Some films exist for the sake of art. Some for the sake of entertainment. But some, such as the subject of today’s review, exist for the sake of business. Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire walked from Spider-Man 4 shortly before production began due to issues with production dates and so almost immediately Sony got to work on a reboot of the Spidey series. They kind of had to though. If they hadn’t the Spider-Man license would have reverted back to Marvel and we’d probably have Spider-Man in our Avengers by now. Thankfully though Sony didn’t go the same route as the original Fantastic Four film did when it was faced with asimilar dilemma. Instead they knuckled down, put together a good crew headed by a strong director and got to work on The Amazing Spider-Man. And I’ve just seen it. Click the link for the review…
The Amazing Spider-Man charts the story of awkward teenager Peter Parker who one day is bitten by a radioactive spider that gives him superpowers and then his uncle is killed and it’s kinda his fault so then he learns to use his powers responsibly and punch bad guys. See, that’s the trouble with comic book origins. Once you’ve done them once and people have generally agreed that it works there’s not much room for change if ever you ant to go over them again. And that is mostly the main issue with The Amazing Spider-Man. For the first hour you’re pretty much retreading ground covered by Raimi. There’s obviously some changes but the core of it is fairly unchanged. What Helps Amazing Spider-Man though is that the changes that have been made to the origin when compare to the first Raimi film actually work really well.
What director Marc Webb has done here is essentially use the origin story to set up a whole universe, not just one film. It’s similar to the sort of approach you’d expect from a lot of modern TV series in the sense that there are plot threads and arcs hinted at or half explored that you can be sure will be followed up later. For example Norman Osborn’s name is mentioned multiple times. He’s relying on the work of Doc Conners, which has the ultimate goal of regenerating human cells so we can heal and cure ourselves, to save him from an unnamed life threatening illness. We never see Osborn but it’s quite clear his company is heavily invested in saving his life. A little bit Peter Weylund like that. In the Oscorp labs we see an experiment involving genetically engineered spiders that produce some very strong web. These spiders not only leads to an inevitable super allergic reaction for Peter (Andrew Garfield) but also serves as the origin of his web shooters. The web Oscorp is making is one of its products which Peter purchases a batch of ad modifies to make his shooters which both allows Peter to show his smarty pants side and makes it fairly believable that a cash strapped teenager could make such a device without winning the Nobel Prize. I won’t bring up the obvious paper trail it would lead back to him if ever Oscorp figures out that Spidey is using their web though.
Another change is the distinct lack of one Mary-Jane. In her place we have Peter’s true first love Gwen Stacey played by Emma Stone. This is the smart good girl Gwen of the early Spider-Man comics here. Not Ultimate universe punk rock attitude here. Emma Stone looks pretty damn spot on as Gwen it has to be said. I’d say that it’s certainly helped by her wardrobe which is lifted almost verbatim from the comics. Someone in the wardrobe department was a fan of her style for sure. Thankfully she doesn’t fall into the damsel in distress shaped hole that Kirsten Dunst’s Mary-Jane did in EVERY BLOODY FILM. Thankfully her romance with Peter is also played naturally and with the sort of fun charm Webb used in (500) Days Of Summer, a film I really must cover on here some day. On the whole Amazing Spider-Man has a much more natural tone to it despite the giant lizard man walking around flipping cars and what-not.
Doc Conners is played by Wales second favourite export Rhys Ifans. A left-field choice for sure but he plays the role with the sort of maturity we don’t often see from him despite being very much capable. Ifans tends to play either comic relief or some form of oddball in quite a few of his films but he’s a very good dramatic actor who manages to give Conners at least some nuance. He develops, with the help of Parker, the genetic medical breakthrough he had always hoped for but in true meddling with science style irony this breakthrough leads to some side effects that would definitely need a mention on the prescription label. It’s nothing too bad. It just turns him into a 9ft tall lizard. This causes him to pretty much just turn evil thanks to his new Lizard brain. The change isn’t permanent at first allowing for plenty more Rhys action before the films finale. A wise choice to be honest. Can’t have him being a giant cartoon for half the film after-all. The Lizard design is quite reminiscent of the original Steve Ditko design with the lack of a pronounced snout. Another good choice as it allows a lot more readable emotions and performance to come through. Oh yeah, Wales’ first favourite export is Tom Jones.
As the film progresses it does hit a few snags along the way. I’m not so fussed about how long it takes for Parker to actually don the full Spidey costume. It shows a good level of restraint that Webb didn’t feel the need to just skim over the origin parts to get to that point. What does happen as a possible side effect though is about 20 minutes in the middle of the film where the story feels like it’s lost some of its direction. Peter’s trying to find Uncle Ben’s killer, Conners is only just about to test the serum on himself and no clear end goal has been established. This is because Peter hasn’t figured out exactly what sort of hero he wants to be or even if he plans to be a hero. He just wants to catch Ben’s killer. Meanwhile we have the start of the Lizard but he doesn’t have a plan beyond rampage. Eventually Peter encounters The Lizard and realizes that he has to stop him as he kinda helped create him. It’s not until a while later that Lizard is planning his final scheme of mutating the whole of New York into lizard people. The strands exist before hand but they aren’t fully focused in this middle section of the film. It kind of feels like a point where one episode of a TV show would have ended and the next would have begun. Which again brings up the multi film arc the film is also trying to establish.
As far as effects go they’re largely impressive but there’s little true spectacle…. I should have said little that’s spectacular and then have said pun not intended right? The only major large scale set pieces involve Lizards first rampage on a bridge, that gives us at least a few great images, and the Oscorp Tower roof finale. It’s a bigger finale than the one in the first Spider-Man film though if a little less personal for the characters. The 3D is handled well mostly although the nature of Spidey means that there’s a lot of fast moving moments that can lead to some of that lovely 3D double image effect we get with pans and swooping camera angles. It also doesn’t help that the films darker colour tone is exacerbated by the drop in brightness caused by 3D. I know this is a more reality toned version of Spidey but not all his adventures need to happen at night. He’s a bright, fun character. That said the actual thematic tone is kept fairly light with quite a healthy smattering of humour. Webb also does an excellent job portraying the pain of losing a family member other a number of scenes which is refreshing when a lot of films will just kill and move on.
Overall The Amazing Spider-Man is a much better film than I was expecting it to be after seeing some pretty lacklustre trailers. I like that they’ve taken the time to set up future plot threads but would have preferred a stronger second act. The relationship between Gwen and Peter is very well handled and doesn’t feel the slightest bit forced. The action has it’s moments and the gradual improvement of Peter’s understanding of his powers are represented well. Those web shooters do look like toys though with their flashing LEDs. The film has turned out to be a much better experience than Sony’s desperation to hold onto a license had hinted at. I’d say I’m ready for more adventures of this incarnation of Spider-Man and really hope that they don’t just rush through events that happen in the comics just for the sake of having them happen. I would hope the next film would have a nice smooth arc that hopefully doesn’t take place too much later. Make sure to stay around for the extra stinger scene in the credits. I’d like to hear who people think the man is in that scene. I have my ideas and would be quite happy to see the sequel if my guess it correct.