Marc Webb’s Spider-man: The amazing and the not-so-amazing
July 8, 2012 1 Comment
There has been much build-up to
Marc Webb Sony’s reboot of the nary decade-old Spider-man franchise, with a near-constant succession of teasers, trailers and tv spots vying desperately to show us the movie long before its release. Thankfully, the finished film – released last Tuesday. That’s right: Tuesday – miraculously still contains the odd surprise, and, while far from perfect, marks a successful new beginning for a second Spider-trilogy.
While my review touched on some of the various strengths and weaknesses of Webb’s movie, however, it was unable to do due justice to the many highs and lows of The Amazing Spider-man. As such, here is a substantially more detailed – and, therefore, spoiler-heavy – analysis of the “finished” film.
Sam Raimi’s original film, 2002’s Spider-man, is still held in high esteem by many as a high point in the superhero resurgence which – arguably – started with Blade and has continued to this day. Succeeded and exceeded by Raimi’s first follow up, it was presumed that although prone to the occasional misfire the franchise would endure for many years to come. While the announcement of a premature reboot caught many by surprise, being instantly dismissed as a cynical and unnecessary move on the studio’s behalf, the then untitled project was nevertheless simultaneously viewed as an ideal opportunity to find a new, better cast.
Tobey Maguire had never quite convinced as the amazing, spectacular, superlative Spider-man, with even his Peter Parker coming across as a bland, wet and ever-so-slightly smug miscreation. Kirsten Dunst too had seemed miscast as Mary-Jane Watson, the natural blonde struggling to find the right note on which to play the character, often resorting to a poorly judged attempt at miserablism. Indeed, with the exception of J. K. Simmons’ J. Jonah Jameson, very few of Raimi’s cast felt as though they truly belonged in Spider-man’s world.
Webb, on the other hand, gets just about every part right, from the infinitely less annoying Sally Field as Aunt May to Martin Sheen’s heroic turn as the famously ill-fated Uncle Ben. It is in Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone that Webb truly trumps Raimi, however, his Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy practically glowing with youthful energy and infectious charm. Garfield is a revelation, convincing entirely as a schoolboy (despite being 28 years of age in real life) in a way that Maguire never could. Wiry and slight, he is also a much more spider-like superhero, positively dwarfed by Rhys Ifans’ towering Lizard. Stone, meanwhile, brings a warmth and likeability to the role of love interest, imbuing Gwen Stacy with a strength and capability that makes her a joy to watch.
After three films spent swinging between buildings, crawling up walls and besting bad guys, it was starting to seem as though Raimi had all but exhausted Spider-man’s few powers and abilities. It wasn’t until the final film in his trilogy that the director discovered impact webbing, and even then it was used to do little but inconvenience James Franco’s New Goblin. What did that leave Marc Webb? How was he going to wring tentpole-worthy set pieces out of sticky fingers and stringy webbing in a summer also boasting Ghost Rider, The Avengers and Christopher Nolan’s apparently infallible The Dark Knight Rises?
In the build-up to release, Webb had spoken often of his desire to base Spider-man’s movements on those of an actual spider. Garfield too had discussed the efforts he had gone to in an attempt to better emulate the quirks and idiosyncrasies of arachnid behaviour. While such research is hardly rare in this type of production, never has it paid off so impressively in the finished product. Whether disarming a car thief with bursts of webbing, using a web to decipher The Lizard’s whereabouts or cocooning his pray in a school corridor, Webb uses each and every skirmish to develop and elaborate on Spider-man’s powers so that the action remains fresh and exciting.
More than that, however, is the effect it has had on Spider-man himself. Whereas it was often easy to distinguish between live action (who can forget the infamous image of Dunst clinging to a costumed mannequin in the original movie) and CGI during Raimi’s tenure, the technological advancement between franchises has done wonders for The Amazing Spider-man. The 3D helps too, giving an extra dimension (obviously) not only to the scenes depicting Spidey swinging across the New York skyline but also to the quieter moments spent atop a skyscraper, balancing on two fingers, giving the best insight yet into what life must be like as Spider-man: liberating.
Just about every movie you have ever seen exists in more than one cut, each telling its story through a unique assemblage of footage as put together by the film’s appointed editor. Earlier this year, Joss Whedon shaved at least thirty minutes from his adaptation of Marvel’s The Avengers, leaving audiences with a new version that was every bit (we assume) as satisfying and entertaining as the film’s full incarnation – perhaps even more so as it refined the movie’s pace and trimmed the feature down to a slightly less ass-numbing length.
Unfortunately, Webb’s final cut of The Amazing Spider-man isn’t quite as successful, instead bringing to mind Ridley Scott’s work on the much-derided Prometheus. With a number of additional scenes known to exist in some shape or form (although the less said about Webb’s patented Spider-vision the better), the theatrical cut is missing a considerable amount of detail on the topic of Peter’s parents, their link to his apparent destiny and his hunt for Uncle Ben’s killer. Without this elaboration, the film seems incomplete, a number of the later scenes not paying off in the way that they were perhaps intended to, as the foundations have simply not been laid to the required extent.
In its abbreviated form, the film does not have the time to address the myriad subplots and tangents in a way that is both satisfying and comprehensible. By the film’s finale, there are too many loose ends and unanswered questions to provide closure on what should have been a self-contained origin story. Almost certain that the film would perform well enough to earn sequels, Sony have left far too much up in the air for subsequent instalments to pick up from whenever Webb et al find the necessary time to return to the franchise. This isn’t helped by a mid-credits scene that not only feels tacked on and unnecessary, but doesn’t give enough information to satisfy in its own right, either.
In order to distinguish his own movie from the extant franchise, it was necessary for Webb to find a new spin on the story if he was to entice cinemagoers back to watch essentially the same movie they had seen in the cinema a decade before, and however many times they have since revisited it on DVD or Blu-ray. While a number of these innovations work wonders – be it the reintroduction of the artificial web-shooters, the additional backstory (up to a point) and the use of a new antagonist – many more prove substantially less successful.
The biggest problem is that many of these alterations seem to exist for little more purpose than to deviate from the norm, often jarring as they struggle to find an equally effective way of telling practically the same story. Uncle Ben, for instance, gets so caught up in not saying “with great power comes great responsibility” that he ties his tongue over a series of more convoluted and less iconic ways of saying the same thing.
For me, however, the most irritating example of this came when Peter Parker first acquired his powers as Spider-man. In the original movie, he was bitten by a radioactive hybrid with all of the characteristics of Spider-man, before doing away with the culprit arachnid and slinking back to anonymity until the transformation was complete. In this new version, the script conspires to have Parker enter a restricted part of OsCorp, which (despite his father’s work having been allegedly stopped years previously) is teeming with blue spiders just waiting to bite unsuspecting trespassers. Parker is covered in them, before escaping – and leaving the spiders to their own devices – and proceeding to show off his new abilities to just about everyone in the downtown area. Very subtle. All anyone would have to do is spot the escaping spiders, check CCTV and they’d know exactly who the new vigilante swinging around Manhattan is and where to find him.
Despite such reservations, however, I did rather enjoy Marc Webb’s take on the Spider-man story. Many of the biggest limitations – i.e. the moments of pure cheese – are weaknesses it shares with Raimi’s 2002 original. With The Amazing Spider-man‘s cast, direction and effects, however, there is no reason why Webb shouldn’t go on to make the definitive Spider-movie, perhaps even improving on Raimi’s current franchise-high Spider-man 2.