The Amazing Spider-Man REVIEW

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in The Amazing Spider-Man.

"Shouldn't you be hanging upside down for this bit?"

Release date:
3 July 2012
12A | 136 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan, Chris Zylka

The unexpected breakout star of The Amazing Spider-Man is a cellphone. No, really.

Peter Parker has it glued to his ear for much of the movie, even when he’s Spider-Man. Either that, or he’s playing games on it. It’s in those moments, when he’s lounging on a giant web passing time with a puzzle app, or crouched on a parapet thousands of feet above Manhattan, being told by Aunt May to remember to buy some eggs on the way home, that the 21st century big-screen Spidey resonates in harmony with the Spidey that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created 50 years ago. Even when he’s hunting down villains, he’s still just a teenager, living in the real world, dealing with everyday problems, and the film captures that enduring Spidey spirit perfectly.

Any worries that after the much-loved Sam Raimi Spider-Man films (well, the first two anyway…) Sony would reboot the franchise with a loud, vacuous, gimmicky, MTV-edited, soulless crowd-pleaser are dispelled immediately with a summer blockbuster that doesn’t have an action sequence for a good half hour. The most amazing thing about this Spider-Man is how much heart and genuinely warm storytelling it has.

It just as rapidly quashes any doubts about the wisdom of telling the Spider-Man origin story again. This is no mere remake. Neither is it quite the “untold story” the pre-publicity promised. It is – to reclaim a phrase that’s far too overused these days, but is perfectly apt here – a reimagining. Admittedly, this could also be interpreted as “trampling all over canon”, but with the comics industry rebooting its universes in “52 Ultimate” ways (or whatever) with alarming regularity, you can hardly criticise it for that.

So yeah, the broad strokes are familiar, but the details are intriguingly shuffled, amended, expanded and reinvented. Suddenly, Peter Parker’s dad is in the mix (in a big way), and the infamous wrestling episode is reduced to a nod and wink that still somehow feels satisfying. We would go into more details, but in a film where the new elements are what gives it a purpose, that would be spoilering of the worst kind.

Andrew Garfield is brilliant. Whether his slightly less nerdy, but slightly more nervy Peter Parker is better than Tobey Maguire’s is debatable, but his Spider-Man is magnificent. He quips away like he does in the comics, and even from behind the mask he makes the humour work. His body language is spot-on too – this is a gangly, gawky Spider-Man, who somehow still looks formidable even in the red-and-blue unitard, who can convey a slight change in emotion with the merest of shrugs.

Emma Stone is possibly even more impressive as Gwen Stacy, mainly because she triumphs over a rather blandly-written role. There’s little in the script that would lead you to believe she’d fall for Parker, but Stone utterly convinces you that she would. Their scenes together are a delight, and show that teenage romance doesn’t have to be all Twilighty angst. Though there is a bit of angst. And that works too.

In fact, the entire cast is strong, especially Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben. Everybody will wish they had an Uncle Ben after this film. In fact, you wonder why Peter misses his dad at all. Sally Field is great as Aunt May, and as Captain Stacy, Denis Leary (just like his on-screen daughter) magnificently overcomes a part that’s little more than a stock comic trope (as the gruff sceptic who thinks Spidey is a public menace, he’s basically J Jonah Jameson with a badge).

The action, while a tad over-reliant on CG at times, delivers some pulse-pounding thrills, and doesn’t overly rely on those videogame-style POV shots that dominated the early publicity, thank God. The webswinging has moved up a notch since the Raimi films, and director Marc Webb finds refreshing new ways to shoot Spidey’s signature moves.

But where Webb really excels is in the character moments. He directs the romance with charm; he directs the scenes with Parker learning about his powers with a perfect mix of humour and paranoia; he directs cheesy moments (and there are a couple) with such brazen gusto that you feel like cheering.

There’s a brilliant score from James Horner too. For the first time in many a year, you may be humming a superhero film theme tune on the way home. But it’s not just about the fanfare. Horner also comes up with a gloriously brutal soundscape for the Lizard.

Which, sadly, is where the film goes awry. The Amazing Spider-Man has a major flaw that also hampered the first Raimi Spidey film – its villain. Rhys Ifans is fine as Curt Connors, and does his best as The Lizard, but there‘s nothing special about him as an opponent. He’s the well-meaning scientist who overreaches himself, and becomes a ranting supervillain. His evil plot is a one-line pitch that’s been used by countless supervillains before and leads to a big climax that, while exciting, has the whiff of over-familiarity.

He’s not even a particularly well-visualised villain, blandly designed and often falling foul of some of the film’s less convincing CG. It’s a real shame that with so much invention going into the rest of this movie makeover the villain feels so off-the-shelf.

But as the film to kickstart the franchise afresh, The Amazing Spider-Man more than succeeds. It may not have the non-stop action and spectacle of Avengers Assemble, but it does have characters you can fall in love with, and bags of charm. You feel the series is in safe hands with Webb, Garfield and Stone. And in an extra scene in the end credits, it also delivers an enticing cliffhanger that should definitely leave you wanting more…

Dave Golder

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