Review: The Amazing Spider-man

The Amazing Spider-man posterTitle: The Amazing Spider-man
Cinematic Release: 2012
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, and Irrfan Khan
Written by: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves
Directed by: Marc Webb

There are two things that immediately struck me that were most important to communicate as the credits roled. These things are as follows:

1) There is nothing wrong with this movie.

And:

2) You need to see this film in 3D.

These might seem like ‘damning with faint praise’ in certain portions of the net, but if you’re been following me for a while, I hope you’ll take them as they are meant. Which is to say: I thought this movie was excellent. There was not a single thing wrong with it. Moreover, every other movie that I have seen in 3D, even where I thought the 3D added something in places (pretty much, in Thor and Avatar), at multiple points made me feel a bit queasy, was unnecessarily blurry throughout, was confusing in the fight scenes, and I repeatedly had to remove my glasses for my eyes to recover. None of these things is true of The Amazing Sprider-man. Furthermore, the 3D was not only not gratuitous, it was completely and utterly breathtaking. You need to see it. It is worth your time.

Now, if you have seen the trailer whilst watching some film you did not see in 3D you may be looking at this review somewhat sceptically right now. Let me put your mind at rest. I shared your concerns. I now understand. This movie is meant to be shown in 3D. The CGI looked shit in 2D because it was meant to be seen in 3D. In 3D it is stunning. You really feel it as an awe-inspiring experience every time he leaps from a building. For the first time 3D has made me feel closer to the action, more engrossed, as opposed to distancing me from it. For nothing else but that, you should experience this movie.

And that’s just the set dressing.

OK, it wouldn’t be hard for to beat the previous Spider-man movies in my eyes. I found the first one to be almost without redeeming feature (although quite funny in an unintentional way). I enjoyed Spider-man 2, sometimes in the way it meant me to (there were a few genuinely funny, rousing, exciting moments), but often because the scripting was so bad I had to laugh or I’d cry. I actually have time for Spiderman 3, in a way that I know few people do. I think it had a better, tighter plot, and made few appalling scripting errors, at the same time as taking a more realistic and welcome attitude towards romantic relationships. None of this is to say I thought it was a great movie.

The Amazing Spider-man is just a different creature in every sense. There were one or two moments that might have been called corny, but these were entirely due to the nature of the source material – I want this to be spoiler free, but there are certain Spider-man events that you know are inevitable, and they need to happen in one way or another. Given that they had to go down, they were given the most plausible interpretation possible – one which was both respectful to the source material whilst bringing it up to date with what a modern audience would expect.

Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield, wearing pipecleaner glassesThe acting was flawless. Just look at the cast list and you know that there was a lot of talent. I mean, Martin Sheen, well. He was everything you’d expect. Rhys Ifans was also excellent, and touching, even though he had a somewhat less realistic story arc (again, within the confines of comic book lore, very well-handled). Sally Fields was nuanced in a way the previous Aunt May did not even approach (although, she did what she could with the lines she was handed). But the real prizes go to Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield. They both epitomise the nervousness and enthusiasm of young love without ever becoming clichéd or obvious. Their on-screen chemistry is undeniable and wonderful. Before I even saw the film I was charmed by this photo of them together at a cocktail party, captioned by Megan O’Keefe (she of My Mom Watches Game of Thrones fame): ‘I’m at the point where I honestly don’t think Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are promoting The Amazing Spiderman. They are promoting the fact that they share a perfect, flawless love that I will never understand’… And, well, that’s pretty much how it looks on-screen.

And I can’t stress enough what an excellent actor Andrew Garfield is. He not only fills out the tights (or whatever it is they make Spider-man costumes out of these days that I’m pretty sure teenagers can’t afford, but anyway), but the boy makes a believable character out of the two-dimensional shell Toby Maguire left behind. I have an affection for Toby Maguire, but Spiderman is not his best work. In illustration: Peter Parker is a character with a lot of reasons to cry. I imagine it’s hard for an actor not to turn Peter into a blubbing mess. I imagine it’s also easy for a director to say ‘don’t worry, son, we’ll just pull out the air-sprays and may your eyes water on cue’ – I’ve seen far too much of this these days and I really don’t believe in single, beautiful tears from pristine white eyes anymore. Andrew Garfield cries from the red eyes of someone who doesn’t want to cry,who isn’t weak or wet, but who nevertheless has landed in a life that is seriously fucked up even before he gets bitten by a mutant spider. He’s angry as well as conflicted and despairing, and justifiably so. But he doesn’t wallow in his pain. It’s masterful. Andrew Garfield is one to watch.

Lex Murphy from Jurassic Park and Gwen Stacy from TAS

Neither of these photos is what I was after. My Google-fu failed me. But I guess you can see what I meant by the hair style?

Frequent fliers of the Happiness Max will know that I have issues with the treatment of women in most superhero films. Not so, here. Even Aunt May gets to say ‘For goodness’ sake, I can walk 12 blocks by myself!’. And though the confines of existing story structure and comic book lore mean that there is an inevitable power imbalance between Peter and Gwen (Emma Stone), it does not really impose upon their relationship. Moreover, Gwen gets to be believably strong, saving the day in her own right in a really, really beautiful moment that makes an awesome visual reference to Jurassic Park in a way that I can’t say too much about without spoiling things, but is just thoroughly awesome – right down to her bangs*.

I suppose a nitpicker might want to complain that the science doesn’t make sense, but to them I would say ‘Really? In Spider-man? You don’t say.’ You really can’t have Spider-man where the science makes sense. He gets bitten by a spider and gets superpowers. As the whole sciency bit turns on the assumption that this makes sense, anyone who has a problem with this was never going to like a Spider-man movie anyway.

Besides that… OK, I tell a lie. Representation of people of colour was not super awesome. There was a prominent character with asian features, Dr. Rajit Ratha, but he was a baddie, so that’s not 100% win. That said, I didn’t feel he was stereotypical at all, and nothing about his evilness seemed connected to his race. Equally, there was a disabled character – awesome – but he went evil too – less awesome. But it didn’t seem like the character was really evil, rather that the serum he took made him act not much like himself. He was a really cool and well-rounded character before that. I suppose, again, there was the constraint of the format. The character’s disability and character development are a matter of comic book lore. It does at least raise interesting questions about the treatment of disability – what is ethical and what is not; how much people with disabilities should feel like they have to be like able-bodied people… He seems like a perfectly capable (and lovely) scientist before the plot-hammer hits him, and his basic desire to find a way of healing himself is not actually what is presented as questionable by the film. Rather, certain pressures are applied in a business capacity to make him do something he would have found ethically unsound otherwise. In this sense, both Dr Ratha and Dr Connors are pressured into their unethical behaviours by an unseen (hinted white) rich man. Which suggests to me that the big bad in this movie is really the big bad of our age: the 1%, the over-privileged, forever seeking to carve out an extra sliver of advantage for themselves at the expense of anyone else who might get in their way.

I don’t know. I’m not gonna press that point too hard. Perhaps I should say that it’s a film ‘with much less wrong with it than all the other superhero films’. Even Captain America and Batman Begins (which I adore) have their issues. Nonetheless, I’ve been so let down lately by films that I expected more from that I don’t feel bad about giving credit where it’s due. This is a fine, fine film. The cinematography is simply stunning, and the use of 3D is unsurpassed, creating a seamlessly enjoyable visual experience. On top of that it is witty and the fight scenes are fantastic. Spiderman is satisfyingly wise cracking whilst never being too cool for a dorky kid. The characters are well-rounded and universally well-performed. It’s also the least thematically problematic superhero film I’ve seen.

You need to see this movie. Honest to kittens, I was jiggling in my seat with joy.

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