The following review contains MILD SPOILERS.
It’s only been 10 years since Spider-Man first swung onto our screens, with Sam Raimi at the helm and Tobey Maguire as the reserved Peter Parker turned eponymous hero. Two more sequels followed, one good, one not so good, and after troubles behind-the-scenes the planned fourth film was shelved and Sony decided to go the reboot route.
Now we have The Amazing Spider-Man, promising to bring the web slinging teenage superhero to life in a fresh way, with a new director in the form of Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) and Andrew Garfield donning the red and blue suit.
This new version goes into a lot more detail with the origin story, particularly concerning Peter’s parents and him having to stay with his aunt and uncle. The major differences this time around are the love interest, who this time is Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) with Mary Jane nowhere to be seen, and the villain, dispensing with the Green Goblin character of Raimi’s first film in favour of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) AKA The Lizard.
Firstly the good things. Undoubtedly a fun film, Webb bringing a light-hearted comic book sensibility to it while still taking the story and mythology seriously enough so that we as the audience can take it seriously, too. The scenes of Spidey swinging through the streets of New York are very impressive, with an inventive mix of first and third person views to really put you in the shoes as much as possible. However, the 3D in those sequences, while appropriate in theory for this type of film, is rather annoying and distracting in practise.
The inner struggle Peter goes through with his parents abandoning him and the death (spoiler!) of his Uncle is also handled really well, thanks largely to the performance of Garfield. He is totally believable as the high-school aged Peter who’s bullied and is enamoured with a classmate, and entirely convincing as Spider-Man himself. Garfield is a fantastic actor anyway and here he brings a charisma and nuance to the character which wasn’t as present with Maguire.
Stone is pitch-perfect as Gwen Stacy, a brilliant piece of casting as it turns out, charming and compelling to watch – she and Garfield have great chemistry together (which might have something to do with the fact that they’re dating in real life) which is essential and really makes the romance aspect feel like it belongs and not the forced romance we often get in superhero movies. There’s also some great supporting turns from the likes of Sally Field as Aunt May, Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben and, of course, Rhys Ifans who actually makes Dr. Connors more intriguing to watch than The Lizard himself.
So what doesn’t work? Well to start with the pacing. It feels rather clunky and doesn’t move along as smoothly as it should, suffering from a case of too many false endings. For example about 100 minutes in something major will happen which seems like the end of the movie before we realise there’s half an hour more to come. Maybe there’s a longer edit out there somewhere that will lend it a more effective pace.
Also, the villain of the movie doesn’t entirely work either. Although a formidable nemesis for Spider-Man that’s interestingly woven into the overall storyline, when we actually get to see him in action chasing and battling it out with Spidey it’s rather pedestrian stuff, and the fact that he actually (spoiler!) talks while in The Lizard form just looks silly. The inventiveness and originality is to be found in the smaller moments and not in the “crash, bang, wallop” action set-pieces.
There is a feeling of redundancy throughout The Amazing Spider-Man, that it perhaps doesn’t bring as much new to the table as promised. But in spite of it partly retreading old ground it doesn’t come off as pointless either. For what it ultimately aims to be, an entertaining superhero movie with a bit of heart thrown in for good measure, it’s perfectly enjoyable. It is neither a masterpiece nor a disaster, sitting somewhere in the middle, but ultimately a fairly successful reboot of the franchise.