Despite the agonizingly long period production teams spent in development between Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 3 (2007) and the eventual release of Marc Webb’s* re-boot The Amazing Spiderman on Tuesday (3rd July), the final result actually feels frustratingly rushed.
Marc Webb’s Spiderman origin story casts Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, and swings into his awkward, adolescent life at approximately the same point as Raimi did ten years ago. This time round, however, the archetypal nerdy protagonist has been updated for a more modern age, sporting black skinny jeans and Nike 6.0s throughout. Although still tormented by school bully Flash (Chris Zylka), Webb’s Peter is cooler and more convincing than Raimi’s conception. Garfield (though 28) is younger in appearance than Tobey Maguire’s incarnation, and more attractive (see below). However, his slim physique also renders Garfield a more vulnerable Spiderman, reinforcing the sense that he is simply an ordinary teenager graced/cursed with superhuman powers. The decision to repeatedly clad Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) in nineties knee-socks is a glaring faux-pas when juxtaposed with this new-and-improved Peter.
However, Emma Stone’s acting is no disappointment, as fans of her turns in Easy A and The Help will expect. Critics have already remarked that it is the powerful leads who carry this film, rather than the somewhat shaky plot. It’s true that the screenplay suffers from a few overly-convenient expositions, such as the flooded cellar which you just know will lead Peter to clues about the mysterious disappearance of his parents, but at least this back story is given more interesting and intelligent significance than in the earlier franchise.
Where the film mainly falls down is through striving to be like other science-fiction and superhero films. This tendency is prominent in the positing of the corrupt scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) as villain, with the unimaginatively named alias ‘The Lizard’. As is true of all the principals, the characterisation of Dr. Connors is strong. Although his human story may tug at heartstrings, his lizard form is frankly ridiculous, especially when endowed with Ifan’s growling voice. In my opinion, the lizard can join the 2012 Marvel wall of laughably outlandish creations, alongside the whale-ship (WHY?) from Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.
Despite these issues, Webb’s ability as a director, apparent from his 2009 debut (500) Days of Summer, is most evident in scenes with little to do with super-heroism. The dialogue (or lack thereof) in Peter and Gwen’s hallway interaction is an excellent case in point. The superb handling of human interaction and emotion suggests Webb is more comfortable in the world of reality (albeit a kooky one), than of science-fiction. Scenes such as Peter’s repeated kitchen encounters with aunt May (Sally Field) and Gwen’s witty handling of her father’s near-discovery of Peter/Spiderman in her room make both emotive and comic dialogue strengths of the film. This is partially thanks to Steve Kloves, the screenwriter who penned all of the Harry Potter adaptations, before collaborating on The Amazing Spiderman.
There are, of course, exceptions. The wordplay surrounding Garfield’s cheesy line ‘I’ve been bitten’ is almost as bad as the many puns made on Marc Webb’s surname since he signed to the project. Unfortunately, the burgeoning romance between Peter and Gwen is also allowed to escalate too quickly; they go straight from painful, tongue-tied conversations to Gwen’s cavalier lack of surprise when Peter climbs through her bedroom window.
Sketchy plot aside, The Amazing Spiderman has plenty of stand-out moments which go some way to living up to the titular description, though the film as a whole does not achieve this. Action such as Peter’s skateboarding exhibition enhanced by his developing spidey skills is impeccably choreographed, as is his accidental display of new-found physical prowess on the subway. The latter also provides well-received humour, something which is perhaps too sparse, especially during the final act. Webb’s attention to detail, both in terms of the characters’ personalities and motivations, and in pleasing prop particulars like the inclusion of The Daily Bugle newspaper (as originally seen in the comics) allows The Amazing Spiderman to impress visually, if not narratively.
*Insert spider-web(b) themed witticism here.