Reboot. There really isn’t another word in the sci-fi and comic-book community lexicon that quite matches its ability to put a fan’s back up, is there? It provokes a sense of disrespect for all which has come before, and comes fragrant with the musk of the Hollywood bean-counters, intent on mining into the foundations of long-established characters in the hopes of discovering more flecks of gold.
In the midst of the start-over-prone culture of modern cinema, it’s easy to forget that on numerous occasions, remakes – and that is what we used to call them – have proven to not only be worthwhile, but also exceed the critical success of their forbearers (just look at 1978’s Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, 1982’s The Thing and most notably, 2005’s Batman Begins if you find yourself in doubt). The contemporary world moves forward in such leaps and bounds, that in order for a story to still challenge our imaginations, it’s sometimes a necessary evil to break away from its progenitors and create afresh, and The Amazing Spider-Man is a fine example of how this can be done right.
After the dull note (to put it quite kindly) finale to Sam Raimi’s Spider-trilogy, fresh-faced director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) rebuilds the web of Spider-Man from the ground up, bringing the focus back to the most important aspect in any Spidey tale – Peter Parker, and the characters surrounding him that define who he is beneath the mask. Webb’s ability to pour soul into his characters is evident from the outset, as this retelling paints the picture of a more introspective Peter Parker, emotionally scarred by the mysterious disappearance and subsequent death of his parents and desperate for answers that put him on the path to become the titular hero.
Putting a face to the name of Peter Parker is British actor Andrew Garfield, whose prior roles in The Social Network, as well as the thoughtful sci-fi tale Never Let Me Go more than proved his capability to portray emotionally complex characters. Garfield’s performance is easily the big screen’s definitive Parker, juggling the emotional gravity of the character alongside moments of the wall-crawler’s trademark humour with agility akin to that of his onscreen persona.
In the place of the more commonly-known Mary Jane Watson stands Peter’s original comic book love interest, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, Zombieland), whose inclusion not only hints (nay, bellows) at the storylines fans have to look forward to in future sequels, but also establishes a genuine relationship with Peter Parker first and foremost, as opposed to the somewhat less inspiring teen crush on the guy in the spider pyjamas displayed by the afore-mentioned redhead. Stone’s Gwen is intelligent, confident, and proves to be more than a match for Peter onscreen, bringing a real sense of natural balance to their romance.
Bringing a sense of conflict to this seemingly heaven-made love affair is Gwen’s hard-nosed police Captain Father, George Stacy (played by Denis Leary), who has (unbeknownst to him) issued an arrest warrant for Peter, citing Spider-Man as a dangerous vigilante.
Peter’s search for answers leads him to Oscorp, where he meets with his updated and expanded-upon irradiated spider, as well as Rhys Ifans’ Dr Curt Connors, who provides a link to Peter’s parents, mirrors the scientific aspect of his persona, and fills the surrogate father role that even poor old Uncle Ben couldn’t satisfy. Ifans portrays an authoritative, confident scientist, while at the same time hinting at his underlying insecurities and inadequacies. His performance as the film progresses, however, becomes somewhat bond-villain-esque, which cheapens the film to a certain extent.
Filling the supporting roles in the film are Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, respectively, who have a fantastically natural chemistry onscreen, and despite them both being well-known acting veterans, it’s actually a little difficult to not imagine them as Peter’s loving adoptive parents. Sheen is superb as Ben Parker, bringing real charm to the character and exuding the moral heart of Peter’s upbringing, whilst Field (though still not looking quite old enough to be the Aunt May we all expected to see) fills the role with a sense of weary frailty that is throat-lump-inducing poignant .
Visually, the film pulls many of its shots directly from the hallowed comic book panels of the last half century, with Spidey never failing to pull one of his signature limb-defying poses as he leaps, crawls and thwips his way across the screen. There are also some inventive new ideas at work here, notably the display of characteristically arachnid-like movements within the wall-crawling, as well as allowing the audience to view the cityscape through our hero’s point of view whilst web-slinging, both of which add new and welcome visual dynamics to the action.
Elsewhere, aesthetic design seems to take a dip, as Spider-Man’s opponent, The Lizard appears to look a little less like his much-loved comic book counterpart, and more akin to a Goomba from the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie. Despite this, however, the CGI that pieces the character together is full of weight and scale-for-scale of a very high technical quality.
The film’s score (composed by James Horner) proves to be less than a match for Danny Elfman’s contribution to the previous Spidey origin, and is at certain moments incredibly schlocky, which really draws the viewer out of the film with a cringe. It’s very much an unwelcome surprise that after the extent to which the film has been injected with contemporary sensibilities, its compositional soundtrack could feel so dated.
Sound continues to feel neglected in other areas of the film also, as Rhys Ifans’ Lizard bellows clearly with stage show-style overdramatics, both blurring the line between the unfortunate scientist and savage reptile, and at the same time succeeding in making him sound even sillier than he looks. It’s a real shame, as the character honestly could have been one that provoked genuine fear if given the proper attention, much as Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk in Avengers Assemble.
Despite its downfalls, The Amazing Spider-Man’s narrative is a well-stitched patchwork of many well-known Spidey comic book stories both classic and modern, all spun ever-so-slightly to complement each other and keep the story feeling fresh. It feels well-paced, has a very organic flow that makes it easy to enjoy, and is driven primarily by our hero, which makes it near impossible not to become emotionally invested in the story.
Whilst The Amazing Spider-Man seems to have truly divided its audience between those that praise the film’s ability to reinvigorate a franchise that really had written itself into an inescapable corner, and those that scream heresy that another Spidey origin story could be produced just a decade after the last, Marc Webb’s reimagining has managed to be one of the unexpected highlights of what has been a truly impressive summer for genre cinema. It may not have been as genre-defining as Raimi’s 2002 outing, but in terms of building an ensemble of characters with depth that an audience can believe in, as well as really drawing from and celebrating the sacred source material, this really is the Spider-Man we’ve deserved all along, we just didn’t realise.