Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

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A Property with Legs

Page one of the reboot manual tells filmmakers that an exhausted audience must be courted with new themes. Webb’s psychological narrative gives Peter Parker a Daddy complex and a set of compelling questions to answer: what happened to his missing paterfamilias, why was he left with his dull aunt and uncle, why is he still in high school when the actor that plays him is just shy of 30? These conundrums form the basis of a slight, but suitably involving mystery, that brings Parker into contact with his Father’s former lab partner, Curt Connors – a mad scientist with a missing limb and an ugly reptile fixation. This is writer James Vanderbilt and franchise returnee, Alvin Sargent’s best shot at a new approach, giving the characters more compelling motives; letting the links between them drive the story.

For a while it’s a successful gambit. Despite his advanced years, Andrew Garfield is far stronger in the lead than Toby Maguire. His, unsurprisingly, is a more mature turn. With the story refocused on Parker’s high school, and his relationship with another mature student, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone is 23), Webb’s cauldron of adolescent angst and proxies for pubescence, anchored by a Peter Pan lead, recall the mid-80’s Michael J. Fox vehicle, Teen Wolf (though without the jokes). Throw in a bit of early Matthew Broderick, that’s Wargames gadget geekery, and you’ve got a likeable enough adventure for those just late of the egg sack.

Webb is comfortable and in control during this part of the story. Until the halfway mark, he’s teasing out performances, building characters  – you can almost hear him thinking, ‘it’s a pity that I’m going to have to crank up the high concept stuff. I’m enjoying this.’ But crank it up he must and when he does, a creeping sense of familiarity deadens the senses. The setpiece fights, the locations, the aerial swoops from wrist ejaculate: if the Spider-Man movie now has a formula, thanks to Raimi’s uninspired efforts, it’s unbroken in these moments.

In a sequel, this sense of going through the motions would be simply regrettable, perhaps inevitable, but in the first of what is, ostensibly, a new series, it invites the audience to go where Sony desperately hoped they wouldn’t, and reflect on why they’ve been asked to pay for a thinly disguised remake with an added surcharge for the cinema’s very own Emperor’s New Clothes, 3D. Best not to think about that, rather allow the film’s pleasant waking dream effect to take hold. Give your brain a well earned rest.

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Director: Marc Webb

Country: US

Year: 2012

Running Time: 136 mins

Certificate: 12A for strong Rhys Ifans, excessive hair, call backs to Teen Wolf and intense Sally Field.

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