Friday, July 27, 2012

A new beginning - The Amazing Spider-Man

Branded as pointless and unnecessary due to the original being only 10 years old, this version of Spider-Man was quite frankly just made because Columbia would’ve probably lost their option to the franchise if they hadn’t gone ahead with it. Many eyebrows were raised the day the word ‘reboot’ was announced. None of the original cast would be returning for this, there’d be no Sam Raimi [a good thing perhaps after Spider-Man 3] and it would essentially stem from new origin rather than a continuation of the previous trilogy. There was every reason to hate it and condemn it as heresy by those that adored the trilogy [or at least the initial installments]… but we can’t!

The Amazing Spider-Man is as different to Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man as Batman Begins is to Tim Burton’s Batman from ’89. They are almost entirely different movies, each presenting their own ideas of the character with their core elements completely intact. They are on a more simple level, products  of very different times. I think it’s perhaps somewhat unfair to compare them despite being ripe candidates for such obvious comparisons. If I was a better reviewer I could perhaps avoid that pitfall, but I’m not and I can’t, so apologies in advance.

This time around Peter Parker/Spider-Man is played by relative newcomer Andrew The Social Network Garfield and I think he’s as good a fit to Parker as Tobey MacGuire was [before his dance routine in Spidey 3 degenerated our perspective – shudder]. Garfield's Spider-Man is placed in a tale that matches far more closely the true comic-book origin of the hero than the original ever achieved. The movie’s female lead Emma Stone plays Parker’s true first girlfriend Gwen Stacy as opposed to the crazy universe created in the original where Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane Watson was somehow Peter’s first love and this change alone corrected my most major issue with the original. Sally Field and Martin Sheen were drafted in as Aunt May and Uncle Ben and the casting of such renowned and respected actors highlight the importance that the director placed on these characters with regard to the development of Peter Parker. Rhys The 51st State Ifans plays Dr. Kurt Connors who of course becomes The Lizard. The first supervillian which this Spider-Man must face, but it’s Dennis Leary who puts in the best performance as George Stacy the determined NYC police captain, hell-bent on apprehending the vigilante menace that is our wall-crawler.

Spidey is easily Marvel Comics most renowned single character, and thus a very lucrative property for Columbia pictures. When Raimi announced he would be unable to complete a Spider-Man 4 in their time frame, Columbia announced prolific music video director Mark Webb [seriously that’s got to be a contender for ‘Irony of the Year 2012!’] would direct a reboot. Thankfully Webb, as many feared, was not going to turn The Amazing Spider-Man into the greatest music video of all time and had no intention of remaking Sam Raimi's movies. Webb presented a darker vision of the webslinger devoting more time to Peter’s early troubles and sense of loss as his parents leave him in the care of his aunt and uncle one night never to return. It was a brave choice for Webb to have Peter learn “with great power, comes great responsibility” gradually before being force fed the lesson - if strangely not the actual iconic line itself - upon his uncle’s death. 

Similarly to his other movie-realised super-hero brethren, Spider-Man's look resembles more the modern illustrations of the web-slinger and Webb was clearly influenced by Ultimate Spider-Man for elements of the movies visual style. The more modern costume certainly translated better on screen than the iconic one. I was also pleased that he chose to stay more truthful to original comic-book's "super-nerd" characterisation for Peter Parker who as in the movie constructed his own web-shooters delivering him away from the more 'mutant' territory Raimi seemed to be leading him down.

Despite Webb's obvious respect for the project and his clear vision to remain closer to the franchises genesis than Raimi did, overall the movie lacked the true raw emotional and charismatic power that is more deserving of such a classically tragic hero. The ability for a director to evoke that on screen is something that can be developed however, and if Webb brings us the sequel then I hope he can do better in that department. Unfortunately without it, he'll never surpass or even equal the majestic spectacle of Raimi's first two Spider-Man movies. I hope that Webb or his successor will reintroduce "Your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man" and not just as a tag line.

To finish, I can say that it’s clear from the trailers that Webb shot far more footage that’s on show here and that there could even be enough to produce half of the now announced Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014 which will continue this particular franchise down a road that I can now say has a solid foundation.


Final Verdict: While not the most important super hero movie in a year where both the Batman trilogy finishes and Marvel climaxes it’s 6 year long Avengers advertising campaign, this is nevertheless a solid and worthwhile entry in the genre and the flash point of what I hope will be a franchise deserving of the character.

Colonel Creedon Rating: ****1/2

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