Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is an outsider with a passion for science and a crush on fellow high schooler Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). When Peter comes across a briefcase left after his father’s death, he’s lead to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), his father’s research partner, and to an incident involving genetically modified spiders that leaves him with superhuman abilities. Assuming an alter ego of “Spider-Man”, he uses his powers to the benefit of the citizens of New York, but he must raise his game when a new foe, a menacing lizard, threatens ultimate destruction.

Lifted from the comic book created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, The Amazing Spider-Man may not be the first cinematic take on the web-slinging superhero, but new director Marc Webb has brought his own pre-defined skillset to the table and delivered a film that not only stays true to the characters origins, but also one that takes the story right back to its fundamentals – a nerdy teenager who is forced to combat evil head on with his new abilities, all the while dealing with the disappearance of his parents, the unexpected death of his uncle and a first love.

Through his screenplay, James Vanderbilt constructs a narrative deeply rooted in reality, rendered with well-formed characterisations and welcomed infusions of comedy, mild peril and humility. The pacing may be too quick, and Vanderbilt packs far too much into the film’s extended running time (several sub-plot could’ve been done away with entirely to maximise natural progression), but it’s ultimately a film that’s light on its feet and populated by characters and situations that reflect society and how a normal person would react to such a mind-boggling situation.

Webb, coming off the back of a critically acclaimed and non-linear romance drama, etches every scene with love. He somehow manages to make the overworked narrative seem quick-witted, particularly due to the way he handles the comically-tinged interplay between Garfield’s Peter and Stone’s Gwen, and the changes Peter experiences, turning him from a pushover into an unlikely hero. His action scenes are framed well, even if the CGI feels a little rushed and starry-eyed for its own good. But, then again, this isn’t Webb’s forte, and what he achieves is more commendable than it is unworthy.

It’s problems, however, often weigh down its often playful nature and stop it from becoming the film is wants desperately to be. Connors’ metamorphosis, in particular, feels mishandled, and the CGI version of The Lizard he becomes isn’t nearly as hair-raising as one had hoped for. Thankfully, the performance from Ifans, and in turn from Garfield and Stone, stop it from losing its way entirely. Garfield is Peter Parker, pure and simple, and his version of Spider-Man is in-keeping with his personality, yet more outspoken and noble.

The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t without its faults, but for a film that was highly contested at its point of conception, and thanks to the undisputed efforts on behalf of Webb, Vanderbilt and the entire cast, right down to Sally Field and Martin Sheen as Aunt May and Uncle Ben, it’s one that more-or-less succeeds. It’s admittedly more toned down, angsty, humorous and character-centric than action-packed but, at a time when the world is becoming a progressively darker place, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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