The Amazing Spider-Man (Marc Webb, 2012)
(note: Iím not a comic book reader. If I get something wrong, just let me know.)
Iíll probably upset quite a few people with this statement, but I donít care, since itíll only stand for the next twelve days or so. The Amazing Spider-Man is the best superhero film Iíve seen in 2012. Donít take this to mean that I donít enjoy The Avengers. I did. Quite a bit, in fact. But, ironically, where much of that film seemed like just a pastiche of stuff Iíd seen from all the films that came before, Spider-Man feels incredibly fresh. It manages to take a story weíve seen before, and quite recently, and really come at it from an entirely different angle. It doesnít hurt that Andrew Garfield is a better Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire could ever hope to be.
The plot (obviously) follows Peterís transformation into Spider-Man, hitting all the main points of the origin story that it needs to; the death of Peterís parents, the death of Uncle Ben, the bite by the radioactive spider, the fall into the boxing gym. But where the initial film focused on the budding romance with Mary Jane Watson and the menace of Dr. Norman Osborn aka ďGreen GoblinĒ, this reboot focuses on Peterís budding romance with Gwen Stacy and the menace of Dr. Curt Connors aka ďThe Lizard.Ē This is why I donít read comics.
Rather than going with an established name in what was certainly a quite risky (and arguably dumb and unnecessary) venture of rebooting a series not even ten years old, Columbia made the risky move of going with Marc Webb, best known for the indie romantic dramedy (500) Days of Summer, rather than a more established director. Fortunately, that choice pays off in spades, and I really think Webb has already created a more interesting and realistic universe than Raimi could have ever hoped to. Where that world was VERY comic book-y, with many of the supporting characters being nothing more than caricatures, everyone in this reboot feels like a real human being, someone I wouldnít be surprised to run into on the street.
Another aspect of the film that is so much more involving than the original film is the love story between Peter and Gwen. Say what you want, but I never really felt any chemistry between Maguire and Dunst; aside from that upside down kiss scene (which doesnít really count), they always just felt like two actors forcing a romance. With Garfield and Stone, the fact that they started dating is as clear as day from their first extended (adorable) scene together; an awkward conversation in the hallway. Itís all giggles, awkward glances and stuttered words, thankfully wrapped up by a stupid joke from Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). But itís in moments like that you see the vital romantic chemistry that is so often missing from superhero films (Downey/Paltrow excluded).
Webb also deserves some credit for playing up the romantic nature of the film. Obviously Raimi was more concerned with the superhero aspect in his original, and thatís fine. Heís always been more of a visual director than an emotional one. But Webb sparked his career with a beautiful film about relationships, so itís not a surprise that he focuses so heavily on that here. I was also surprised at how much leeway the studio seems to have given him with certain shots; any fans of his previous film will notice some similar techniques.
(Side note; during the first scene when we see Connors in the sewers, and he takes a corner, the heavy shadow is a clear homage to Nosferatu, yes?)
The film isnít perfect. In fact, as Iím writing this review, more flaws are coming to mind. James Hornerís score, while serviceable, is sometimes too whimsical and, for lack of a better word twee, for its own good. The security flaws at Oscorp, ostensibly the most advanced science lab in the world this side of Massive Dynamic, are glaring. And Marvel flirts with the possibility of a beautifully sad ending before taking the Hollywood way out. But for a film that had so much potential to go terribly wrong, itís surprising how well it works. Now that Webb has the basics out-of-the-way, Iím excited to see where he goes from here. Doing a quick Google search has shown me the less-than-pleasant results for the Gwen Stacy character, so I know we could be in for a truly great (and heartbreaking) franchise.