Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-man

Sam Raimi did a pretty good job on the first two Spider-man movies he made. Sure, there were many flaws- not enough quipping, the rubbish Green Goblin suit (seriously, you hire an actor like Willem Dafoe then give him a costume that allows him no facial expressions? Why not do a CGI-Gollum kinda thing?). And then there’s the third film, which manages to totally mess up Venom, turns Peter Parker into a whiny little em0-douche and remains one of the worst cinema experiences I’ve ever had. The only part I remember fondly is the Bruce Campbell cameo.

The ever-groovy Bruce Campbell- the only part of Spider-man 3 I enjoyed

With that movie killing off the franchise Sony decided to reboot the whole thing, and that brings us to The Amazing Spider-Man. I also think its a legal thing, Sony own the rights to the X-Men and Spidey, but only if they keep using them. If they don’t it falls back to Marvel, I think that’s how it works. Which kinda sucks as it means there won’t be any Wolverine, Spidey, Quicksilver, Beast or Scarlet Witch in the Avengers movies.

For legal reasons this line-up will never see the big screen.

Anyway, what does the new movie do differently?

Well, for a start it shows us more about Peter Parker’s parents, his dad’s a scientist working in the field of genetics and after a break in gathers his files and flees into the night with his wife, dropping off Peter with Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen).

Peter (Andrew Garfield) grows up with him, and its the traditional Spidey deal- geeky, clever, photographer who’s picked on by Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka). Peter’s smitten with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and shyly flirts with her, developing a relationship with her.

Curious about his parents’ leaving and subsequent death, Peter goes to the Oscorp building to meet Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) a former colleague of his dad. Connors reveals that they were working on merging human and animal DNA to cure various illnesses, Connors hoping to also discover a way of using lizard DNA to restore limbs as he has lost an arm.

While snooping around Peter is bitten by a souped up spider and quickly gains superpowers. Initially he uses these for messing about, but becomes a masked avenger after Uncle Ben is whacked by a criminal he allowed to escape. (If anyone complains can I just ask how the hell is that a spoiler? Its part of every Spidey story, ever. It’d be like saying revealing Krypton gets blown up is a spoiler)

Meanwhile, with Peter’s help, Connors makes a break through with his research, and like all good movie scientists tries it out on himself, transforming into a giant monstrous lizard, and severely screws him up mentally.

Also, Spider-man is exposed to the public and the NYPD are after him, the task force being led by Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), Gwen’s father.

Can Spider-man prove he’s a good guy? Can he stop the Lizard? When’s Stan Lee going to turn up?

I really enjoyed this movie, I had high hopes, and thankfully, for the most part it met them.

First of all, I have to say that Andrew Garfield is wonderful as Peter/Spidey. Despite being older than me, he’s somehow entirely convincing as an awkward, nerdy teenage boy. Peter here is shown to be witty, clever and perfectly endearing, just as the character is in the comics. He captures the mix of smarts and heart that makes Peter become a hero and also does a great job conveying Peter’s conflicting emotions, I totally bought into his performance and it is possibly, after RDJ as Tony Stark, the best superhero casting ever.

Wonderful- Garfield as Peter Parker

The thing that I love most about his performance is that he totally nails the contradiction in Peter Parker. Yes, he’s shy and awkward around Gwen Stacy and a bit of a nerd, but even before the spider bite he shows some of the confidence and swagger he’ll have when he dons the suit. He intervenes to stop Flash tormenting another student, does a fairly good job charming Gwen and has a nice line in quips.

This kicks into high gear when he becomes Spider-man, I always thought that one of the things the Maguire version lacked was the fast talking, wise cracking that Spidey has in the books. Luckily here it stays in place, with Garfield’s Spider-man making gags, trash-talking criminals and conveying the fact that despite the angst in his origins, Peter enjoys being Spidey, especially in the early days. He’s a teenage boy who gets to swing through the streets and fight crime, of course he’s going to have fun with it, and I love how Garfield and the scriptwriters make that clear here.

Speaking of swinging through the streets, the effects in this movie are fantastic. Following Peter as he thwips from building to building is a joy and there are times when you feel totally into the action, also, despite the heavy use of CG there’s a kind of realism to it. Everything feels like it has some heft, it doesn’t look light or false, there’s a real texture and weight to everything. The fights are done really well, with Spidey’s twirling, flipping and swinging making them visually engaging and dynamic. They capture the same high-octane, sprawling scope of comic book fights.

The rest of the cast are pretty good too. As Gwen, Emma Stone is a delight. I can’t remember much of the character in the comics or cartoon, but she never really made an impact on me, but here Gwen is better defined. She’s shown to be intelligent, brave and compassionate. You totally understand why Peter is smitten with her and also why she’s attracted to him. Apparently Stone and Garfield are dating in real life, which explains the fantastic chemistry they have on screen. They bounce off one another very well and their flirting is done in a really light, realistic way.

Stone and Garfield- fantastic chemistry

One of the decisions I really liked in the film was having Gwen find out early on that Peter is Spidey, which is done in this really brilliant scene between the two of them and has real sweetness. I think this’ll mean they can avoid any of the comedic hiding identity stuff in the sequels which is kind of old hat now. It also sets up a really touching scene where Gwen talks about how she’s grown up worrying about her dad’s safety in his job and now has to worry about Peter as well.

As Captain Stacy Denis Leary is on fine form, he manages to convey this real no-nonsense toughness, while also hinting at being a decent bloke. He’s also exactly right for the part as he looks pretty tough and the kind of girl’s dad who’d make a teenage boy uncomfortable.

In the villain role Rhys Ifans does fairly well although for the second half of the film he is in full lizard mode. He manages to show that Connors is essentially an alright guy, but manages to show the darker side once Connors flips out. In his scenes with Peter there’s a genuine warmth to the boy and it hints that its because of Connors’ affection for Peter’s dad. It teeters close to hamminess at times, but he is playing a man-lizard who’s gone crazy, so its to be expected.

The lizard’s an odd choice for a major villain, and they beef up the character by having Connors still being in control and also giving him a definite plan, which is kind of anchored in Connors’ desire to build a better world. It kind of works having this be Peter’s first foe as its a real physical threat while not being overly evil, meaning Peter will emerge from this still enjoying being Spider-man with the darker opponents still to come.

There are other nice touches- I like how Flash Thompson isn’t portrayed as a complete douchebag, and actually has a few decent moments, as well as being a Spider-man fan himself.

Martin Sheen oozes respectability and decency as Uncle Ben, and Sally Field is as charming as ever as Aunt May, and its nice to see them step away from having May being some frail old dear, Field seems full of life and sass and I’m hoping she gets more to do in the follow ups.

There will be follow ups, and I’m eagerly awaiting them, because this one knocks it out of the park. Yes there are questions unanswered and being an origin story it treads familiar ground, but it does so with some nice new touches and a real deftness of touch. It handles the switches in tone really well, has a brilliant leading performance and is an improvement on the Raimi movie. Reboot successful.

Oh, and the Stan Lee cameo? Its totally class.

Verdict: A great superhero flick that really gets you invested in the characters and plot. Garfield seems born to play Peter Parker and they get the tone right, with Spidey retaining the enthusiasm and joy that make him such a likable character. The supporting cast do a good job and it leaves you wanting more. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO


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