Ok, so here's something I don't do very often. It's nothing art or design related, but seeing as this is, primarily, my blog, I thought it the best place to post this (sort of) review.
This film has been receiving very mixed reviews from both the media and members of the general public. This is a kind of meta-review as I think critics on both pro and con sides of the discussion have been doing the film a rather big disservice. So here’s a few words on The Amazing Spider-man.
I’ll go through some of the critiques made to the film first.
Perhaps the most frequent criticism made about the film is that it was unnecessary and ‘too soon’; quite often these remarks were made before the film had even been released in theatres.
For the most part I don’t think such a point is all that objective. How soon anything is really depends on people’s personal opinion. Many wrote that 10 years – the gap between this and Sam Raimi’s 2002 first installment of his trilogy – was too soon for a reboot. I personally think something around 1 or 2 years to be too soon. Consider the gap between Batman & Robin and Batman Begins, an even shorter gap of 8 years: I don’t recall anybody in 2005 repremanding Nolan for not waiting longer.
The more valid point may be that of ‘necessity’. Did we really need another Spider-man origin story? Here a comparison with Schumacher/Nolan is a little harder, considering how over-the-top campy B&R was and how welcome and satisfactorily dark and ‘realistic’ a response Nolan’s BB was. Sam Raimi’s Spider-man was no B&R: it was loved by many (including myself) and was so successful that two films were greenlighted to follow. But you could still ask: was it really the best transition to the screen Spidey could and would ever get? Even in the heady fanboyish excitement of seeing it for the first time, a lot of things bothered me. Why wasn’t Peter cracking jokes? Where were the web-shooters? Where did the highly intricate raised-web costume suddenly come from? Where was Gwen Stacy? What was up with the Green Goblin’s helmet, and why did they kill him off at the end? I enjoyed and still enjoy the film, but the amount of corny and goofy scenes grew with each following film, until we were presented with the mostly painful experience of Spider-man 3. It’s a film I can enjoy as some kind of parody or comedy superhero film, but I tend to think of it as the Batman & Robin of the Raimi franchise. Maybe that was as good a reason as any to start Spidey over again.
Moving on to criticisms made to that actual film rather than it’s timing, I’ve read a lot of talk about ‘emotionless’, ‘repetitive’ and ‘Twilight spider-man’. I can understand the accusations of repetitiveness, as the first hour of the film addresses Spidey’s origins. However, accusations of little emotion and comparisons to Twilight are respectively subjective (again) and just wrong. The film’s greatest strength is undoubtedly its treatment of the every day human relationships between the characters, not to mention the Gwen and Peter romance. Most detractors of the film have grudglingly admitted that the ‘at least the romance was good’. Good is an understatement: Stone and Garfield are miles ahead of the limp and repetitive on-screen realtionship between Raimi’s Maguire and Dunst. As for the Twilight remarks, the only basis for them that I could think of was Garfield’s big hair. Granted, Amazing’s Peter is moody and depressed. He’s not a bespectacled, starched-shirt weraing stereotypical nerd like in Raimi’s – and let’s face it, that stereotype was already outdated in 2002. He’s still a loner and socially awkward and, character-wise, that’s all that matters. Either way, regardless of people’s lack of interest in the growth of an emotionally troubled and deeply lonely young man, any comparison between Amazing Spider-man and a film like Twilight is simply mean-spirited.
Going back to the film’s first hour: yes, we’ve seen his origins before. The key point is that this is a different take, and a very different one at that. Whilst some have criticised the fact that Peter’s fate was tied to the genetically altered spider, Oscorp and Dr. Connors from the beginning as relying on ‘too many coincidences’, by having Peter’s father work at Oscorp it seems simply narratively logical rather than lazy writing. Uncle Ben’s death, by contrast, is presented to us in a much more sudden and realistic way than in Raimi’s version: the scene not overblown with schmaltz and Peter’s involvement being more direct, without making him utterly unlikable. It’s a heated, emotional argument that leads to chance tragedy. The fact that Ben and Peter’s relationship is more developed in this interpretation makes the scene much more impactful and heart-rending, despite the fact that we know it’s coming. The use of comedy in the film is also more warm and likable. The moments where Peter gradually discovers his new powers are hilarious without coming across as crass or corny – unlike the ‘go web go’ scene in Raimi’s first offering. Garfield plays the young boy discovering his body’s newfound potential with believable and contagious enthusiasm.
In other words, yes, the list of points to check is the same, but the fundamental elements of the origin story have been changed and joined by some welcome updates and additions.
Lastly, I’ve read comments ranging from ‘I didn’t like the score’ to ‘I didn’t like the costume’ and ‘The Lizard looked weird’. Again, I don’t take these comments all that seriously as they’re almost completely subjective and down to personal taste. Personally I think both Elfman and Horner are two of Hollywood’s greatest composers, and their respective scores fit the two films perfectly. Raimi’s film was more melodramatic and quirky, whilst Webb’s is more romantic and joyous. I’ll say more about the costume in the next section, but again, it’s up to personal taste. Regarding the Lizard, they went for a mix between the original Ditko and later Todd MacFarlarne designs, which I think worked well enough. Personally, they could have gone with either and I wouldn’t have minded.
What about the positive reviews?
As I’ve already mentioned, the most often mentioned and praised aspect of the film in the good reviews is the love story and the cast’s performances. This is undoubtedly true, particularly so for Stone, who is simply perfect. I would argue, however, that the film has more going for it than just that.
It’s not just Garfiled’s performance that has me really feel as if I’m seeing a live-action Spidey, but the way the character’s written. We have a wise-cracking, sarcastic spidey again and, regardless of how many people may find him annoying, the constant quipping is as much a defining element of Spider-man as is his wall-crawling or spider-sense. We see him transform from a hell-bent and cocky teen into a resolute and heroic figure, learning Ben’s lesson about responsibility throughout the film in a more complex and interesting way. There’s no talk of ‘great power’ but rather a utilitarian, John Stuart Mill-style ‘moral duty to help’.
The humour is really one of the best elements of the film: we laugh with Spidey at the inept criminals he fights and at him when he makes a stupid mistake (or two). There are too many funny moments for me to list, but let’s just say this film features the best Stan Lee cameo ever recorded on film to date, with a use of classical music that already proved effective in an episode of the sadly cancelled Spectacular Spider-man animated series.
Finally there are the little touches. The costume’s construction is finally shown to us: I was initially as sceptical as everyone else when I first saw the promotional photos of it, but seeing Peter build his web-shooters out of digital watches, surf for spandex sport suits and use his sunglasses lenses for the mask’s eye-pieces was wonderful for me and made me warm to the design much more.
I also love how truly animalistic both Spider-man and Lizard’s movements and interactions are. Take for example the brilliant moments where Spidey webs up Lizard by scuttling and crawling all over him as if he were a fly, or when Lizard literally tastes the air, like a Komodo dragon, when he’s searching for Gwen in the Oscorp lab. Perhaps the best thing of all? The villain isn’t killed off at the end of the film! Unlike Raimi’s Goblin, Doc Ock and Venom, Lizard lives to make a second appearance.
To conclude, I’d like to apologise for the length of this review, but I really enjoyed this film. It’s by no means perfect – the crane scene was perhaps a little too crass and some scenes seem a tad rushed – but I was nonetheless dismayed by both its positive and negative reviews: neither, I think, did it justice. It’s a truly smart, fun and enjoyable film, as well as the truest representation of Spidey on film to date.