The AMAZING Spider-Man
Think back to 2007. Remember Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3? A movie that I will argue, until my grave, was worse than The Phantom Menace. A movie that had more villains than The Avengers had heroes. A movie that grossed $890m worldwide. It was very successful, commercially speaking, and was going to lead to another, equally imaginatively-titled, sequel. But then it didn’t. Raimi didn’t want to do it and went on to make Drag Me To Hell instead, and the wheels fell off. Fine, we had a good run. Two great superhero movies and one that we can try to forget, it’s not all bad. But Sony wasn’t done. Five years after Spider-Man 3, the franchise has been rebooted as The Amazing Spider-Man, with Andrew Garfield as the eponymous hero and Emma Stone as the not-as-well-known-as-MJ love interest Gwen Stacy, daughter of Captain George Stacy of the NYPD. Sony also took the opportunity to give headline writers a field day by handing the directorial reins to the aptly-named Marc Webb, of (500) Days of Summer fame.
The problem with Amazing – as I shall refer to it hereafter – is that as a reboot it has to also be an origin story. We’re starting again here. Forget Tobey Maguire. Forget Kirsten Dunst. Forget both Green Goblins, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, Venom, J Jonah Jameson and the rest. Unfortunately the changes are few and far between. Gwen Stacy might as well be Mary-Jane Watson, Peter’s relationship with Aunt May and Uncle Ben is virtually identical, and the sequences of Peter struggling with and finally overcoming his new-found powers might have been copied and pasted from Raimi’s 2001 effort. What it is is much funnier. Andrew Garfield is what some might call “born to play Peter Parker”. I won’t stoop to this level as I don’t subscribe to the philosophical doctrine of fatalism, but I will say that he is as close to perfect in this role as I can imagine. Despite being closer in age to 30 than 17, he has a boyish charm that convinces even if his physicality doesn’t. Equally, Emma Stone is fantastic as Gwen, reminding us of her performances in Superbad and Easy A as the coquettish schoolgirl. Together they are a joy to watch. The supporting cast is just as accomplished. Martin Sheen does his best Jed Bartlett impression as Uncle Ben and Rhys Ifans, somewhat surprisingly, manages to underplay Dr. Curt Connors to a very pleasing degree, making him feel like a real character as opposed to the caricatures that Ifans normally vomits onto the screen
The plot is essentially Spider-Man. Peter is bullied, gets bitten by a spider on a (sort of) school trip, turns into a hero, is accidentally complicit in the death of his uncle and finally realises, without saying it, that with great power comes great responsibility. All of this comes just in time for a leading scientist to become a supervillain and threaten to destroy New York. His girlfriend gets mixed up in it, the loved one of a main character is killed and Peter becomes a true hero. It is the same movie, but it is done very well.
The main disappointment of Amazing is that Webb does not stamp his mark on the movie. (500) Days was full of interesting visual touches and directorial flair that added just a pinch of something extra to its narrative, but Amazing does away with this almost entirely. I get it though. (500) Days was that kind of movie. It allowed for a different style, whereas Amazing is a superhero movie. We know what we want from a superhero movie. And in Amazing, we get it. The only problem is that we got it eleven years ago as well, when Sam Raimi made the same movie.