Comics are soap opera. Characters don’t change. If they die, it’s hardly ever permanent. Their origins are constantly retold, reinforced, raked over for any new tiny scrap of resonance. Some critics have griped that The Amazing Spider-man, the fourth movie about Peter Parker and his penchant for going out in red Underoos, is a rehash of Sam Raimi’s 2002 film.
They’re missing the point. This kind of thing happens in the funny papers all the time.
Truth be told, I walked into an early afternoon screening of Amazing Spider-man with low expectations. I wondered what a new director like Mark Webb, best known up to now for the quirky rom-com (500) Days Of Summer, could possibly bring to the table. Turns out he was not only the right man for the job–he’s reinvigorated a franchise that had sunk into overblown mediocrity.
By harnessing his skill with unconventional romance, Webb has made a film with a lot more to offer than simple crash bang wallop. He pins the film much more closely to the burgeoning love story between the loveable geek Parker and his girl, the luminous, fearsomely intelligent Gwen Stacey. Casting is key to making this work, and he has nailed it throughout. Andrew Garfield is far less of a punching bag than we’ve seen before, bullied but by no means a bottom feeder. The object of his affection, Gwen Stacey, is no girly-girl. She’s the equal if not better of Petey when it comes to science, and Emma Stone plays her perfectly. You can see why Pete falls for her so hard. I did too. Emma has crafted a character with real charm and magnetism. Sure, she’s a looker. But she’s so much more.
The rest of the casting is equally spot on. Martin Sheen’s Ben Parker has the gravitas and sturdy wisdom you’d expect from an ex-President, and I’m fully behind the idea of making Aunt May less of a doddery old prune and more, well, Sally Field. Rhys Ifans brings a tragic Shakesperean weight to his take-over of Curt Conners. I could never see Dylan Baker as The Lizard. Ifans has the monster in him from the very start.
Sure, things are missing. No JJJ, hardly any Daily Bugle. But by putting Peter back in high school, there’s no real need. He’s a sophomore, not a struggling shutterbug. Besides which, no-one else could play Jameson like JK Simmons. It would be foolish to try. If nothing else, it would bring the comparisons between Webb’s film and the Raimi trilogy roaring back.
There are nods to the earlier film, though, with a couple of shots in a wrestling ring that again tie the superhero and luchadore genres closely together. And although it’s never said out loud, the words “power” and “responsibility” do pop up in close proximity to each other. I’m not convinced of the wisdom of these cheeky references to the Raimi years. Better to make a clean break with everything that’s gone before, go back to the richness of the source material, and craft a completely fresh take.
Speaking of responsibilty, it was nice to see a big fat credit for Steve Ditko front and centre in the credits. Columbia have clearly learned from the debacle of barely mentioning Jack Kirby in The Avengers end roller. The acknowledgement of the fifty years of history in the Spiderman character is important and it was nice to see the co-creator of all those stories get his due.
I actually prefer Amazing Spider-Man to the earlier version of the origin story. Raimi’s broad comedy stylings have been replaced with something a bit more subtle, a little more sharply-observed, a little deeper. Granted, there are no iconic moments like the upside-down kiss, but ASM is by no means a pedestrian retelling of the tale. By poking at one of the great unanswered questions in the Spidey story–whatever happened to Pete’s parents?–we have the underpinnings of something that could take the character in genuinely new and interesting directions.
Spiderman 3 put a lot of people off the idea of the friendly neighbourhood web-slinger on the big screen. I hope that Marc Webb’s new take on the story can reinvigorate that interest. There’s a lot of stories left to tell and, if the path is followed that I suspect, some truly tragic events in store for Gwen and Peter. In a lot of ways I hope I’m wrong, because I truly bought into the two as a couple.
I think this one’s got legs, Readership.