Director: Marc Webb
Posters for The Amazing Spider-Man have advertised it as ‘the untold story’. There’s only one problem: that’s flagrant false advertising. Sam Raimi ushered Spider-Man to the big screen in 2002 after numerous aborted attempts (most notably by James Cameron), and, while far from perfect, is an adequate origin story. Did we really need to be told all this again? No, but having poisoned Spider-Man with deadly Venom, Sony have to get their most profitable franchise rolling again, and thus we arrive at Spidey Mk. II.
Right from the offset, there’s no sign that the filmmakers are trying to overcome the familiarity of Peter Parker’s story. An opening scene sees a young Peter being left in the care of his uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and aunt May (Sally Field) whilst his scientist parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) go off on secret business into the night, never to come back. This’d be eerie, except subsequent revelations suggest that there’s nothing sinister in this beyond coincidence. Actually, coincidences crop up all over TASM’s plot. For the second time of note, Andrew Garfield plays a guy with a knack for algorithims. Parker’s a slightly savvier nerd than the first time around. He’s handy around the house, he skateboards, and is willing to get in a fight even without his superpowers. The coincidences kick in when he seeks answers to his parents’ deaths. He goes to the headquarters of Oscorp, their former employers. Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone), Peter’s crush, just happens to be working there as an intern. She also just happens to be an assistant to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a former work colleague and friend to Peter’s parents. Wow, what are the odds?!
Having sneaked into Oscorp, Peter stumbles across a lab developing extra-strength wire from genetically modified spider webs. One genetically modified spider bite later, and the revenge of the nerd begins in earnest. Parallel to Peter’s story, Connors’ experiments with reptilian limb regeneration take a turn for the worst as his desire to regrow his severed arm get the better of him. There’s a sense of tragedy to Connor’s story, and it’s effectively brought out by Ifans. The only problem is when he actually undergoes his transformation into Spidey’s arch-enemy the Lizard that problems arise. The uninspired CG design for the Lizard makes him look more like the offspring of Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla than a genuine figure of menace.
Kudos to the script: it actually tries to flesh out the characters and relationships. Sheen is as dignified and inspiring as the kindly uncle and Field, though a little underused, is wonderfully maternal. Garfield makes for a very likeable Parker, and he strikes real sparks with Stone, who’s just adorable. Unfortunately, once we’ve settled in with these characters and have listened to them argue/banter, the blockbuster requisites demand action set-pieces and web-slinging aplenty. Director Marc Webb (who previously made the enjoyable (500) Days of Summer) gets the character beats right, but his action scenes are unremarkable. The Lizard’s plan for a biological attack is rushed through, and the CG-heavy set-pieces are unremarkable. There’s more tension in a dinner discussion between Parker and Gwen’s father (Denis Leary, repeat scene-stealer) than in any of Spidey’s and the Lizard’s routs. By the way, Mr. Stacey also happens to be the chief of police and is leading the hunt for Spider-Man. Another coincidence!
For a film trying to step out of Sam Raimi’s shadow, TASM can’t escape the basic story nor the sense of humour that stood out in the first three films. In the comics, Spider-Man makes wisecracks whilst taking down bad guys; despite the humour in Raimi’s films, TASM wants to cling closer to the comics and thus has no choice but to keep the cheesy lines (They also make Spider-Man’s web slingers mechanical rather than genetic, as per the comics). The cheesiness also extends to a scene in which the citizens of New York have to help our resident arachnophile in his crime-fighting activites. There was a similar scene in the first Spider-Man, but it was just post-9/11 and seemed forgivable. Here, however, it’s just another element in the clean and marketable image being presented here, with action and baddies for the boys and shirtless Garfield and more romance for the girls (At least, that’s probably how the reboot was pitched). Therein lies the problem: this is an all-too human hero, with far too much emotionality to be taken seriously as a superhero. He’s so human he just can’t resist taking off his mask and showing his face to people! Not clever, but then Peter’s search engine of choice is Bing!, so common sense is clearly lacking. By the time James Horner’s intrusive score has burst your eardrums (Note to brass section: SHUT UP!), you’ll realize that there’s little here that wasn’t covered the first time around. It’s diverting enough, but chances are no-one will miss the Spider when he’s crushed at the box office by the Bat.