazing of the title, this is a Spider-man I'll be happy to see again on the big screen.


- Becky

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