Friday 6 July 2012
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
(Marc Webb, 2012) Setting aside the question of whether this "reboot" of a character last seen in cinemas only five years ago is even necessary - Colombia Pictures has to release a Spider-Man movie every five years or else they lose the cinematic rights to the character, which is all the answer you need - let's first focus on the question of the need for yet another origin story. Well, the greatest Super-hero characters all have suitably great, resonant origin myths. Batman, Superman, the Hulk and Spider-Man - the characters absolutely everybody knows - each possesses a unique, powerful beginning. Get that tale right - and The Amazing Spider-Man does, for the most part - and you have the basis for a solid piece of genre filmmaking, and maybe something more if all the necessary constituent elements line up just right. Spider-Man is at heart a fundamentally teenage character, and in such a power fantasy the emotional elements are familiar from other genres: angst, isolation, alienation, heartache, social awkwardness. Webb's film gets all of that right. Indeed, it's strongest material is the non-superhero stuff; this film opts for Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) as Peter Parker's Midtown High love interest, and perhaps unsurprisingly given the directors form with romcoms (his previous film was 500 Days of Summer) the scenes of their faltering romance are by far the best in the film. Andrew Garfield is terrific as Peter; more cool outsider than the kooky geek Tobey Maguire played in Sam Raimi's trilogy; and he and Stone have genuine chemistry. Their relationship is sweet, believable, and finally even a little moving, with just a note of the foreboding necessary in any such romance in the Super-Hero genre. Garfield is great at all the pain Peter endures, funny when he needs to be, and communicates the euphoric rush his powers bring him, but in his scenes with Stone he is all vulnerability and longing. She is set up as perfect for him, smart, brave, strong and beautiful, and her characters look is a geek-pleasing homage to the John Romita-drawn Gwen of the comics, with the same hair and love of knee-high socks and boots. The other supporting characters have been beautifully cast; the warmth and cozy affection of Peters life with his Aunt and Uncle is nicely played by Martin Sheen and Sally Field so that when he loses it, the loss feels immense, and Denis Leary gives Gwen's Police Captain father a decency and crotchety intensity which works perfectly for the character and serves the plot. All of that gives the film a surprisingly hefty emotional kick, especially in the last act, but the Super-hero material is generally less successful. Not the action scenes; the cgi-assisted sequences of Spider-Man and the Lizard (Rhys Ifans, decent if a little rote) in whirling, acrobatic combat are thrilling enough, the scenes of our hero mixing it up with policemen and common criminals far grittier and more effective, and the web-swinging passages are vertiginous and occasionally beautiful. But the plot is a mess; filled with gaping holes, evidently cut to ribbons in the editing suite (how else to explain the way several seemingly key threads - most notably the story of Peter's parents - absolutely disappear without explanation?), and consisting of a series of derivative, overly familiar beats. The heroes origin is tied up with that of the villain, the threat eventually effects an entire city, the exposition which sets up that plot is on the dull side while the villains descent into madness, is, rather, humanised in a tortured, cliched manner: all common factors in lesser Super-Hero films. It helps that everything looks nice, Webb aiming for an edgier, slightly more realist look than Raimi's stylised comic book world but keeping it all glossy with the help of Michael Bay's old cinematographer John Schwartzman, but James Horner's score is unremarkable. There is one formula in Super-Hero genre franchise creation; the first film can be solid, so that the second can be much better (see Raimi's trilogy, Brian Singer's X-Men films and Nolan's Batman series for good examples). Let's hope Webb can stick to that, since he's got the soild - if a little uninspired - first part out of the way already..