Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man





Whether fairly or not, much of the clamour surrounding the Amazing Spider-Man has been focused on questioning it. Was the revamped costume a good idea? Would Spider-Man's iconic origin story remain intact? And perhaps most importantly, should the film even exist? Perhaps a slightly melodramatic phrasing, but a more than valid musing. A full reboot of the Spider-Man movie franchise just a decade after it was launched is a drastic step, even if Spider-Man 3 was something of a disappointment and Sam Raimi's plans for Spider-Man 4 reeked of a director being let a little too far off his leash.

An unfortunate by-product of its close proximity to Raimi's trilogy is that it is very difficult to judge Marc Webb's follow up on its own merits. Every storytelling choice and character is automatically placed under the microscope, and it has to be said that they do not measure up particularly well. Spider-Man's origin is intact here despite suspicion that Webb would opt against yet another retelling, and he adds little of note to the iconic story first told in Amazing Fantasy #15. There are tweaks - and a couple are likely to annoy some hardcore fans - but there is nothing earthshattering here. The film's cast is a real mixed bag too. Martin Sheen manages to breathe life into the somewhat temporary role of 'Uncle' Ben Parker, but Sally Field is forgettable as Aunt May - arguably one of the most important members of Spider-Man's supporting cast. Denis Leary is the pick of the bunch as hard-nosed Captain George Stacy, and his character arc is the strongest of the film, even when set against the surprisingly impressive Chris Zylka, who plays bully with a heart of gold 'Flash' Thompson.

Of the leads, Emma Stone has already managed to surpass Kirsten Dunst as love interest of choice and is very impressive, managing to add depth to a character whose comic incarnation is often accused of being one note. Andrew Garfield gives a curious performance - he seems more at ease as wise cracking, light hearted Spider-Man than Toby Maguire ever was, yet seems uncomfortable as Peter Parker, and fails to give the character the meekness and humility that defined his early years. Playing opposite him Rhys Ifans is surprisingly bland as Curt Connors, and his scaly, villainous alter ego is equally uninspired. His links to Peter's parents are interesting, but never explored enough - although this is of course something very much left open ended.

Perhaps Webb's greatest weakness as a director is his unwillingness to use some of the strongest aspects of the source material. Jonah Jameson is absent, and although attempts are made to transpose his character onto George Stacy they are never quite successful and are curtailed by the end. In fact, aside from a very brief cameo the Daily Bugle is entirely ignored, despite a bizarre desire to emphasise Peter's interest in photography. Potential material for a sequel, maybe, but it feels strange within the context of the film. Aunt May's role is severely limited too, and while Norman Osborn is mentioned a couple of times, his son Harry is  never mentioned, and is really missed as a 'buddy' for Peter.

While it may seem unfair to hold this reboot of the franchise up against Sam Raimi's original trio of films, it is impossible not to, and when judged by their merits it is difficult to look at this opening salvo particularly positively. Its script is patchy, with average dialogue, some of which seems written for the trailer. Yes, some of the action sequences work well and feature solid choreography, but it seems redundant with such a weak choice of villain. The Lizard seems to borrow heavily from both Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin, while retaining none of their visual splendour, depth, or superb casting. Even Peter Parker feels off colour, with an attitude that is hardly in keeping with his comic book counterpart. The Amazing Spider-Man is not a disaster, nor is it too much of a misstep for the franchise. It can however be improvement upon, and should be in time for the inevitable sequel.

C+

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