When 500 Days of Summer – a heartfelt, romantic story of a man and his failed relationship – premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, it was hailed a success from both critics and audience members alike. Previously known for directing music videos and short films – Marc Webb’s first feature earned him global recognition for being able to dissect a man’s psyche and explored his motivation in life. It seems this was what Sony Pictures were looking for when they decided to reboot the popular franchise that is Marvel’s Spiderman.
Teenager Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) grows up living with Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) after his parents dropped him off at their house when he was a child and never returned to collect him. Now in High School, Peter discovers his father’s old briefcase containing his original work pass at OSCORP Industries, reading glasses and a file detailing an algorithm on how to introduce lizard DNA into humans in order to create a hybrid and eliminate any weaknesses a person might have. After a spot visit to OSCORP Tower, Peter locates Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans), who used to work his father, to understand what his father was working on before he disappeared. Secretly entering a lab where the study on arachnids and their webbing is taking place, Peter is bitten by a spider which ultimately enhances his strength, his awareness and of course gives him the ability to climb walls. His new found powers transforms him from a typical geek at school into the guy everyone stares at when he’s walking down the hall due to his freakish behaviour. It does however plucks the attention of Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) who eventually becomes his love interest but not without ease as her father Captain George Stacy (Denis Leary) is hardly impressed with a boy who struggles to eat fish when invited to their family dinner. When a heated argument about responsibility explodes between Peter and Uncle Ben the events that follow lead to Uncle Ben being shot in the streets transforming Mr. Nice-guy Parker into a man bleeding with vengeance. Not wanting to cause too much attention to himself, he creates and wears a red and blue spandex suit and calls himself Spider-Man… which attracts a great deal of attention. Especially the police. His opponents at the beginning are typical crooks and thieves found in the dark corners of New York until Peter hears news of a lizard like creature roaming the city. It disturbs him even more when Peter realises he was responsible for creating the monster and races against time to stop him before he exposes the entire city with the hybrid formula.
It was the summer of 2002 when Sam Raimi revealed to the world how spectacular Spiderman can look on the big screen and the world loved him for it. The film eventually grossed over $800 million and became one of the first feature films to reach the $100 million marker in its opening weekend in the states which was simply unprecedented at the time. The age of the comic book heroes had begun and it seems we just can’t get enough of them – Iron Man, Batman, Hulk, The Avengers all owe thanks for Raimi’s initial success. What made the subsequent Spiderman sequels even bigger successes were the special effects and action sequences which were unparalleled due to them taking place mid-air, over buildings and panning across the city like you’ve never seen before. However the action sequences in The Amazing Spider-Man could all be counted on one hand (the cars hanging off Williamsberg Bridge set piece was probably better than the end battle sequence) and instead we’re given a tour of the psyche as to how Peter became Spiderman and why he chose to don the mask that made him a legend.
The story divulges into Peter Parker’s teenage years in High School where adolescence plays a key role in Garfield’s take on the iconic character. There isn’t a great deal of rebellion or sulking in his room but instead we see a desire to understanding who he really is through the use of his powers. While Raimi’s Spidey discovered his powers through a series of swinging and jumps from buildings to buildings, Webb’s Spidey uses his skateboard tricks in an abandoned factory to discover what he can do. While Tobey Maguire’s take on Spiderman seemed resourceful, mature and dramatic – Garfield’s Spiderman forgets to bring home the groceries and yet is still able to create his web-slinger from rudimentary components. 2002‘s Spidey works hard to develop his identity leaving little notes of his presence while the contemporary version carries a rucksack when webslinging, uses a mobile phone as he enjoys an aerial view of Manhattan and takes pleasure tormenting those who fall short on having manners.
Even after harnessing his powers and holding great super strength, Peter still struggles to express himself to Gwen and tell her how much he likes her illuminating his teenage vulnerability. The chemistry between Garfield and Stone is wonderfully endearing and exceptionally touching putting many other teenage rom-coms to shame. Stone’s take on Stacy is far more compelling than Bruce Dallas Howard’s in Spiderman 3, presenting her with a wonderful balance of compassion and strong femininity – a perfect match for Peter. The relationship between Peter, Uncle Ben and Aunt May also provide great moments for Sheen and Field play their respective roles perfectly – especially Sheen who provides a different take on the ‘responsibility’ talk. It is here you realise perhaps Webb took on the projecting thinking it was entitled The Amazing Peter Parker, who just happens to be this superhero because this is really Peter’s story, not Spiderman’s.
When Garfield dons the suit he isn’t muscular like Maguire was – but reasonably thin and toned, unlike his nemesis who seems to be placed at the other end of the spectrum. Ifans almost looks uncomfortable playing Dr. Conners for he showed very little emotion or passion compared to that of Alfred Molina who played Dr. Otto Octavius (Doc Octopus) in Spiderman 2. Because of that, it never really seemed Peter was truly afraid of the danger that threatened him. There was nothing sinister when Conners had to retreat to live in the sewers after he mutated from lizard to man to lizard again. The special effects on Ifans’s missing right arm seemed far more impressive than him turning into the Lizard (more Godzilla then reptile) which was weird since the CGI effects on Spiderman looked truly awesome – especially at night when the city lights brought a wonderful contrast to the red and blue costume.
Another fine bit of praise must be given to the costume design and art direction for the aesthetics of this Spiderman film looked fresh, modern and exciting. Spidey’s costume looked almost organic and shimmered the light off the Manhattan skyline. The environment he was put in with the panoramic view of New York was equally astonishing with Webb proving he clearly has an eye for scope and landscape.
In a recent interview, Webb confirmed that the Peter Parker’s origin story will be revealed across a number of films which explains why the disappearance of Peter’s parents was never explored. Ultimately, where this movie struggles for action, excitement and set pieces makes up for in romantic chemistry, heart, soul and the journey of when a boy became a man. The question remains whether this reboot was necessary – the answer is yes. In an industry where comic book heroes rule the box office, the world needs Spiderman and while this installment is far from amazing, you’ll be glad he swung back into your life.
Reviewed by Vaskar S. Kayastha
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