The Amazing Spider-man lives up to its name.
The main problem with the previous three Spider-man films was that Tobey Maguire and company always seemed too much like actors who knew they were in a superhero movie and played accordingly. I’m not sure how old Maguire was ten years ago but he never for a second seemed like a high school kid. Andrew Garfield is 28 but as soon as he appears on screen here, he is 17. Likewise Gwen Stacey whom Emma Stone imbues with likeability, believability. Why do so many films portray the prettiest girl in the class as mean spirited anyway? With these two at the helm- plus a terrific Rhys Ifans as the antagonist- this film flies from the moment it begins.
WARNING- SPOLERS BEYOND THIS POINT
How to re-tell a story most people have seen in at least one and possibly more than one incarnation? Marc Webb’s film goes to what would seem to be its roots as an allegory for the onset of adulthood. Peter Parker, shuffling and awkward does not know what is happening to him- and that’s before any spiders arrive on the scene. The film scores strongly by adding verisimilitude to Peter’s back story. It does have to build in an unlikely level of coincidence to do so but even so it seems much better than the chance arachnid bite of the previous franchisees.
We open with Peter’s parents’ sudden flight from their home and the young Parker being left with Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Years later, the chance discovery of a case full of Dad’s scientific notes set Peter off on a search for Dr Curt Connors, with whom Parker senior clearly shared research. Once inside Oscorp, where Connors works, Peter’s inquisitiveness lands him in a room where spiders are being fed some sort of regenerative material and you know what happens next.
The spontaneity in the scenes where Peter tries to deal with his new condition work extremely well ; at time as if Garfield has been left to riff on the idea though no doubt every move was rehearsed. The scenes seem to get just the right mix of trepidation and elation. The film keeps to the personal for the rest of its duration so that this Peter Parker remains just that and when he does try and behave like a superior superhero it goes pear shaped.
Connors’ own experiments with the regenerative stuff cause even more radical changes and he soon becomes an out of control giant lizard, albeit with a curiously un-lizard like head. This is the third film in a row I’ve seen recently (after Anonymous and Neverland) where Rhys Ifans has impressed and here he gives a masterful example of how to play this kind of role. By the time he disappears under the CGI lizard, we understand that he started from good intent and he remains an identifiable character to the end.
The relationship between Peter and Gwen is also well played, so naturally and does not fall into the sort of overly choreographed realms of the previous movies. Webb catches the nuances between them so well that he can make an awkward dinner table scene as tense as the action sequences.
As for that action it is rendered with such a fluid dynamic and includes some brilliant point of view sequences where we find out just what flying through the air between buildings might look like. This is thrilling- more so in IMAX 3D- and also provides the film with it’ own trademark and for the moment the best realisation of superhero gymnastics we’ve yet seen. Unlike some blockbusters this film’s action is not over long and dovetails well into the in between bits.
If superhero films are becoming so familiar that their traits are easy to telegraph that is no fault of what is a fun, exciting ride and perhaps this is the superhero film for people who don’t normally like superhero films.