Thursday, 10 January 2013

Film Review | The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy has never been something that truly held my interest. Having seen all three I can say they're entertaining enough as a collection of films, reaching their high point during Spider-Man 2 before taking something of a nosedive in terms of quality with Spider-Man 3. But compared to other superheroes, Spidey just never resonated in the same way as others such as Batman or Superman. I was genuinely intrigued therefore when Marvel made the decision that, instead of developing a fourth installment of Raimi's franchise, they would reboot the franchise returning to the superhero's origins with an all new cast and director. A bold move considering Raimi's first film was less than ten years old at the time.

The film takes the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) right back to its beginnings. Having lived with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) since he was a young boy after his parents were killed in a plane crash, a teenage Peter attempts to track down Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) who previously worked closely with his father. Whilst at Connors' research lab, Peter is bitten by a radioactive spider which leads to him developing superhuman abilities.

Comparisons between this film and Raimi's efforts are inevitable, if not mandatory, so let's get them out of the way. In terms of casting, The Amazing Spider-Man feels superior, which is impressive considering the strength of many of the actors involved in Spider-Man and its sequels. Garfield brings a grittier quality to Peter Parker than we've seen on screen before, using the teenager's issues over his parents' absence and then death to develop the character into a compelling screen presence. Opposite Garfield is Emma Stone as love interest Gwen Stacy, a relationship that feels more satisfying than that seen between Peter and Mary-Jane in Raimi's films. Stone does well to give Gwen some pleasing depth, never allowing the character to be a one-dimensional object of Spidey's affections, aided further by the script's wise avoidance of ever making her a hackneyed damsel in distress.

Elsewhere the casting is fine, but never outstanding. Ifans as Curt Connors does well, but never truly shines, and feels a little miscast when in his mutated form as the film's main antagonist The Lizard. Denis Leary does better as Gwen's father police captain George Stacy, although is never given quite opportunity to develop the character in a genuinely satisfying way. The film's strongest casting choices are those of Peter's Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Sheen is reliably strong as Ben, bringing welcome echoes of his defining role as President Bartlet from television series The West Wing to make Peter's uncle a caring yet formidable presence; it's almost a shame that Spidey's origin story dictates that Sheen's character be absent for a significant part of the story. Field as Aunt May is superb, bringing gravity and heart to a role which gives Garfield's Peter some necessary emotional anchorage.

Despite the relative success in The Amazing Spider-Man's casting, the film's script and story never come across with the same level of accomplishment. The plot never resonates with any genuine threat or mystery, and takes a while to get going - the seemingly eternal blight of superhero origin stories that few manage to avoid - making the two-and-a-quarter hour running time feel overlong and somewhat self-indulgent on the part of director Mark Webb. For a superhero film the action feels restrained; the final battle between Spider-Man and The Lizard is unimpressive, and aside from a tense rescue sequence on a bridge, Spidey's heroic exploits are quite forgettable. There are also a few notably sloppy scripting choices, with plot threads and characters introduced but never resolved, instead frustratingly forgotten about.

Perhaps The Amazing Spider-Man's biggest flaw, however, is that it just never feels different enough to what we've seen before. True, the darker aesthetic that Webb has gone for is often markedly different to the vibrant cartoon colours of Raimi's vision, but this never feels separate enough from what has gone before. It's perhaps a problem that was always going to be unavoidable when rebooting the franchise so soon after its original incarnation. There's a lot here that wouldn't fit into Raimi's trilogy, but also a considerable amount that quite comfortably would. With Marvel establishing their own Cinematic Universe over the past five years, the studio was perhaps left with something of a quandary in rebooting the Spider-Man franchise. What we're left with is a new beginning for Spider-Man that's in many ways pleasing and enjoyable, but ultimately underwhelming and that feels like it was created out of necessity rather than artistic desire. It's perhaps a cheap shot, but The Amazing Spider-Man never lives up to the adjective used within its title.


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