The gear-shift in the superhero movie is now unmistakeable. Where once they aimed to essentially replicate the experience of reading a comic book, they now strive to be edgy, risk-taking dramas that do more than simply pay lip-service to their characters’ emotional lives.
That, anyway, is the theory; and it explains why the studios turning them out have been hiring more and more unlikely directors to see them through. Christopher Nolan, plucked to re-energize the Batman series after completing the gritty, noirish Insomnia, may have started the trend, but Marc Webb — hired on the strength of a single film, the indie rom-com 500 Days of Summer — is arguably the most extreme example.
The Amazing Spider-Man is the fourth in the recent series, which began in 2002; it was originally intended to be a continuation of them until original director Sam Raimi left the project. Thus reborn, Webb’s film has returned to the meat of the first of Raimi’s Spider-Man films: how grumpy suburban teen Peter Parker has arachnid-like superpowers foisted upon him, then turns crime-fighter and romancer, before facing off against a transforming supervillain.
This Spider-Man film, which we are forced to call a “reboot,” tinkers extensively with the story as presented by Raimi. Parker, as played by Andrew Garfield, is no hapless super-nerd, but a mumbling, shambling skateboarder who, though perhaps not extra-strength catnip to the ladies, has no trouble in catching their eye. Moreover, the central love interest here isn’t girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson, but the considerably kookier Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), promoted from a more incidental role in Spider-Man 3.
The Amazing Spider-Man
DIRECTED BY: Marc Webb
STARRING: Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and Rhys Ifans (Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard)
RUNNING TIME: 136 MINUTES
TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY
Perhaps most radically, we are also introduced briefly to Parker’s parents, never seen, and only rarely mentioned, in the Raimi films. Parker’s abandonment issues have nevertheless loomed large in all Spider-Man films, and those looking for deeper shading of Parker’s emotional make-up will no doubt be pleased to see them.
Be that as it may, Webb successfully treads a fine line between keeping the hardcore superhero-movie fans happy and injecting a dose of meaningful affect. Parker is generally reckoned to be the most “relatable” figure in the superhero canon, but the pastel-bright synthetics of the earlier movies did little to dispel the sense that the comic-book world could only construct its characters out of clunking great blocks of melodrama.
In re-engineering Parker into the introspective, uncertain male more typical of his previous film, Webb is aided by a terrific performance from Andrew Garfield, who brings a genial unflappability that allows him to negotiate the often-ludicrous demands of the superhero plotline. At the same time, Webb also shows an unarguable facility for the more traditional action elements of the story, and the 3D certainly helps: he pulls off some properly nauseating shots as Parker dives off skyscrapers, rescues kids from falling, and the like.
It’s the successful synthesis of the two — action and emotion — that means this Spider-Man is as enjoyable as it is impressive: Webb’s control of mood and texture is near faultless as his film switches from teenage sulks to exhilarating airborne pyrotechnics. It’s only towards the end, when there is no choice but to revert to CGI — as Rhys Ifans’ Lizard goes on the rampage — that The Amazing Spider-Man gets a little less amazing: cartoony reptilian carnage has just lost its power to enthral if it’s rather obviously happening inside a computer.