Restarting a franchise just five years after the last one finished is either very brave or very cynical. Okay, it’s the second one. Spider-Man is one of Marvel’s hottest properties, guaranteed to fill cinemas. It’s definitely cynical. No question. It is just as well Marc Webb’s version happens to be brilliant, too.
It does everything a super-hero movie should: instills you with a childlike sense of wonder; provides some great visual gags and acts out your schoolboy power fantasies.
Much of this is down to Andrew Garfield, who is an inspired choice to play Peter Parker. If you’ve seen his previous films (especially the excellent Boy A and Never Let Me Go), you can hazard a pretty good guess at the direction he takes Parker: it’s a far more introspective Spider-Man than the wise-cracking web-slinger we’re used to in Tobey Maguire.
Young Garfield is an emotional soul, and you really feel for him as he once again relives the death of dear old Uncle Ben (no relation to the sauce), as he has in the pages of comics for the last 50 years. This time you care even more, as Uncle Ben’s brand of all-American goodness is portrayed with a stoic dignity by Martin Sheen (the impossibly glassy-eyed Sally Field plays long-suffering Aunt May).
There is, inevitably, a slight feeling of deja vu, especially in the vertiginous swinging-through-New York scenes. Don’t get me wrong – they look great, but I’d have been more impressed if I hadn’t seen it before.
Another unintended consequence of rebooting the franchise so soon is that Sam Raimi rather greedily nicked a lot of the most high-profile villains (both versions of the Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Sandman and Venom). To keep things fresh, Webb really needed someone new: unfortunately that someone was The Lizard, a generic part-man-part-animal baddie who spends his time tipping over vans and roaring, despite being the world’s foremost herpetologist (Google it). Rhys Ifans plays the pre-transformation Lizard with just the right amount of hand-wringing and simmering menace but the good work is largely undone when he turns into what looks like a weedy version of the Hulk.
In fact, my only real problem with The Amazing Spider-Man is exactly what has made the super-hero genre so successful: the fight scenes. They start well but suffer from diminishing returns as the scale and CGI are ramped up. Webb’s Spider-Man would stand up without all the bangs and flashes – and that is a very big compliment indeed.
First published in City A.M.