The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – Revisited
Director: Marc Webb
Screenwriters: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent & Steve Kloves
Based on Spider-Man, a Marvel Comics creation from Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen & Sally Field
Runtime: 136 min // Certificate: 12a
With its sequel now out in the UK (for some strange reason, our transatlantic cousins have to wait until next month to see it), I thought now was the perfect time to revisit the superhero reboot that a lot of people have branded (unfairly in my view) “unnecessary” to see if I still appreciate it as much as I did in 2012. Well, though the film still lacks a certain pizazz and though the plot is obviously hugely flawed, on this – my fourth viewing – I still believe that Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man is the character’s greatest cinematic adventure to date.
In the wake of Spider-Man 3, the disastrous conclusion to Sam Raimi’s mediocre Spidey trilogy, Sony didn’t quite know what to do. Should they plough on with a fourth film or wipe the slate clean and begin again with a new director, better actors and a new twist on the classic character? The rest, as they say, is history, and though I respect people’s reservations that it was “too soon” to reboot the franchise, I don’t accept them in any way. As far as I’m concerned, Spider-Man 3 shattered Raimi’s vision irreparably. It was a clusterfuck of a film that solidified in my mind exactly why Tobey Maguire was never fit to play Spider-Man, why ignoring Gwen Stacy in the first two films was the height of irrationality and why Raimi’s take on the material was always on a hiding to nothing.
Enter Marc Webb, a director with just one film – (500) Days of Summer – under his belt, and no experience whatsoever in the superhero genre. What on Earth could a RomCom director offer Marvel’s most famous superhero? Well, rather a lot as it happens! Lumbered with the unenviable task of telling Spider-Man’s “origin story” barely ten years since it was last put to film, Webb decided to devote his focus to what Raimi’s films got so catastrophically wrong; namely, the man beneath the costume. In Webb’s take on the tale, it is Peter Parker (Garfield), not Spider-Man, who takes centre-stage. Sure, there are lots of heroics going on in the background, but Webb’s film’s strength rests on its interpretation of the man rather than the hero.
See, for me The Amazing Spider-Man’s greatest success lies not in the adventures of its titular hero but in the relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, which both acts as a crutch to help the film through its weaker moments and allows it to dazzle when it’s at its best. The dynamism that both Andrew and Emma (their on-screen relationship is so powerful that I feel like I know them personally…) bring to the film is unmatched in the comic-book genre, so genuine, believable yet – at the same time – intense is their on-screen chemistry. Their interactions with each other are cute, lovable and amusing, yet they’re never sickly or overbearing. It is teenage love at its most genuine, with all the blemishes out in the open. It perhaps complicates matters a tad when these “blemishes” involve one half of the couple being a web-swinging, wall-crawling superhero but oh well, we’ve all been there right? Right…?
Ahem, anyway; it’s the “human” characters that make the film. Ifans’ Curt Connors (pre-transformation) is a decent character, Sheen’s Uncle Ben is suitably pseudo-philosophical and caring, and Sally Field’s Aunt May is just… well, she’s just lovely. The interactions between Peter and May form the heart of the film, while the interactions between Peter and Gwen form its body. Denis Leary’s Captain Stacy is gruff, stereotypical and a bit brutish but, like everyone else in the film, he serves his purpose and he serves it well. In fact, it is people – not heroes or villains – that this film is primarily interested in. Even Spider-Man spends half of his time with his mask off, just so the audience doesn’t forget that beneath it all is just a teenage boy who doesn’t quite know what he’s doing.
On that note, let’s talk about Gwen for a minute… isn’t she just a breath of fresh air, especially when compared to Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson? I mean, she does for the archetypal comic-book “love interest” role what Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow does for female heroes everywhere. She’s a fresh, likeable, intelligent and confidently-minded young woman who serves a much greater purpose than to simply scream and get kidnapped. She throws herself into the action, she won’t take “no” for an answer and she lays down the law whenever Peter attempts to keep her out of trouble. Without her help, Spider-Man wouldn’t succeed in his final fight with the Lizard and though she isn’t what you might call a “feminist icon”, she’s one of the most naturally written women that this male-centric genre has to offer.
One of the film’s most endearing qualities is its determination to be the anti-Dark Knight, by which I mean it doesn’t allow itself to become bogged down in so-called “realism”. Ever since Nolan’s second Batman film, people have been obsessed with the idea that comic-book films have to be dark, realistic and moody. Personally, I’ve never quite got how anyone can consider a film about a billionaire vigilante in a black cape who fights crime from his cave “realistic” but heck, what do I know, I still like Batman Forever… nevertheless, Webb makes a real effort to take The Amazing Spider-Man right back to the fantastical roots of the comic-book. The divisive “crane scene” is the best example of this. Sure, it’s cheesy as fuck but it suits the tone of the film – bright, fun and kitschy – just right. I mean fair enough, this approach doesn’t always work but it’s still genuinely refreshing to see a film about a teenager who swings around the city in a lycra suit which, y’know, doesn’t take itself too seriously…
Nevertheless, as much as I like it, The Amazing Spider-Man ain’t perfect. To be fair to it the problems rest almost entirely in the plotting and pacing but even so, they drag things down quite a lot, especially in the film’s rootless final act. In some sense this directionless chaos suits the film’s general tone but it hits a point, about halfway through, where its complete lack of structure can no longer be excused. The Lizard, despite Rhys Ifans’ best efforts, is a terrible villain whose most interesting characteristics are practically ignored entirely. His motives are dubious at best, he looks awful and I never really felt “threatened” by him. It also doesn’t help that, on a more general level, far too much time is devoted an origin story that we’ve all seen before, with minimal tinkering around the edges. Furthermore – and this is a worry I have for the sequel(s) – so much is “left for the future” that it all runs the risk of reaching a wholly unsatisfying pay off.
Thankfully, however, these issues don’t ruin my enjoyment of the film. It is without a doubt the best cinematic take on the character to date. The performances are all brilliant, the action sequences are exciting and the film’s emotional tug is strong enough to ensure that you remain engaged in the drama. Let’s just hope that the sequel can repair the faults without sacrificing what it is that makes this particular film so good.