Thursday, 12 July 2012

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

Rating: 12a
Duration: 136 mins

Not unusual nowadays is the repackaging and re-branding of film franchises that are barely older than one's underwear in an attempt to offer a fresher, more modern and even better alternative to what we've seen in the past. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a prime example of said quick turn over with a mere two years between Swedish original and Fincher remake.

Relative newcomer Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) takes on the inaugural task of rebooting Marvel's Spider-Man franchise a decade after Tobey Maguire donned the latex in what culminated in a surprisingly well-received genre flick followed by an even better sequel. 

Familiarity aside, the main differences are the new cast. Andrew Garfield assumes the role of teen misfit Peter Parker, who offers a likeable portrayal of the young hero with not only a superior acting pedigree, but a more fitting stature, too. Emma Stone replaces the po-faced Kirsten Dunst, and instead fills the role of Gwen Stacey rather than Mary-Jane -- a character that emerged long before MJ as an original love interest for Parker.

The script is well formulated, which includes a sparse but worthwhile amount of laughs -- the most memorable being Spidey's reaction to a car thief as he falls to his knees exclaiming, "You found my weakness, it's small knives!" However, as much as a reboot may sound fresh, it actually treads very similar ground to the Sam Raimi films: sure, it has to remain faithful to the comics and as an origin story, but there's virtually no inventiveness or originality to Webb's interpretation aside from a non-organic web shooter; instead, one that is attached as a wrist-sized mechanisms. In fact, it treads the steps of Raimi's 2002 original a little too closely (apart from a different villain and heroine), with rehashed scenes displaying Parker's stance against the high school bully for example, albeit achieved in a slightly different way.

A strong focal point is the relationship between Parker and Gwen, whose unfamiliarly with one another quickly develops into an awkward acquaintance before blossoming into something more. This element is perhaps the strongest aspect Webb conveys, as the pair bashfully interact in high school hallways, and what's more is that they convince with their chemistry. The balance of comic book origin tale to high school love story sways largely towards the latter, as a bigger portion of the movie follows their developing romance, detracting from Rhys Ifan's Dr. Connors/The Lizard until the final half hour.

Whilst Webb succeeds with the romantic plot, it would appear the villain of the piece is forgotten about, and when he does begin to feature the lacklustre CGI and pristine lab set-up amongst the faeces of the sewers merely assert it as whimsical rather than threatening. Furthermore, one gets the feeling the director's lack of experience is exposed as the comic book essence is there, but loses its way in the middle.

The subtext is as obvious as Stone's attempt to blend in wearing those arousing knee-length socks, with the film progressing at a safe pace and cautious tone, afraid to delve into darker territory as per Nolan's Batman series. Its messages are a little heavy handed in places -- glaringly so amidst a poignant scene involving the wonderful Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben.

A noticeable disappointment is the amount of exposition that never quite delivers. A promising start indulges in some mystery and intrigue into Parker's earlier life and the relevance of his parents involvement in the film. We're privy to some backstory, but as soon as a snippet of info is extracted the entire thread is extinguished and forgotten about. 

VERDICT: It may be daft in places (a crane alignment scene in particular stands out), but which Marvel films aren't? Webb does a better job with teeny romance than masked vigilante, but The Amazing Spider-Man tweaks what we saw from Raimi and Maguire ten years previously, serving as an alternative, entertaining, yet altogether not-so-different spectacle.

N.B. The cameo from creator Stan Lee is probably his best yet. Borderline genius.