Film Review | The Amazing Spider-Man

It may be too soon for a reboot, but this new take on Marvel Comics’s wall crawler weaves an intriguing web of action, angst and romance.

Rising star Andrew Garfield gets tangled up in this new reboot of the Spider-Man franchise.
Rising star Andrew Garfield gets tangled up in this new reboot of the Spider-Man franchise.

Arriving to us sandwiched between The Avengers and Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man is unfortunately the runt of the pack among this summer's crop of superhero mega-blockbusters.

But in a way, this also feels heart-warmingly appropriate. Because if director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) is somewhat handicapped when it comes to rebooting the all-too-recent Spider-Man film franchise, it only serves to bring him closer to the core of what his subject is all about: an underdog who gains extraordinary powers, and who then faces the challenge of how best to use them.

The familiar origin story - culled from the Marvel Comics dating back to the '60s and most recently retold in the Sam Raimi-directed, Tobey Maguire-starring trilogy, which began with 2002's Spider-Man - is given a few significant retouches, to better adapt to contemporary mores (yes, it's been that long) and to help us forget the all-too-recent Raimi films.

Orphaned teenager Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), when not being bullied by his high school's resident Jerk-Jock Flash Thompson (Chri Zylka) while secretly coveting his pretty school mate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), daughter of police captain George Stacy (Denis Leary), stumbles upon a clue related to his parents' mysterious deaths. While his guardians - Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Fields) - appear to be as in the dark about the truth as he is, Peter's clues lead him to Dr Curt Connors, his father's former research partner and a leading expert in 'cross species genetics' who is in the employ of the high-powered organisation OsCorp, run by the enigmatic and ailing Norman Osborn.

Sneaking into the one-armed scientist's OsCorp enclave - and eventually establishing a professional rapport with him - Peter stumbles upon a scientific installation which uses spiders as test subjects... only to be bitten by a stray one.

Waking up to discover he's been blessed with strange superpowers, Peter's life takes a dramatic turn for the worse after the sudden death of his beloved Uncle Ben.

Resolving to prowl New York City as a masked vigilante in search for revenge, Peter comes under Captain Stacy's radar.

Pursued by New York's finest while romantically pursuing the eager Gwen - who warms to his recent spike in confidence - Peter is forced to abandon his simple quest for vengeance when his former partnership with Connors yields malignant fruit: driven to desperation by OsCorp, the recently-fired scientist has opted to experiment on himself using a regenerative formula Peter helped him devise.

But instead of helping to re-grow his arm, the reptile-tested serum turns out to have a deadly side-effect - it turns the previously meek scientist into a giant, lizard-like beast, morphing not just his body but also his mind.

As 'The Lizard' rampages across the city, it appears that only 'The Spider-Man' can stop him... possibly at the risk of his loved ones' safety.

The great thing about (the serendipitously-surnamed) Webb's adaptation is that it takes its time to tell an alternative take on Spider-Man's origin story that is both firmly rooted in contemporary reality while also boasting enough edgy tricks and kicks to distinguish it from its successor.

Garfield is ganglier, slinkier and funnier than Tobey Maguire. Perhaps his Parker is a tad too skinny and a tad too indie-cool to be a proper geek-cum-athletic superhero, but his superior acting chops (as evidenced in The Social Network), and his spot-on delivery of Spidey's trademark wisecracks (mysteriously omitted in Raimi's versions) is a pure delight.

Emma Stone's presence completes the masterful one-two punch of the film's casting choices. The knowledge that Garfield and Stone have hooked up in real life (aww!) is hard to erase from memory while watching the film, because their banter does in fact feel natural, Gwen being only slightly less neurotic than our geeky hero. 

We have a rarity here: a comic book movie whose relationship moments are just as easy to relish as its action set pieces.  It's expected for Webb to hit the right human-drama notes, but the worry with indie directors taking on big blockbusters - though it may sound interesting on paper - is that they won't be able to handle big-budget beasts and end up being puppets of the studios (see: X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Green Hornet).

Luckily, however, the film still comes packed with enough visual pizzazz to not only justify an early reboot for the franchise - it also leaves you with the rare feeling of a big budget studio film made with some artistry.

A memorable sequence showing Spider-Man doing a spot of espionage in a sewer - which yields to a slightly surreal encounter with a troop of chameleons - is an example, and it makes you hope that Webb will stay on for the inevitable array of sequels which are bound to follow... particularly when it comes to rendering some of the more exotic members of Spidey's rouges gallery.

Of course, one can't not comment on the most radical omission from this version of the Spider-Man mythos - the fact that this time around, Peter is not employed by The Daily Bugle, the fictional newspaper run by the cranky editor with an irrational dislike of the wallcrawler, J. Jonah Jameson... a role whose essentials are somewhat distilled into Captain George Stacy.

But the fact that the film is not at all hurt by this radical alteration is a hint that Webb and co. might just be doing something right.

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