(Marc Webb, 2012, USA)
Picking up the pieces of a franchise that became an itch Columbia Pictures’ wouldn’t stop scratching, increasingly overegged by director Sam Raimi’s reliance on ‘gee whiz’ pantomimic aesthetics, The Amazing Spider-Man brings the arachnid superhero back to life in a cinematic climate now overwhelmed by superhero yarns. Shrugging off Spiderman 3’s multifaceted profusions, where its CGI-infused cake was made and rampantly eaten, this souped-up and pinned back reboot boasts a spunky director and a shinier cast, but toils under a biased title it ultimately fails to live up to.
Taking over directing duties from Raimi – whose proposed fourth entry was shot down after 3 became a critical misfire (but a commercial juggernaut), Marc Webb transfers the doe-eyed indie optimism he gained from debut feature (500) Days of Summer over to the origin story of one Peter Parker, played by an altogether too comely but nonetheless fitting Andrew Garfield. Parker, who lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May (a stellar combo of Martin Sheen and Sally Field) after his parents mysteriously disappeared, is a skateboarding adolescent inundated by his passion for science and growing affections for fellow high school goofball Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who sidelines as an intern instructor at science facility OsCorp.
While attempting to uncover the truth behind his parents’ sudden departure by worming his way under the wing of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who worked with his father at OsCorp, Parker is bitten by a genetically modified spider, paving the way for his eventual transformation into Spider-Man alongside Connor’s mutation from a one-armed, philanthropic scientist to a large maladjusted reptile hell-bent on altering human existence. Inadvertently helping Connors uncover the missing algorithm for regenerative experimentation, Parker is the only one who can halt the spread of a chemical toxin across New York City, all the while protecting his identity from Gwen’s police captain father already hot on his trail.
Whereas Raimi’s 2002 trendsetter – which now seems outmoded ten years on, skimmed over Parker’s high school tribulations before settling in to Spider-Man’s skirmish with ensuing antagonists, Webb’s film chooses to explore his adolescence at a more in depth pace, creating an unhurried trajectory that allows the creation of the suit and its artificial web-slingers to emanate naturally. Yet, whatever narrative intricacies Webb begins to assemble are soon dissipated in favour of a conformity to a formula which dictates that any origin story is not complete without a pervasive foe, which comes in the form of Ifans’ forgettable and narratively unimposing The Lizard, a computer generated lunk whose formidable plot – nonsensically manufactured in a fully functioning lab installed in the sewer system – distracts from a once promising revising of the superhero story.
Remodelled for the smartphone generation, a technology mirrored by Webb’s sleek visuals and sprightly direction, the film is lathered in geek chic and pop cultural calisthenics, and sometimes distractingly so, with the utilisation of a contemporary soundtrack akin to the Twilight series and its tendency to use modern indie harmonies to induce or tease out absent emotions. For all Webb’s abilities at depicting the blossoming relationship between two good-looking young adults (Garfield and Stone make for a believably coy match), his capacity for action is found somewhat wanting, lost in a wave of effects sequences that hold minimal stakes or emotional engagement. Save for an inspired, customary Stan Lee cameo, these recurring scuffles, cut to James Horner’s juvenile score, rarely capture the agility of Spider-Man or Garfield’s lean physique, instead taking his powers as read and merely displaying the visual tenure of boxes that dutifully need ticking. Supposedly grounded in a reality lacking in Raimi’s cartoony versions, though its gravity-defying antagonist and numerous plot contrivances negate this, The Amazing Spider-Man is an understandable franchise revival for a refreshingly lighter hero, yet its staid conventionality and unexciting direction do nothing to buck a widespread trend being more successfully and appealingly practiced elsewhere.