We’ve heard the line, many times before. With great power comes great responsibility. To its credit, the fresh Spidey reboot – out since Tuesday – resists the urge to shoehorn this well-worn Stan Lee phrase into its screenplay, yet with a pair of sequels already announced, the temptation to one day include it may be too great to resist. Though clichéd it remains classic, a credo for the super-powerful to live by. So what the hell? Should Peter Parker eventually decide, in a moment of dramatic introspection, to utter these immortal words, I won’t judge. Not much, anyway.
In its comicbook context, we appreciate the sentiment. If you have powers, use them wisely. Do good deeds. But I’ve been thinking about it, and reckon the same applies in the real world, by which I mean the nerd world, in relation to Hollywood’s power over us. The fans. There they have the money, the skill and the will to take the stories and characters that filled our days, shaped our dreams and fuelled our imaginations, and lay them out before us as live and kicking, definitive ‘realities’. Certainly they’re real to me.
Screw it up and they mess with our heads. Spider-Man 3, X-Men 3 and the Ghost Riders, I’m looking at you. But get it right, strike a comfortable balance between fantasy and reality, nail the effects, deliver believable characters and fashion a compelling story, and it’s a thing of beauty. Spider-Man 2, X-Men 2 and the many splendid Avengers movies, I doff my cap to you, sirs.
What then of this week’s super-effort?
First of all, never tell me you think there are too many superhero movies. I’ve waited all my life for this to be the case, so let me have my fun…
As a fan of (500) Days of Summer, director Marc Webb’s chick flick for guys, an intimate, irreverent, tech-lite indie comedy that marked his feature-length directorial debut, I was intrigued to learn he’d been chosen to helm this mega-buck reboot. Appropriate surname aside, he hardly seemed qualified to shepherd a summer juggernaut such as this from conception to completion, though I expected he’d nail the character and relationship stuff, which he does.
A lightly re-invented Spidey tale driven by the mysterious disappearance of Peter Parker’s parents, the movie plays out before his Daily Bugle/Mary Jane days, while still at school with teen crush Gwen Stacy. Their scenes together, as played out by North London lad Andrew Garfield and the variable Emma Stone, are a chemistry experiment gone right. Though some might not appreciate Garfield’s twitchy, geeky, gauche persona, much like a young Woody Allen only without the razor wit, to my mind he captures the essential Parkerness of Peter in a far more compelling way than Tobey Maguire ever managed. He’s definitely going to have to work on the comedy, though. As for Stone, this is the first thing I’ve liked her in since Zombieland. Once again, against expectations, she is adorable.
As the movie progresses and young dork Peter gets bitten by the bug, the thrills amp up. As does the pressure for Webb to deliver. As Dr Curt Connors, Rhys Ifans fulfils his character’s destiny by attempting to re-grow a lost limb by injecting himself with lizard DNA, whereupon, like Dr Jekyll before him, he transforms into a monster. A hulking lizard-man who, though lacking the snout of his comicbook counterpart, and just the teeniest bit computery at times, cuts a fine, imposing figure. Growls, claws and smashes his way into our hearts. And represents one hell of a challenge for our newly-minted Spider-Man to overcome.
Besides surviving the Lizard and the perils of first love, saving New York and living up to his Uncle Ben’s (Martin Sheen) meteoric expectations, young Pete also has to contend with Gwen’s scary dad (Denis Leary), who, as fate would have it, also happens to be the cop in charge of capturing the mysterious vigilante known as Spider-Man. A complex web then, for Parker and audiences to navigate, but with enough time devoted to each character and plot point, nothing feels rushed. If anything, at 136 minutes, the movie may drag a tad for some, though I was happy to spend every one of those minutes with Petey and co.
As the story develops the action intensifies, and though Webb is a newcomer to this blockbuster lark, I’m delighted to report that he handles the thrills and spills with real skill. From whizzy point-of-view shots that take us swinging through the city to close-up rough and tumble as Spider-Man and The Lizard battle through a variety of treacherous locations, the excitement builds to fever pitch. Varied and imaginative, it’s played with humour and drama and never fails to grip.
Something I particularly liked in this incarnation was Spidey’s creative use of webbing, not just to swing on but also for defence and attack, to pull himself out of tight spots and to hurl himself skywards with an elastic twang. It’s stuff that comicbook fans have long been familiar with, but that somehow on the big screen never came across so successfully. At least, not until now. The depth of thought and attention to detail that Webb and his team so obviously devoted to every aspect of this movie is impressive indeed. It’s a great, fun film and a classic Spider-Man adventure.
Though I wasn’t crazy about the movie’s decision to make Peter’s characteristically clueless Aunt May (Sally Field) rather less naïve than usual, I can live with it. As I can the occasional whiff of sentimentality that sneaks its way into the film (suffice to say for those who’ve seen the movie, the cranes were rather cheesy, I thought). Minor gripes aside, there’s so much to enjoy in The Amazing Spider-Man, from the return of the web shooters that were absent from Sam Raimi’s vision to the stunning slo-mo moments that perfectly capture our hero, mid-swing, like featured comicbook panels come to life.
Great Stan cameo too. By far his best yet.
I’m going to stop short of saying this beats Avengers Assemble. I don’t think anything’s going to do that for a while. But it’s a fabulous first chapter to be sure, the start of a swinging new Spidey saga that I can’t wait to see develop. So, well done, Marc Webb. You’re so much more than an appropriate surname.