The general grumpiness of people’s attitudes toward this film is palpable. So I’m happy to champion the new take on Spider-Man as a sharply executed shift in tone from the Sam Raimi version. Director Marc Webb finds a happy medium between the brooding, deadly serious tone of Christopher Nolan’s Batman and the colourful cartoony campness of Raimi’s Spider-Man, an admirable modus operandi of comic realism, both in emotion and visual design. I eagerly anticipated future entries in this new series.
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) dir. Marc Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field
By Alan Bacchus
It was an almost unprecented task to reboot such a successful series, which is less than 10 years old. After all, the last Spider-Man(#3) was in made in 2007, just five years ago. The Marc Webb version apparently comes from the ‘Ultimate Universe’ series (I’m not a reader), wherein the brass at Marvel Comics rebooted a bunch of their old franchises (The Avengers included). Here we get to see the familiar story of Peter Parker but with fresh new layers, including his estrangement from his father, his tempestuous relationship with his Uncle Ben, his interest and involvement with the bio-genetical industry, which, through a spider bite, transformed him into a ‘spider-man’, a more elaborate learning curve of his powers and added spidey senses, as well as a new romantic relationship. In this case, it’s not Mary Jane (whom I suspect might come into play in a sequel) but Gwen Stacy, another bio-genetic geek who teams up with Parker to fight the irresponsible and deranged Curt Connors.
The broad strokes of the story, including Parker’s bullying and his arrogance arising from his powers to the world domination-plotting of the bioscientists, are all standard fare comic book material, but it’s Webb’s tonal adjustments that admirably allow this picture to sit proudly beside Sam Raimi's without ursurping it.
Aiding Webb greatly is Andrew Garfield, a ‘marvel‘ as Peter Parker. From The Social Network to his fine work in his British films, we all knew he could act. But Garfield arguably trumps Tobey Maguire’s dough-eyed Parker, as he feels like a relatable teenager, complex and emotional, without resorting to caricature.
Webb and his writers tease us with a new backstory involving Parker’s father and his innovations with the Oscorp bioscientists. We don’t even get to see Norman Osborn, though his presence is always there – in this case a shadowed figure pulling the strings off camera. But Webb still manages to craft an equally complex villain in Connors, an amputee who wants as much as anyone to find the missing scientific link that would enable him to regenerate his cells and grow back his arm. He’s a reluctant villain, who, through the pressures of the unseen Norman Osborn, takes a risk and tests his formula on himself. Of course, it doesn’t work and he’s transformed into a beast - a green lizard.
Webb’s action sequences are directed with the same realism and integrity he’s given to his characters. With many computer tools at his disposal Webb has exercised admirable restraint using as many organic and practical effects as possible. His spiderwebs looks like a real gooey substance, and much of his web-swinging could have been performed in real time as traditional stunts, as opposed to the overused CGI Spiderman in Raimi’s version.
At 136 minutes, the film threatens to be overlong, yet I can only admire the patience and attention Webb gives to the origin story before launching into the main action. The toughest parts of comic book storytelling are those moments when we have to be convinced that putting on a mask and a costume and fighting crime on one’s own is the right thing to do. This takes time and care.
Webb is in no hurry, and neither was I. The Amazing Spider-Man is one of those rare cases when expectations and execution match up perfectly, which, for this type of popcorn movie, makes for a thoroughly satisfying experience.