The Amazing Spider-Man reboot didn’t arrive with the kind of media circus that the masked vigilante is accustomed to on the streets of NYC. Instead it quietly spun a solid, intricate plot in a corner left abandoned for the past five-years and waited patiently for the buzz to begin. Once word gets out, Marc Webb’s Spidey will be swarmed: this is the spandex-clad saviour no one knew they needed.
Sure the quips aren’t as quotable as The Avengers, or the action as big-balled and sprawling, but there’s a real story there and an emotional trajectory that forces you to care. Happy 50th Birthday, Spider-Man. The Brit who got bit, actor Andrew Garfield, is superb as the skater boi meets science nerd turned webslinger. He starts out as an updated outsider, popping contact lenses until he stumbles upon his father’s specs in a briefcase that propels him on a journey to discover the fate of his folks.
Square specs on and the high school image is complete, with Gwen Stacy (played by an endearing Emma Stone) making the opening act look straight from the pages of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s own Amazing Spider-Man circa ’65. Gwen is Peter Parker’s intellectual equal, number one in her class if you ask her, excelling as his squeeze and making Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane appear shallow for falling for the hero first, boy second. “I’ve been bitten,” Peter tells a wide-eyed Gwen, “Me too,” comes the sincere reply.
Their first kiss succeeds in rivalling the memorable peanut smuggling, upside down antics of the Sam Raimi original and delivers a very real and passionate clinch (with webbing). You can practically hear the hormones firing and sparking. She’s effortlessly likeable, a honey trap for fans that are bound to feel a creeping dread the deeper the character gets into the franchise. It’s billed as the ‘untold story’ and manages to cover new ground whilst putting a fresh spin on the cornerstones of Spidey’s origin. The radioactive arachnid lurks in a lab at Oscorp where Peter’s search for the parentals winds up.
Here we’re introduced to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) who’s working on a formula that can regrow limbs (including his own absent appendage) and ultimately make everyone equal. It’s a noble ambition and one that easily gets out of control, fluidly slipping into danger territory once the experiment goes awry and he becomes a giant city lizard. Ifans plays the tragic antagonist with subtlety, teasing the would-be father figure role before his descent into full-blown, green tinged madness. This scientific development marks a huge breakthrough in villainy that leaves the Lokis of the world looking around wildly for a better excuse. The film is by no means flawless, though.
The CGI rendering of the Lizard really is as awful as you suspected it might be. Police Captain George Stacy sums up the incredulity we feel with a curt, “Do I look like the mayor of Tokyo to you?” You never quite believe the monster is there in the scene rather than in a computer and his booming voice is too over-the-top evil to be taken seriously. Step away from the microphone and snarl or something, Rhys.
There’s also an unnecessary nod to the comics when he shrugs on the shredded lab coat for the final showdown and engages in fighting talk that teeters uncomfortably on cringe. Even Spidey’s wisecracks misfire when he starts pounding on a car thief, kicking off a running commentary that Iron Man should have given him pointers on. Elsewhere, the script is much slicker and succeeds in spinning a yarn that will have you displaying genuine concern for the main players, and even the fate of some bit-part ones. Martin Sheen makes a wonderful Uncle Ben and he’s given some great material to work with, whilst Sally Field’s calm and confrontation-skirting Aunt May balances the guardian double act.
Much like the original venture, The Amazing Spider-Man takes its time developing the characters so that by the time Peter gets in his first sticky situation, you definitely give a damn. Incidentally, the scenes where his spidey senses kick in are some of the best in the film, adding humour that the Tobey Maguire version lacked as he grapples with his newfound super strength; slamming doors never looked so satisfying.
This reboot also corrects what irked so many the first time around: those web-shooters. True to the comics, Peter has manufactured his own artificial weapons loaded with super-strong adhesive. The fact they are artificial rather than organic also gives him a weakness, which every good superhero needs. The whole shebang was captured in stereoscopic 3D rather than a shoddy post-conversion and if any superhero was going to suit this medium, it was always going to be Spidey. He shoots from one corner of the screen to a truck to a crane leaving us suspended, 60-storeys up in downtown New York and in awe of the view.
The city makes an exhilarating backdrop for his urban ballet and seems much more grimy Gotham than The Daily Bugle’s usual technicolour beat. Patriotic parades and daytime adventures are traded for back alley brawls, gunfire and those graffitied arachnids that form part of Spidey’s viral marketing campaign, on and off film. Thanks to this stellar retelling, Andrew Garfield’s spin will be going global.