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There was a very strange mix of outrage and apathy when Columbia Pictures and Marvel Studios announced that they’d be moving forward with their Spider-Man franchise without the involvement of Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. The reboot announcement came less than three years after the bloated mess of Spider-Man 3 disappointed fans and critics alike.
In many ways the producers had no other option but to follow the age-old comic-book tradition of hitting the reset button and starting from scratch. Bringing in a fresh director in Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) and two hot young things in Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, they said that this would be a completely fresh take on Marvel’s most beloved superhero. Fans were told that it would feel much more like the comic-books in tone.
Working from a screenplay by three other credited writers, Webb’s film goes back to basics by telling the story of Peter Parker and his early relationship with Gwen Stacy. Despite the fact that Mary-Jane Watson and Gwen co-existed in the early comic books (and briefly in Spider-man 3 with Bryce Dallas-Howard playing her as an unlikable blonde go-getter), things are much more focused here and MJ is nowhere to be seen.
This focus on their blossoming romance is probably the film’s best asset. Every comment or review of The Amazing Spider-Man so far has rightly referenced “the chemistry” between Stone and Garfield (who are also doing a line in real-life) and it’s a real relief to see someone as vivacious as Stone as the subject of Peter Parker’s desires rather than Kirsten Dunst’s rather tepid portrayal of MJ. Garfield has never failed to disappoint in his short career and here he is both believable and endearing as he transforms from the awkward, stuttering outcast to the confident crime-fighter who gets the girl.
A lot of the film’s early promotional material focused on the role that Peter’s dead parents would have on their son as he grows up, but really it’s only in the film’s opening prologue where this is explored. This was something that wasn’t really touched on in Raimi’s trilogy and was meant to be a way of setting Webb’s film apart, but unfortunately the film just ends up going over veeeery familiar territory with the shooting of Uncle Ben. It is always a real homely pleasure to spend time with Martin Sheen on screen, but these scenes just feel like an homage to Raimi’s 2002 film. Sally Field completes the family tree by taking on the role of Aunt May Who Worries A Lot And Never Gets To Leave The Kitchen.
The ever-versatile Rhys Ifans plays Dr. Curt Connors, an Oscorp scientist working on limb regeneration research who decides to turn his serums on himself (shock!) in order to grow back an arm that he lost. Unfortunately one of the side-effects of the treatment is his transformation into a nine foot reptilian humanoid lizard. He’s not up there with Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2 but is still an engaging villain with genuine motivation and a tortured soul.
There are moments where the more cynical amongst us may groan at how cheesy things get, but this is really down to the source material. The original Amazing Spider-Man comic-books were unashamedly clean-cut and even Raimi’s first two films pitched Spidey as a force for good uniting all New Yorkers against evil in a way that would have made even more viewers balk if it hadn’t been in the wake of 9/11.
With all this groundwork now laid, you do hope that Columbia/Marvel try and strike out on their own a little bit more with the sequel. There’s unresolved issues with Peter’s parents, Oscorp, Gwen and the packet of eggs that Peter gives Aunt May near the end of the film, so there is plenty to work with in the future.
All in all, even in this “post-Avengers” era, we should be happy enough with a perfectly competent superhero movie with great performances from a central couple and a solid villain. But despite all the heart that the film shows, you can’t escape the sense that it’s all just a little bit surplus to requirements.
USA / Directed By: Marc Webb / Written By: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves / Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field / 136min / Action, Adventure, Fantasy / Release: 3 July 2012 (Irl/UK/US/Canada)