General consensus is Marc Webb (of 500 Days of Summer fame) has delivered a reboot of the original Spider-Man (2002). That much is true. However, he has taken a lot of the wit and sensitivity of his hit rom-com and added it to the superhero genre, effectively making a superhero reboot should appeal to a wider audience. Indeed, Webb’s Spider-Man – played by The Social Network star Andrew Garfield – is a more angst-ridden and sensitive soul who needs a love interest of equal intellect and insatiable curiosity. Two nerds make a right this time around, and two nerds trying to negotiate the pitfalls of adolescence too – without all the bizarre silliness in Sam Raimi’s previous trilogy.
The story stays the same: Peter Parker gets bitten by a spider and starts getting all sticky and too strong for his bedside alarm clock. While trying to find out why this bodily change is happening to him, he is also trying to discover what happened to his dad’s work legacy. In the meantime, as a buffed and suited vigilante, he rounds up the bad guys, annoying the local law enforcement teams, and makes an enemy of a super villain in the shape of a giant, flaky reptile (played by Rhys Ifans). Naturally, while trying to impress the girl (Gwen Stacy played by Emma Stone), Parker/Spider-Man has the stressful job of trying to save New Yorkers from impending chemical warfare.
Webb’s account may seem like déjà vu but it does have more of a darker edge to the origins of what made Parker the way he is. In fact, it’s very much reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins in that like Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker loses his philanthropic father and doting mother to a senseless crime, leaving him an orphan with a chip. Webb has picked a great choice in Garfield who has a natural awkwardness and inner struggle to him, both physically and verbally, so better suits the role than Tobey Maguire’s chubby-cheekiness.
Garfield as Parker is seriously toned with an endearing vulnerability that Webb cultivates to re-emphasise the character’s social faux pas but also get the female viewers to sit up and pay attention. Plus to further fuel a new femme interest in the character, he places a smart and tentative lead at the helm in Stone to try and figure out how Parker ticks – something all us ladies spend energy investing in do when a male mystery presents itself. Just think Twilight for a second, and this is the route that Webb is venturing down.
However, as compatible as the leads are with their bouts of sharp humour and flippery, this film still has all the death-defying swinging action around the skyscrapers of Manhattan to satisfy any fan. There is also a lovely moment of Big Apple working-man camaraderie when some construction workers decide to help out their hero, in return for a good deed done. In this sense, as realistically emotionally challenged and beaten-up looking as Garfield’s Parker gets, there is still that underlying comic book trope of good triumphing over evil with superhuman effortlessness.
The only flaky point is that of the super villain who makes a fairly unimpressive bridge debut – like a cross between the Hulk and a reptilian dinosaur – and does little else than manically talk to himself in the bowels of the city sewer. The concept of a man without place or purpose descending underground is a fantasy re-run from ions ago. Webb is very aware of the self-capturing video generation in this, but after building up a solid relationship insight into Ifans’ character and Parker, where they’re very much kindred spirits or life’s ‘misfits’, the end result is fairly uneventful and a monumental King Kong rip-off at the finale. Sadly for this film, none of this is very memorable as yet another set of mirrored high-rise buildings meets their doom in CGI land. This has lost the wow factor after the recent Transformers films competently trashed the US city skylines. Still, the Webb emphasis firmly on film’s relationships ultimately shines through, so that our sympathy simmers along for anyone deemed ‘different’ in the story.
As popcorn action flicks for couples go, The Amazing Spider-Man will satisfy your superficial needs and make Garfield hot property. You may get some 3D thrills from the web spinning and shooting episodes but it’s not vital to pay to see it in anything other than 2D. Webb manages to add an indie touch to a blockbuster franchise too – much like Nolan does for Batman. This is mostly because unlike other superhero blockbusters, he never loses sight of his characters’ development. In fact it’s not about the action as such, rather how the characters come to be as we travel down the path of their self-awareness. The action merely enhances this intriguing process.