Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man
Reboot inbound! The webheaded wonder is back, thankfully he delivers more than he underperforms. Though the moments of drag are mostly a result of of ‘sloppy seconds’ syndrome rather than any lack of real integrity. You can’t shake the symptoms of not only déjà vu, but also the nagging fact that many key elements were executed far more memorably the last time Spidey was granted an origin story.
Unlike Batman’s mid-00’s rejuvenation, Sam Raimi’s culturally groundbreaking (without it, ditto to The Avengers) venture stacks up alongside Dick Donner’s Superman as the most iconic rendition of the superhero in question. Structurally it is superior to Mark Webb’s (admittedly valiant) effort in its delivery of the origins of its hero and villain. Raimi’s juxtaposed Peter Parker’s transformation with Norman Osborn’s descent into Green Goblin madness, the shifts took place in tandem. Here Peter Parker and Curt Connors aka The Lizard are dealt with sequentially, Parker’s shift clocking up the most screentime before the emphasis turns to Connors.
As for Peter Parker himself, Andrew Garfield’s performance cannot be faulted, but the writing can be. His wisecracking Spiderman is virtually flawless, his Parker is a little harder to swallow. If there is one thing Tobey McGuire can be praised with, his Parker may have been too sincere but his timidity was a trademark of the character. Webb’s skateboarding Parker is so trendy and rebellious from the outset that a) you begin to wonder why Flash Thompson would bother picking on him and b) is this even Peter Parker anymore? Without a sense of alienation, Parker is never truly an outcast and as a result he never really changes into Spiderman.
For what it’s worth, the once the mask is on the party begins. With some of this summer’s most thrilling superhuman action thus far, Spiderman’s action chops deal heaps of peril, hurt and danger. All of which was nowhere to be found in The Avengers. Any complaints are mostly found around the nitty-gritty mechanics e.g. if you’re going to introduce mechanical webshooters, then why don’t they ever run out of web-goo? For all of its fealty to comic lore, you can’t help but feel that the previous incarnation’s (itself reverse-engineered from a bio-savvy draft by James Cameron) organic web glands were a more economic solution. Despite some satisfying swinging and hurtling through the city, the CG is nothing really to Marvel at, The Lizard could have been executed perfectly well back in 2002. In terms of the imagination on display, Raimi was wittier but Webb doesn’t relent in plying some keen sight gags and riffs of Spidey’s powers. From getting his computer’s keyboard keys stuck to his spidery fingers, to flitting inside a crane arm and slingshotting out of it like an impromptu cannon.
There are obvious signs of story tweaks to this version, be it the events leading to the death of Uncle Ben (Raimi’s: Peter is $2900 short of a wrestling match reward. Webb’s: Peter is $1.75 short of a milkshake-no joke) or the ostensibly deeper mysteries behind Peter’s parentage and apparent genetic modification (prior to his run in with the radioactive arachnid) left unexplained for a later sequel (in true Marvel fashion), which is every bit as frustrating as it sounds.
The experience isn’t as memorable or as unique as the first foray, but once you can stomach the soggy first act the rest plays like gangbusters. The 3D truly comes into play during the set pieces (the cinematography elsewhere borders on sit-com flatness) and the verbal and visual gags hit the spot in all the right places, mask on and off (although nothing beats the ‘go web go!’ scene from Raimi’s version). The result is satisfying, often thrilling and a cheerful reprise for the friendly neighbourhood human spider. Still could’ve used Bruce Campbell though.