I intended to go and see director Marc Webb‘s summer reboot of Marvel’s beloved defender of New York City earlier this year and somehow never got around to it. Trailers didn’t really amaze me, the advance word was somewhat muted and even the mighty “Empire” magazine were a little cool on it with their three star review – the proverbial drums were beating ‘stay away, stay away!’ to anybody even half-listening.
As it turns out, true believers, “The Amazing Spider-Man“ is perhaps the best adventure for Peter Parker since Sam Raimi‘s peerless, knock-it-out-of-the-park sequel, “Spider-Man 2“. It’s better written than the fairly woeful third movie and has captured more of the charm of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko‘s eternally teenaged shutterbug/wise-cracking vigilante than the Raimi series really managed to – Andrew Garfield is a fantastic Parker and a great Spider-Man.
Something that must be said is that this version does take some fan-baiting, mildly controversial liberties with the established origins of the character – there’s a teasing thread which shows us the hither-to unseen Parker parents, who disappear from the young Peter’s life under the proverbial cloud and the pivotal death of Uncle Ben is rendered slightly differently – but no less effectively – than I remember it from the comics.
In this, the film is greatly assisted by having Martin Sheen in the role. He’s not in the film for a major amount of time but utterly commands the screen as the great paternal substitute in Peter’s life – there’s a palpable dread running through this section of the film as you know what’s going to happen, know that it has to happen to really set the plot and the titular character’s central struggle in motion but really don’t want Uncle Ben to, you know, go to the big idyllic NYC stoop in the great hereafter.
Where this movie really soars is in the depiction of the Parker/Gwen Stacey relationship. In hiring Marc Webb, the director of “500 Days of Summer“, a quite distinct signal was being sent to fans ahead of time that there was going to be more focus on and attention paid to the relationship side of this superhero adventure story and that has indeed proven to be the case. The boyfriend/girlfriend dynamic of Parker and Stacey is really quite charming and performed beautifully by Garfield and Stone – they’re a very convincing on-screen couple. One, in fact, which you actually don’t mind spending some time with – usually the obligatory, focus-group insisted-upon love story is a cue for me to zone out of most Hollywood pictures, but I really didn’t mind this aspect of the film at all. It was very well done and made all the more compelling when you know how things are supposed to pan out for this comic book couple.
In fact, weirdly, the stuff that you’re supposed to come to this movie for – the action and set-pieces – are not really as interesting as the dramatic heavy-lifting and acting from the excellent cast. I’m sure that this wasn’t the intent but, for the most part, the expected spectacular sequences of super heroic derring-do really don’t materialize that often and when they do don’t hold a candle to the equivalent mayhem on display in this summer’s “The Dark Knight Rises” or “The Avengers”.
Perhaps the best moment, in fact, comes right at the end – I won’t spoil it, but it involves C. Thomas Howell and a moment of transcendent, blue-collar, NYC solidarity for their web-slinging, wise-cracking knight . You might find it too cheesy if you need more irony from your cinematic spectacle, but I loved the way that the scene in question allowed the city that Spidey will save time and time again to give their champion a much-needed assisting hand during a moment of crisis.
The Lizard isn’t the greatest Spidey villain, for me, but Rhys Ifans does a great job in portraying his alter-ego, Doctor Curt Connors – he’s simply a much more interesting character than the charmless, technically competent but utterly uninteresting monster which he morphs into when an experiment goes wrong. When the action goes from the refreshingly practical staging which typifies the opening half of the movie to a CG character beat-down a-la every other superhero movie in recent memory, it’s really quite easy to find yourself looking at your watch or checking your phone – the action is weightless and the threat to our hero is non-existent (awesome Stan Lee cameo, though…).
It’s a very promising start to a new trilogy and I’m keen to see if Webb – who is apparently returning to helm the second movie – manages to keep the momentum going that he has established with this first film. Word has it that Electro might be the bad guy in that movie – wonder if they’ll be keeping the classic costume?