There's plenty that's good about this re-boot, but little that's amazing
Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man is probably the most purely enjoyable blockbuster of the year so far. The characters feel genuinely human, the acting is excellent, the villain is better than any of those in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies, and the story is coherent. And yet, as appealing as it is, did it honestly need to be made?
It’s not so much about the money these days as about trends. Both 9/11 and an economic recession have paved the way for different kinds of re-boots; the “dark and edgy” kind, where our heroes must openly face the consequences of their actions (see: Batman Begins, Casino Royale) or the “nostalgic” kind, whose high-octane, popcorn plots aim to remind us that they can, in fact, make ‘em like they used to (see: Star Trek ’09, all the Avengers films). The Amazing Spider-Man falls somewhere in between the two, by trying to keep its story both “retro” and “real”. And at that, it succeeds well enough.
An outcast with daddy issues (Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker) unexpectedly develops “magical” qualities and sets out to both right wrongs and take care of his own life, which includes nurturing a crush on the girl of his dreams (Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy). Meanwhile, a little scientific accident has transformed the mild mannered Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) into a murderous monster known as The Lizard. In other words, it’s a re-tread of the typical superhero “origin” story, but with enough carnage and quirkiness to satisfy most movie-goers.
As was clear in his acclaimed but slightly shallow (500) Days Of Summer, director Webb has a knack for dealing with youthful angst. His male leads (previously Joseph Gordon-Levitt, now Garfield) are tormented and sensitive, while his female leads (previously Zooey Deschanel, now Stone) are rebellious and confident on the surface, but not much more stable minded underneath. Throw in some nicely offbeat moments and you get something like Juno with more heart, less phoniness and, above all, good action. And both leads fit Webb’s oeuvre to a tee, delivering performances that easily capture the nervy and misunderstood nature of their characters. Rhys Ifans and Denis Leary (as Captain Stacy) are no less effective in their respective roles, bringing fear and authority to the screen in equal measure. There are plot problems, of course – in particular, our hero reveals his face so frequently that you wonder if there’s any point in him even having a secret identity – but for the most part, these are offset by the film’s all round appeal.
On the other hand, there’s little here to truly get excited about. Ideas such as the villain’s Jekyll and Hyde complex, the ups and downs of vigilantism and family responsibility have already been dealt with countless times before, especially in Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. While one must credit Webb for at least trying to be more soulful and less tongue-in-cheek than Raimi, the overt familiarity of both the story and themes are a burden on his shoulders. There’s plenty that’s good about his re-boot, but little that’s amazing.
Then again, “The Good Spider-Man” wouldn’t quite draw in the crowds, would it?