There are some tangled webs added to the Peter Parker family tree, but the latest Spider-man is still Amazing enough...
While Spider-man remains one of Marvel Comics' premier superheroes, there's an irony that his adventures do not fit neaty into the cinematic universe the comics studio has established for itself. Though not entirely impossible that the friendly-neighbourhood hero could turn up for a cameo in future Avengers adventures, it remains highly unlikely as the rights to the character's big-screen exploits reside with Sony rather than Marvel's domestic operation. So for the moment, blockbuster audiences will have to make do with his solo outings and, lo and behold, this week sees a new Peter Parker and his alter-ego taking a radioactive bite out of the summer box-office. Gone are Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and director Sam Raimi and in comes The Social Network's Andrew Garfield with Emma Stone (as Gwen Stacy, rather than Mary Jane) and the fortuitously named Marc Webb helming the action.
There's very much a sense of honouring the mythology and origin of Marvel's premier comic-book character, hitting the well-known beats of the story though also a reordering and restyling of some of those elements, accompanied by distinct evidence that the film-makers have decided not to cram everything into their opening salvo. Yes, Peter is still the put-upon high school student bitten by a radioactive spider, Uncle Ben is still the wise father-figure whose fate steers a newly empowered Peter to the greater responsibility that should come with the greater power. Yes, the police don't take kindly to the new masked vigilante. But the emphasis and tone have shifted everso slightly.
The 'Amazing' Spiderman goes further into backstory than any of the other Spidey movies to date, to existing but rarely touched-upon elements of the Peter Parker story from the comics. Peter was raised by his aunt and uncle after his parents, Richard and Mary Parker, die in a car-crash, but what secret were his parents hiding from everyone and more importantly why did they die? This is a question that frames the story, with Peter finding his father's old briefcase and a hidden formula on which he was working with colleague Curt Connors. Peter searches out Connors, a seemingly honourable genetics scientist being forced into ever more desperate choices by a lacky of unseen billionnaire Norman Osborn. What Peter and Curt cannot be aware of is just how important their meeting will be. Connors finally has the missing part of an equation that could revolutionise his research and Peter... well, Peter happens to get a rather nasty but fortuitous spider-bite. Both men will be physically and emotionally impacted by their choices - Peter discovering a physical and psychological inner-strength and becoming something of a reckless vigilante, Connors forced to test out the new formula on himself and paying the price. The scientist is pleased that the process helps regenerate his missing arm, but less so by the side-effects of a cold-blooded reptillian personality taking control. A confrontation between the spider and the lizard, each responsible for the other's creation, is inevitable.
Despite being almost thirty, Garfield does well in the main role of the geeky and troubled teenager, showing just the right amount of vulnerability and cockiness that the role requires. Equally Stone brings some depth to Gwen Stacy, Parker's first love from the comics continuity (ignored by the previous movie versions). Though her character is conveniently Parker's classmate, Connor's assistanty and Police Captain Stacy's daughter (thus the pivot for Peter's choices through most of the story) she too channels the mix of emotions and loyalties the character must juggle as she finds out the truth about her friends and mentors. Comedian and accomplished actor Denis Leary clearly enjoys the role of the Police Captain and makes the most of the scenes he's in. That's equally true of Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Peter's familial guardians - in fact the casting throughout the movie serves as effective shorthand... the familiarity we have with the performers personas allowing them space to breath.
The 3D aspect work well with plenty of showcase moments for the thwipping of webs towards the audience and a lot of debris 'falling' towards the camera. There's also the vertigo-inducing effect of a POV-styled swing amongst the New York skyscrapers which is stylish - though perhaps it becomes a bit of a showy look-at-me gimmick when used a bit too often to punctuate the film. However Webb, whose only previous high-profile rom-com outing was 300 Days of Summer, handles the directing chores well and keeps the morality-tale-come-actionfest swinging along at a merry pace.
For many this will still remain something of an unneccesary reboot and retelling of an origin story that is probably still too familiar (even to non-comic-die-hards) coming less than five years after the last webheaded movie opened to strong numbers internationally and decent enough reviews. But taken on its own merits The Amazing Spider-man is undeniably a lot of well-choreographed fun with its eye on answering some of its bigger story-threads in later chapters of a refreshed franchise. It's unlikely to be able to take on the sheer ensemble stellar juggernaut of the Avengers' (still ongoing) box-office receipts, but should be able to replicate the strong opening numbers already seen in Asia and easily muster significantly high and well-deserved box-office across the European and American summer screens (ahead of the much-darker Batman franchise and its expected strong opening within two weeks).