And so I wasn’t too happy about a new Spider-Man movie. Not just because the last one (2007) was such a joke but the likelihood of seeing someone other than Tobey Maguire under Spidey’s distinguished mask appeared unbearable.
At the same, I hoped like Daniel Craig in Casino Royale and, perhaps, Anne Hathaway in the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises, Andrew Garfield could co-exist with, if certainly not erase, the memory of their iconic predecessor. Hathaway, at least, has the advantage of an atrociously poor representation before hers.
Despite my reservations and lack of fervor, I have to admit The Amazing Spider-Man was a lot of FUN.
Now, it’s quite obvious why this film got made. Superhero flicks spell box-office gold. So there’s no point judging the studio for rebooting a franchise barely five years since its last venture. Also, considering what an embarrassment it was, no man or superhero should have to contend with that for a last living memory. Moreover, this has been an exceptionally generous year for fellow Marvel messiahs courtesy the billions -minting, The Avengers. Wouldn’t be polite if the still-in-college, shy science geek with an unending supply of goopy web was left out, right?
Bottom-line, why not?
So here’s the deal on what’s hot and what’s not. What’s interesting is that instead of a conventional big studio set-up action whiz taking over the reins of this franchise from director Sam Raimi, Sony opted for Mark Webb who debuted with a delightful coming-of-age indie, (500) Days of Summer in 2009. Guess having that unmistakable Spidey vibe in his named went in his favour.
Which is all very cute but there was really no need to establish Peter Parker’s (Garfield) transformation from boy to hero all over again with the same plotline we’ve watched and wowed over in the first Spider-Man vehicle.
All this — radioactive spider takes a snap at Parker during a science trip, his metamorphosis from just-another timid nerd to web-shooting, wall-crawling wonder, Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen is a picture of warm benevolence) along with Aunt May (Sally Field looks as though she’s washed too many dishes that day) lecture him about responsibility, dies in an unfortunate manner and triggers the desire to teach all the baddies of the world an unforgettable lesson within the masked vigilante – is still fresh in the minds of Spider-fans.
If at all there was a concern for reaching out to those 12-15 year-olds, given they were probably too young to follow the events of the first film, they could have simply shown the afore-mentioned scenario in a snappy and stylish recap. Webb, after all, knows the drill having directed numerous music videos.
Following a tedious 20-25 minutes, which could easily be trimmed down by 10 or so, The Amazing Spider-Man finally begins to underline the adjective in its title.
Once Spider-Man has found his calling and, most importantly, superhero suit and the self-seeking scientist, Dr. Curtis Connors (a compelling Rhys Ifans) has turned into a full-fledged Mr Hyde, rather a green, scaly gigantic Lizard, the film goes all out to entertain bolstered by its spectacular 3D. I can’t tell you how many times I felt Spiderman smashing my face. And that lifelong aspiration to experience the thrill of firing web shots and swinging between Manhattan’s ubiquitous skyscrapers, Spider-Man’s 3D avatar is as close as it gets.
Speaking of which, although it’s a brief part and he cannot resist an occasional accent (disapp-h-ointed, cl-h-ose), Irrfan Khan holds it together with his commanding presence and tenacious eyes. It’s nice to see he’s important enough to be thwacked by the bad guy and (kind of) rescued by the good one.
Unlike say, the cheesy Green Goblin or lacklustre Sandman, Lizard resembles a green mass of unabashed terror. He conveys genuine threat and proves a worthy candidate for testing Spidey’s powers considering the latter is unwittingly responsible for creating him in the first place.
Their combat sequences in the murky sewers and later in the city are orchestrated with commendable grandeur. Webb treats the genre like science-fiction horror, especially when Peter realises he’s ‘changing’ and portions featuring the Lizard but lends a few witty touches at the right places to generate an unforeseeable, exhilarating momentum. James Horner’s soundtrack, however, is a dampener and its syrupy quality is no patch on the striking, epic enchantment of Danny Elfman’s glorious score from the previous films in the franchise.
Fed on Tim Burton’s gothic, surreal vision of Batman and Joel Schumacher’s loony follow-ups, it was 2002’s Spider-Man that changed our outlook about superhero films for good. Since then others have picked up, improvised or found the courage to darken its core elements to tremendous success.
What Sam Raimi did was make Spider-Man, despite his unique powers, a real person with the same set of vulnerabilities, concerns and insecurities. He gave the comic-book hero a heart. Webb takes that heart and constructs a beautiful romance between the nervous, sentimental, introvert Peter Parker and his plucky schoolmate Gwen Stacey much to the disapproval of her cop father, played by a wonderful Denis Leary. Not to mention, Spidey’s multi-purpose web can put candlelight dinners out of business.
The real-life couple makes magic on screen with that oft-used, seldom-possessed attribute, c-h-e-m-i-s-t-r-y. Emma Stone’s Stacey is gorgeous, adorable, smart and graceful even when she’s not looking. She’s terrific and not relegated to sidelines in a genre famous for doing just that.
I am not so crazy about the new Spidey guy though. Andrew Garfield, though he has the physicality and I liked him in Never Let Me Go, is not my idea of Spider-Man. Garfield’s excessively hyper body language (what’s with that constant scratching of hair, licking lips, trembling tone?), petulant response and that obvious ‘OH-MY-GOD-I’M SPIDER-MAN’ astonishment is distracting until he’s calmed down by Stone’s loving lip-locks. (Nope, none of that sexy, upside-down kissing moments in this one but that’s no downer.)
First impressions are something else, especially of the favourable kind. Tobey Maguire’s lost eyes, boyish candor, radiant goodness and that exclusive ability to make you feel bad for him/with him are sorely missed. Garfield, sensitive as he is, doesn’t quite enjoy this level of empathy.
What I really found interesting though the film doesn’t end in the spirit of action but lingers on a bit to emphasise on Spider-Man’s growth and realisations. And after a brief roll of closing credits, there’s a sly suggestion of a possibility. We know it as sequel.
Stars: 3 and a half
This review was first published on rediff.com