Newest Review: ... high school kid and school photographer Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is bullied but clever, abandoned by his parents when he was very ... more
A Rightful Reboot
The Amazing Spider Man (DVD)
Member Name: Puggers
The Amazing Spider Man (DVD)
Advantages: Superbly characterised, slickly made, greater depth than previous films.
The fact that I wasn't enormously excited about seeing the new Spiderman probably reflects the decision to junk the previous trilogy and start over again. After a promising first film with Tobey Maguire as the web-slinging protagonist, film two was fun but silly and film three featuring a lot of shark-jumping. As much as anything, Maguire just wasn't a terribly convincing superhero.
Enter new blood, then - director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) and star Andrew Garfield (Never Let Me Go), and a new approach to the series. There's nothing radically different from the previous three films here - not in the way that Batman Begins marked a clear break from its predecessors - but it does feel like there's a slightly stronger emphasis on character development here. The film seems more preoccupied by Spiderman's background and the mythology that surrounds him, and the character's inner turmoil is pushed to the fore. This was a theme in Sam Raimi's movies, but it often seemed like lip-service to the idea, whereas Webb manages to get under his hero's skin (and Spidy-suit).
The director acknowledges this, saying, "I think we saw the origin of Spider-Man before but not the origin of Peter Parker." This makes a real difference to the character and underpins everything in the film.
The plot is constrained in a sense by the fact that this is another genesis-story. We know we're going to see certain scenes - the spider-bite, the transformation, the growing power/responsibility struggles, his uncle's influence - so there's an extent to which the film's fairly predictable. That said, the scenes are so well-done, and Garfield is such a charismatic, magnetic presence, you hardly notice that you've seen it all before.
The film's villain brings another twist to proceedings, and contributes greatly to the feeling of depth in the film - you always get the sense that there's so much more to the Spiderman world, and so many more stories the filmmakers want to tell you, and Dr Curt Connors is a big part of this. A former colleague of Peter Parker's father, he knows more than he's letting on about Parker's background and family, but that's evidently a story for another film (the sequel is out in two years). This time round, we focus on his struggles to perfect his wonder drug, which aims to harness the regenerative power of lizard DNA to rebuild damaged human bodies. Missing an arm himself, Connors hopes to be one of the first beneficiaries of his work.
Inadvertently, Parker's interest in his own past hands Connors the missing part of the drug's makeup, and the initial trials seem to work. Love interest Gwen Stacey (an impressive Emma Stone) appears on the scene too, and all seems to be going relatively swimmingly. Needless to say, this doesn't last. Bad things happen on the drug front, new villain the Lizard makes an appearance, and the film does its superhero thing and swings into save-the-world action.
This part of the film - the stunts and visuals - is impressive, but there's not so much of an impact here - we've seen it before, more or less. That's not a criticism, but it's the characters that make this film more than the action for me.
Garfield's a brilliant young actor, someone who can juggle nuances of personality with ease and make a person - even such a well-known comic book creation - feel wholly real. He's perfect for the role, and has the physical presence and swagger to play Spiderman as well as he does Peter Parker. He's also capable of darker turns than Maguire - he can play the hero, but he spends parts of the film being a bit of a jerk, which works. Despite there being a predictable arc to his acquiring of superpowers, Garfield steers the character safely away from stereotype.
Rhys Ifans does a fine job as Connors/The Lizard - another character who is conflicted and at war with himself, echoing Parker's troubles. Backed by an excellent supporting cast, there's barely a foot put wrong throughout the film (although the CGI Lizard looks a little odd).
Ultimately, this film did what the best movies do: it surprised me (albeit partly because I had low expectations). It's turned a failing franchise into something fresh and invigorated, and I'll certainly be in the queue for part two.
Summary: The franchise is back on course.