Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Sally Field, Martin Sheen
Synopsis: A reboot of the successful Spider-Man film franchise that many considered had come too early, this version follows the story from the original comic source much more closely. Similarities with Sam Raimi’s original film do exist, but these are always inescapable. Webb here manages to make a film that is clearly distinguished from its predecessors. Time shall tell which version, if either, proves the most popular.
I was originally one of those fanboys that bemoaned what had to be the quickest decision to reboot a franchise in cinematic history. My scepticism was rife, Sony seeming to wish to take any course of action to keep the cash-cow making a profit for the studio. As details were released though, like many other people with an interest in the tale of Peter Parker, I became more open to the idea. Two elements… the reappearance of Parker’s home-made web-shooters, and original love interest Gwen Stacey present and correct, had me thinking that the studio was interested in catering to the fans’ desires. Just like how multiple Spider-Man titles co-exist in the comic book world, perhaps this could also be the case for the cinematic version.
Given that both this film and Raimi’s cover the origin of the human arachnid, some elements of the film are unavoidably similar. Some elements of Peter Parker’s (Garfield) growth into maturity cannot be ignored, in particular the roles played by Uncle Ben (Sheen) and Aunt May (Field). To Webb’s credit, however, he has a very strong character focus, so while there are similarities, there is a level of freshness to these scenes as well. Garfield is a very different style of Spidey to Tobey Maguire, so a teen-aged self-assuredness and swagger is more apparent, whilst still accurately portraying a young kid dealing with issues, whether they be bullying, love, or great big Lizards destroying the city. It is a very strong performance from an actor with a growing CV of impressive performances.
One actor does not make a film, however, and the remaining lead cast are just as impressive. Regular readers will know the level of praise I tend to heap on Emma Stone, so forgive me for doing the same yet again. Her Gwen proves a much stronger draw than Kirsten Dunst’s Mary-Jane, whom always seemed in distress. She is a strong counter-point to Parker, and provides much-needed guidance to the maturing yet still confused hero. Ifans is also great as the Lizard, a scientist mutated by his own experiments to regrow limbs. I had read another publisher’s review that made strong comparison’s with Dafoe’s Green Goblin. For me, the similarity existed with the green scientist, and that is where it ended. Their motives are very different, and Curt Connors is a much more conflicted man who does have an honest core. He created a much more believable villain than Dafoe’s more comically maniacal one.
The other key difference that sets The Amazing Spider-Man apart from the Raimi trilogy is that it decides not to skip forward past Parker’s teenage years, and to set the entire film with Parker still a teenager attending high-school. I have already alluded to some of the advantages that come with this approach. It is a much clearer struggle for Parker to deal with all the life changes he is experiencing, and that turmoil makes for some great drama, Yes, he has accepted his responsibility, but he is still an amateur and still makes mistakes. He may be more sarcastic and brash than Maguire, and as such closer to the comics, but he is still just a boy all the same.
So Raimi or Webb?? It is way too early to make that call. Each version has very strong arguments for why they are great films, and it will be the test of time to see which version the fans decide to watch more often. They are different films, one that embraces the comic-book nature of the story being told, the more recent being a very strong character drama. For me, Garfield is the better portrayal of Spidey, yet some of the action in Raimi’s efforts tended to be more fun. If this new film spawn’s a trilogy, the decision of which trilogy is better may come down to whether or not the producers interfere with the creative process as much as they did in the horrendous Spider-Man 3.
Final word – This film will not topple The Avengers, but it is a good stand alone film in the current Marvel pantheon. Spidey fans in general should be happy.
4 stars out of 5