The Amazing Spider-Man, 2012.
Directed by Marc Webb.
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan and Chris Zylka.
A brilliant but troubled young man is bitten by a genetically altered spider, changing him forever.
We know this story, don’t we? We’ve heard it all before, so they say. Not exactly. The Amazing Spider-Man is all heart, and despite re-telling the origin of Peter Parker just 10 years after it was told by Sam Raimi, this one plays out a little differently and more engagingly.
I’ve always liked Spider-Man, however I have been critical of The Amazing Spider-Man from the offset: the teaser trailer, the teaser posters, all failed to excite me. And I voiced that loudly out of an appreciation for the character. This film had a tough job in front of it; it was coming off the back of a previous, very successful trilogy, despite a horrendous third instalment which frankly undid all of the good work Sam Raimi did in the first two. In essence, The Amazing Spider-Man was Spider-Man’s Batman Begins. It needed to reboot the franchise and get Peter Parker back on track. And boy, does it do just that.
The film plays out to pretty much the similar beats we have seen before, but that’s because you cannot change the basics of who Spider-Man is. You just cannot. What this re-telling does do however is change Peter Parker from what we have seen previously and show you a different side to him. When we first meet Peter it is a flashback to his childhood. We see the moment his parents left, of their own accord, under suspicious circumstances, leaving Peter in the care of his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Peter is hurting, and you can really sense that in Andrew Garfield’s performance. Peter is of course bullied, as usual, however this time he stands up for himself, as well as others, and this time the beatings are brutal. Gone are the trip-ups as he gets on the school bus and in are powerful shots to the gut.
Things begin to change for Peter and a series of events are set in motion when he discovers his father’s briefcase, hidden away like a dirty secret in the basement. In it he finds a picture of his father with work colleague Dr. Curt Connors, leading him to Oscorp and that fateful spider bite.
From here everything plays out much differently. When Peter begins to obtain his new powers, he is frightened, and frankly why wouldn’t you be? If you woke up and suddenly could hang from ceilings, climb walls and had the reflexes of a god, would you simply smile and check your new muscles out in the mirror? Or would you freak out? The brilliance of Peter as a scientist is much more a focal point in this series, and is in fact integral to the plot.
Uncle Ben’s role is also more central to the plot, and his relationship with Peter is much more father/son than what we’ve seen before. This Uncle Ben shouts, and gets angry, scolding Peter for neglecting his commitments, responsibilities and promises. And it’s here we really see the heartbreak and pain that Peter suffers from; it’s gut wrenching, and brings a tear to the eye. Uncle Ben’s death plays a much larger role in the creation of the persona of Spider-Man, as Peter sets out firstly on seeking revenge – which is completely understandable given the circumstances – before events point him in the direction of using his new gifts for something greater, all stemming from Ben’s words in their last meeting.
The tone is dark, and in the build-up to this film I was concerned it would be too dark for the sake of being dark, and that all of the images of Peter wearing a hoody and talk of him being “moody” and “brooding” would really miss the mark and simply be adhering to the current trend of teenage drama. However it is pitch perfect, and completely in character. It’s never over the top or over played. Peter’s pain and loss is hinted at slightly in his loneliness, and then aggressively when the moment is right and the emotion boils over. This film is all heart, and if you don’t feel for Peter then I can’t imagine you have much of one. What I loved about this Peter was his arrogance, his self-assured cockiness. That’s Peter Parker, and it’s great to see him finally on screen.
The film really is about loss and grieving, and the villain, Dr Curt Connors / The Lizard fits that theme perfectly. Connors has been dealing for some time with the loss of his arm, which he hopes to re-grow using cross species genetics, much like reptiles have the ability to do. Connors hopes to change the world, and in this regard he is sympathetic. Connors hasn’t moved on from his loss, whereas Peter tries to and finds the things in his life which can help him move forward. He isn’t alone, and he never was.
The film has its faults, I will not deny that. The action sequences are disappointing as they never really reach any kind of great spectacle or become thrilling and exhilarating; they seem very much a back drop for the actual character development, which frankly is fine with me. That being said, Spidey, as he swings through the city and moves across walls and ceilings, has never, ever, looked so good on screen. Andrew Garfield talked about wanting to mimic an actual spider in his movements as it hadn’t been done before, and he accomplishes that perfectly.
There is a complaint that a few plot points are never answered – specifically Peter’s parents’ disappearance – which is not true. There is an answer for why they left, it’s there, it’s hinted at and explained to us by Peter himself as he figures it out. Yes, we get the sense that there is more to it, but that’s building a mystery successfully. The reason his parents left IS answered, and that’s all we need in this film because it answers the questions that Peter himself is trying to figure out. But the deeper mystery is there, and we leave the cinema wanting to come back to find out the answers, rather than leaving feeling like we were short changed. I’ll concede that the alluded to fact that Peter was experimented on by his father and Connors is kind of dropped, but it’s never really picked up to begin with. Again, it’s not relevant to the plot of the film, but instead establishes a deeper mystery upon which to build.
The cast are brilliant, and it’s really the strongest area of the film. Garfield, Stone, Ifans, Leary, Sheen and Field all put in incredible performances that sell their characters and make us care for them. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, who is a credit to the writing as much as it is the acting, is an independent free-thinking woman who is engaging, believable and enjoyable to watch. Unlike the shrieking, damsel-in-distress of Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane.
All in all The Amazing Spider-Man is a terrific film. It’s fun, witty, and has tonnes of heart. If this film was to be the Batman Begins of its franchise, it achieved just that. And I do hope that Sony change their decision to have the writers from the Transformers series write the sequel as everything that we’ve seen thus far has hit the right notes, and I’m wanting more of the same.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★