Along came a spider
When the first Spiderman movie was released a decade ago, we hailed it as one of the best superhero films ever. So after a mere 5 years since the last one in its trilogy was released, was a fresh new take, based on demographics and marketing calculations necessary? With only a few lackluster trailers to whet my appetite, and the fact that another superhero film looms over it in the same month, I went to the local IMAX to see if this webslinger can spin a good yarn.
To borrow a certain pointy-eared superhero’s movie title, The Amazing Spider-man is pretty much Spiderman Begins. Pushing away all memory of the Raimi films, director Marc Webb takes our friendly neighbourhood Spidey to a completely new direction. One that’s way more closer to his comic book origins than he has ever been. Andrew Garfield plays a modern-day interpretation of Peter Parker, a socially awkward nerd who has trouble talking to Emma Stone’s extremely charming Gwen Stacy. Peter Parker is taken back to college, where his duties as a photographer for The Daily Bugle are swapped for carefree days of skateboarding and the occasional errand for his Aunt May.
Coming back to the ‘Spiderman Begins’ bit, Peter Parker’s parents abandoning him has been given a believable backstory that connects to his present. There is a dark gritty feel to the film as Pete grows up under the guidance of Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Peter isn’t the soppy mope that we’ve become accustomed to expect. He’s resentful and rebellious. He doesn’t even take the ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ bit with an ounce of grace, fighting back with the repressed anger of a geek. And in there lies Andrew Garfield’s greatest talent as an actor. To portray a superhero, who has an attitude problem, a strong opinion about things, and yet is still vulnerable. Driven initially by anger and vengeance, Spidey moves on to become a vigilante that New York hesitatingly embraces. The parallels of vigilante justice, using a mask to conceal your identity and protect the ones you love have been examined in Batman Begins. Heck, even Peter’s first DIY mask reminded me of Batman: Year One. But Marc Webb gives this story a fresh new narrative making it palatable to the Facebook generation.
The cast of TAS is an interesting bunch with a few interesting choices. Rhys Ifans does a great job of playing Dr. Curt Connors. There is a muted terror to his role that slows becomes more evident as the film progresses. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, besides looking incredibly hot in a lab coat, has her perfectly timed comic moments that she delivers with sheer brilliance. I loved Sally Field as Aunt May. It’s almost like she has an aura of goodness around her, although she isn’t quite the Martha Kent of the story. Andrew Garfield has his freewheeling, wisecracking bits as both Spiderman and Peter Parker. It’s only Irrfan Khan whose character abruptly disappears in the second half of the film. Maybe he’s being built up for the next film. Only time will tell.
The film’s narrative takes a few clunky turns along the otherwise straight road. I love how Peter Parker’s parents’ disappearance has a direct connection to him becoming Spiderman, linking the story in a new way and throwing up so many possibilities. Peter Parker is not a victim of circumstance as we’ve seen him in any of his previous cinematic avatars, but more of a piece in a bigger game of strategy and, dare I say, fate. What I disliked is how quickly he transforms from a rad skateboarder to the superhero we’ve come to love. It’s almost like the director was in a tearing hurry to transform his character in order to save on the film’s total running time. Speaking of which, too much of screentime is devoted to soppy dialogue that does not drive the story forward. It could’ve been easily avoided to make room for Spiderman’s transformation. Although the Lizard’s backstory is convincing, it doesn’t completely register on an emotional level. We’ve already been familiarised with the story of an enraged/mad/idealistic/radical scientist who turns into a scary beast through some chemical experiment or a lab accident in so many films. The film brings no new plotline or mystery to the villain, which is a bit of a letdown. On the flip side, Uncle Ben’s death has been given a realistic perspective. Shot at night, the whole death scene feels solid, and has real emotional depth.
The real reason people will go watch TAS is for its action pieces, and the film delivers it in abundance. The fight sequences are amazing to watch, especially in IMAX 3D. Spiderman moves, leaps and swings exactly like the way I’ve imagined him doing it in the comic books. With the new suit and webshooters, some shots look like they were lifted straight off comic book panels. There is a sense of fluidity to Spiderman’s movements as he swings from buildings, with the just the right amount of flexibility. The in-air motion sequences are filmed elegantly, and it often feels like a videogame where the moves are timed just right. The first-person shots are a complete cinematic delight, putting you behind the mask as you soar over New York’s streets. The fight sequences between Spiderman and The Lizard are just awesome, with Spidey taking enough of a hit, while dealing a bit of a bashing himself.
On the whole, it is Andrew Garfield’s vulnerable, yet resolved portrayal of Peter Parker/Spiderman, his chemistry with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, the mystery surrounding his parents and their work at Oscorp, and the pure joy of seeing Spiderman once again on the big screen, fighting the monstrous Lizard that will keep you glued to the end. This isn’t just the best Spiderman origin story, it is the best Spiderman film I’ve ever seen. Not a perfect film, but great fun to watch.
P.S.: Watch out for Stan Lee’s cameo. Hilarious! Also stick around for the post-credit scene.
P.P.S.: Added fanboy reason to watch TAS. The 3rd trailer of The Dark Knight Rises is being screened before The Amazing Spider-man in all its IMAX glory!