Before writing this review, I was corrected by one of my editors on the correct spelling of Spider-Man. Perfectionists will clearly note the importance of the hyphen in between the words Spider and man. Those same perfectionists probably disapproved of many of the creative liberties taken by Sam Raimi and chums during the last three Spider-Man outings. A lot has changed since then. Comic book films have gone one of two ways – by becoming grittier, more realistic than their contemporaries, or by making sure all the pieces fit together as the recent Avengers movie successfully proved. So which path does The Amazing Spider-Man choose to take? More importantly, does it satisfy the hunger of comic book fans worldwide?
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is a teenage genius, generally picked on by bullies and ignored by the ladies. After losing his parents at a young age, he lives under the watchful eye of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Upon discovering that his parents’ death might not have been as black and white as the papers would have him believe, Peter finds his way into Oscorp, the large scientific corporation / lab located in the heart of the New York skyline, that conspicuously also previously employed his father. After meeting his father’s ex-co-worker, Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), Peter discovers a secret project involving radioactive spiders, and allowing his curiosity to get the better of him, decides to go in for a closer look. The rest, as they say, is comic book history.
The film’s first half is its strongest point. The origin story of Spider-Man is revisited, deconstructed, reimagined and downright better-constructed than the version in the Raimi films. For those craving a darker, more realistic perspective on Spider-Man then this is the closest you’ll get. Taking a lot more time to delve into why Peter Parker is a genius, his sometimes awkward relationship with his aunt and uncle, and the love story between him and Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone), from the get-go this film ticks all the boxes for being the most well-rounded Spidey origin to date. The conspiracy behind his parents’ deaths plays a significant role in the film, and it’s good to see that lingering web of deceit always making into the foreground, as it will potentially play a vital role in future sequels. That’s not to say the film isn’t without its fair share of fun as well. Peter toying with bullies such as Flash Thompson, experimenting with his newfound powers or even the classic Spider-Man wit means you’ll get a few titters along the way and certainly demonstrates that director Marc Webb (no pun intended) has covered all the bases in order to make this film appealing to people of all ages.
The biggest letdown of the film is with The Lizard and, in particular, his appearance during the film’s final act. Rhys Ifans does a great job as Dr. Curt Connors, albeit saddled with a few Jekyll and Hyde moments that are a throwback to the Norman Osbourne / Green Goblin moments of the Willem Defoe era. The CGI Lizard itself doesn’t bear any resemblance to the comic book or even animated versions, and as much as Sony could try and justify themselves by trying to go for a realism angle, the monster itself just looks weird for lack of a better term. A cross between a goomba from the Super Mario Brothers film and bad CGI from a Jurassic Park sequel means that this is one of the weakest-looking enemies the Spider-Man films have had to endure. It’s the tip of the iceberg for what makes the final act of the film it’s weakest point. The film becomes a bit too patriotic for it’s own good amidst the action and the Lizard’s master plan is nothing exciting or new (in fact it’s not far off the plan that Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow had in Batman Begins… sort of) and is predictable even before the Lizard’s creation. Thankfully, the dictionary definition of comic book violence and the cat-and-mouse relationship between Spider-Man and Police Chief George Stacey (Denis Leary) is enough of a distraction to keep you focused on the story, rather than the bad CGI.
The Amazing Spider-Man is one of the better Spidey films to date and is certainly head, shoulders, knees and toes above Spider-Man 3. As we’ve seen with both the Christopher Nolan/Batman series, and the Avengers saga, comic book fans love it when a plan comes together and if The Amazing Spider-Man is anything to go by, then there’s plenty more wall-crawling for the red and blue-clad superhero to do before the end of the saga. Spider-Man mythology is one of the richest comic book tapestries out there, and it’s good to see it finally getting the look at it deserves. The film isn’t perfect by any means, but as far as origin films go, it is definitely one of the best out there.