The underwhelming Spider-Man
KATHMANDU, JUL 11 -
As the first film to be screened at a newly-renovated Jai Nepal when the theatre reopened its doors under new management in 2002, the original Spider-Man was a super-hit-and-a-half in Kathmandu, and ran for many, many weeks. The release didn’t just represent the beginning of a still-continuing quest for a more streamlined theatre experience in the city; it was also a pretty great film on its own. Starring Tobey Maguire, Spider-Man was part of a pioneering wave of superhero blockbusters, when the genre was just beginning to stretch its legs within the increasingly sophisticated digital possibilities that were becoming available, and I remember personally buying tickets to no less than five shows.
So yeah, you could call me something of a fan.
The eagerly-awaited Part 2, which came out a couple of years later, didn’t disappoint, though I can’t say the same of 2007’s horribly tedious Part 3. Sam Raimi, who directed all three installments, then reportedly pulled out of a fourth, owing to script disagreements. So this year, the franchise revisited its origins in The Amazing Spider-Man, with a revamped cast under the direction of the appropriately-named Mark Webb. But the reboot feels premature—even unnecessary; it mostly treads on familiar ground, and while certainly boasting a few perks, doesn’t reinvent well enough to claim improvement over the original.
We find Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) in high school, flirting with the pretty Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), while being regularly pummeled by beefy members of the basketball team. Peter’s mother and father disappeared mysteriously a while back and adoptive parents Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) have been mum on the subject, fueling his curiosity even more. Until he discovers a briefcase that belonged to his father, containing a sheaf of obscure research. Some nifty Googling reveals that dad, along with partner Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), had been at the forefront of revelations in interspecies mutation, basically fancy-talk for mixing human genes with that of other species, which, once perfected, would revolutionise medicine. Peter manages to slip into the high-tech premises of OsCorp (it’ll ring a bell if you’ve seen the original) to acquaint himself with the one-armed Dr Connors who heads lab facilities there. But while snooping around the restricted area, he is bitten by nasty radioactive spiders, and lo behold—Spider-Man is born. Again.
Soon, unprecedented powers are bestowed on our short-sighted friend—you know the drill—including superstrength, sticky hands and a penchant for heights. But while testing out his newfound skills on the streets and beating up bullies—not to mention revving up his love life—he becomes increasingly distanced from his family, as an indirect result of which Uncle Ben is killed. Seething, Peter gets his costume out—complete with wrist apparatus to shoot out webs—determined to kick some criminal butt.
Meanwhile, Connors has injected himself with an untested reptilian serum, hoping to regenerate his missing limb. As can be expected, things go awry, transforming him into the grotesque man-sized Lizard, intent on releasing a serum-infused cloud on the city, to turn the masses like him (it gets lonely in the sewers, I gather). Spidey must stop him in time, all while keeping his loved ones safe and evading a deluded police force—led by Gwen’s father (Denis Leary)—that considers him a public threat.
While Maguire had a puppy-dog vulnerability about him, Garfield’s Peter is angstier, a rebel slash boy genius of sorts, and darkly appealing. The actor, who put up splendid performances in The Social Network and dystopian drama Never Let Me Go in 2010,
is youthful enough to portray credibly a teenage vigilante, but feels suited more to the gentle, emotive scenes as opposed to out and out superhero stuff. Stone is her usual charming self, and although given a more proactive role than most females enjoy in comic-book films, is still heavily underused. The rapport between the two is probably where the film excels the most—chemistry that felt forced in the case of Maguire and Kirstin Dunst (whose absence I rejoice). Webb, who was behind the indie favourite (500) Days of Summer, certainly has a flair for plating up romance with subtlety. But while dialogues throughout Amazing are much more natural than the hackneyed philosophising in the older film, it can also go the other extreme, dribbling into the muttery awkwardness that abounds in young Hollywood today, the kind that makes me squirm.
As for special effects, they are more fine-tuned here than in the original, but considering the years the technology has had to mature, it’s only expected. And the 3D, although pretty spectacular when encompassing sweeping city views and select action bits, is largely redundant; I found it easier to watch sans chunky glasses.
My issue with Amazing is in the way it swings between going too far and not going far enough, trying at once to be an intimate coming-of-age romance, a Godzilla-sized blockbuster, and revisiting key plot points from the original so as to keep fan-boys happy—attempting to please too many, essentially. And with a rather insipid villain (why would you cook up the antidote for your own evil scheme and keep it within easy reach of do-gooders?), there isn’t enough of a terror arc or a feeling of resolution here to keep you on your toes. Mostly, the film focuses on Peter and his journey of self-discovery, which would’ve been fine, had we not already been there and done that a decade ago. I’m not too keen on watching the sequel, but if they rope in Mr Jameson for that one, I could be persuaded.
The Amazing Spider-Man is currently playing at cinemas around the city
The Amazing Spider-Man
Actors: Andrew Garfield,
Rhys Ifans, Emma Stone
Director: Mark Webb
Genre: Superhero adventure
Posted on: 2012-07-11 08:39