Film of the Week: The Amazing Spider-Man

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Columbia Pictures
Marc Webb (director)
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Denis Leary, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Sally Field

Finally the curse of Hollywood’s seemingly pointless ‘reinvent them all again syndrome’ is lifted with a leaner, stronger and smarter variation on an already popular theme. But this time the effects and action set-pieces take second fiddle to a rare phenomenon called character development.

As if that wasn’t enough, it also possesses a decent script with naturalistic dialogue, great performances and a couple of genuine emotional payoffs. I nearly shed a tear and even the kids broke into spontaneous applause at the end.

There’s a curious coincidence and storytelling parallel between this film and The Social Network in which Andrew Garfield had a critically acclaimed role. In that film he writes an algorithm on Mark Zuckerberg’s window, which in reality changed the course of half our planet. As Spiderman he also writes down an algorithm for a seemingly benevolent scientist to use and it nearly brings a city to ruin. So in theory it might become possible one day to end up mistaking Spiderman as one of the guys who invented Facebook.

I first saw Andrew Garfield on television in the gritty Red Riding Trilogy and thought to myself ‘there’s a star in the making’. And here he is, already a leading man in a blockbuster. Charismatic, nervy and athletic he gives a nicely subtle performance – beautifully handling the clash between Parker’s more nervy this time than nerdy persona and the developing and aggressive superhero he’s forced to become.

He’s significantly aided and abetted by Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey, although a great comedienne in her own right she tones the comedy we’re used to right down in becoming both Parker’s love interest and unwitting partner in crime. There’s genuine chemistry between the pair and unlike the needy and tediously simpering Mary Jane of Sam Raimi’s former trilogy, this is a down-to-earth, attractive and fun lass you want to spend time with. This girl’s worth rescuing from danger.

I hesitate to describe the plot for its drawn from both the original Stan Lee (who enjoys a fun cameo here) source and follows a fairly identical pattern to the first of Raimi’s blockbusting trilogy when Tobey Maguire adequately inhabited the latex.

But this version contains more up-to-date and realistic premises for some of its more outlandish ideas. For instance, the webbing Spiderman shoots from his wrists is no longer a substance his body generates but a technological device he constructs. I also liked the fact that the moral ambiguities of his actions became a thoroughly explored philosophical issue throughout, not just a token morality lesson from a kindly Aunt about using power responsibly.

I sometimes forget how closely the most popular comic book superhero franchises follow the same path. Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker are all orphans of misfortune, their psyches stained by the loss of a parent or two and despite the presence of surrogates replacements they can never quite shake off their background. Clark Kent discovers supernatural power, Bruce Wayne discovers the power of wealth and Peter Parker discovers the power of nature.

Yet it’s surprising just how much of this version is dedicated to Parker falling in love and very slowly discovering his path. Once he has honed his power he’s up and away and at it, the film-makers take it for granted we know the script.

There’s some nifty point-of-view shots as he leaps from building to building with the image a chaotic blur of motion interspersed with the more usual locked off wide shots of him doing his spiralling against Manhattan but the strength of this film is in its pacing, investing real time in developing a personality, however far fetched it is. It's one you care for and that’s something special effects can't quite replace yet.