The Amazing Spider-Man

3 & 1/2  stars out of 5 (Between Good & Excellent)

Director : Marc Webb 


The first question which popped into the minds of most thinking people when they heard of the making of " The Amazing Spiderman" was "Why!?" . Director Sam Raimi & Co. had given a superb start to the modern web-slinger in "Spiderman" 10 years ago, complete with dazzling visual action and a strong emotional undertug. Spiderman part 2 sustained this momentum with fantastic air-borne fights that explored the heights of action choreography. Spidey in Part 3 however, fell prey to the law of averages and became a victim of cringe-worthy self-conscious awe. It was a big pity,especially since that movie’s trailers had packed super excitement by slickly unveiling the gleaming black alter-ego of the likeable hero. Where would the series go from there?

Back to square one ,apparently. All the recognized stars of the previous series have been chucked out, and the re-boot features new actors for the old roles with basically the same story. Considering that 2002’s Spiderman was not some 1970s klutzy puppet, rather a sophisticated high-voltage product of the 21st century ,what new substance and spin could this new Spiderman possibly Amaze with? In pursuit of this tricky question, I booked an IMX 3D appointment in what turned out to be my costliest movie ticket NZ$21!

A boy innocently tours his deserted house to finally come upon the scene of a ransacked room. Apparently something more precious than the family jewels have been filched. The little boy Peter ("Is he going to be Spiderman?" the little boy next to me asked his father, between pop-corn crunches) is soon bundled into his aunt & uncle’s house by the disturbed parents who leave him with a heavy heart. Peter grows up smart and sincere, wowing on one occasion a scientist by answering that it is cross-species genetic transfer rather than stem-cell technology that may provide the answer for re-growing lost body-parts. His room features the poster of Albert Einstein sticking his toungue out and positing "Imagination is more important than knowlege". He then slips into a high-tech lab’s incompetently guarded experiment area, and promptly gets the bite of greatness from an arachnid. Thanks to an overnight DNA re-boot, he is now the Amazing Spiderman! A swipe of his hand destroys a wash-basin, in a split second he catches a fly mid-flight (then quickly running his fingers past his mouth!) and he proceeds to plug the school-bully with basketball-wizardry.

A blond-haired ,light-eyed petite Barbie doll (named Gwen, with brains to boot) in his college becomes his sweetheart . They share a smartly scripted scene in which Richard royally dilly-dallies about the timing of their date ,while sentient Barbie smiles, patiently understands and agrees for a re-schedule. Meanwhile, Peter comes into contact with his father’s ex-colleague and friend -Dr.Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) -a scientist, who has a stump in place of his right hand, and conducts experiments for organ regeneration but is repeatedly frustrated by failed results. A crucial mathematical formula seems to be lacking that magic re-touch. Peter, we soon realize is infected not just with incredible spider-faculties but also with Einstenian inspiration. He completes the formula and gives it to Connor who is silently thrilled. But while Einstein’s iconic equation explained and quantitated the energy arising from destruction of matter, Parker’s formula creates a giant mass of reptilian form that wastes its energy by going on a destructive spree. Soon New York (film-makers just won’t leave that city alone) is under attack by this Lizard-Man while Spiderman’s new super-hero glamour is put to severe test.

The movie justifies its creation, but a knock-out it is not. First among its positives, is the excellently casted Andrew Garfield . He has the same boyish appeal,charm and melancholic latency as his predecessor - Tobey Maguire. What’s more, his face is capable of sporting a rebellious streak, and a hell-may-care scowl that gives an extra edge to his character .In a scene where his uncle justifiably goes on the offensive against his forgetful nephew, note how Peter retaliates with utter conviction and long-pending anger.Also check out how he stuns Gwen on a balcony with a shamelessly stylish move. Later, he may reluctantly nod in answer to the promise elicted by a dying man, but as the saying goes -everything is fair in love and war! (he has no qualms in roguishly whispering his final dialogue). Peter’s chemistry with Gwen is organic -their interaction and recalcitrant flirting are directed with uncommon spontaneity and easy charm. This is not surprisng as director Marc Webb has been previously noted for his forte in constructing beautifully wobbly romances. Emma Stone ,as Peter’s girlfriend, is solidly charming in portraying a keenly perceptive girl who chooses to romance the unusual boy in class. It is interesting to note that Webb ,who directed 2009’s " 500 days of Summer " which wonderfully shows the struggle of a young man trying to woo the gril he loves, casts Stone who looks similar to Zooey Deschanel in 500 D.o.S. Irfan Khan plays his role as a corporate boss with coolly capitalistic poise, but the director should have reminded him to pronounce the words more clearly- his speech is smooth but often incomprehensible.The rest of the supporting cast - Martin Sheen as the wise Uncle Ben ,the eternally convincing Sally field as Aunt May and Denis Leary as the no-nonsense police chief - further strengthen the movie’s acting chops.

The one area where this film definitely falls short of the 2002 counterpart, is the role of the villain. While there is nothing significantly wrong in the build-up of Dr.Curt Connor who morphes into the the marauding giant Lizard (the Lizard’s face here bears partial resemblance to the "Thing" in Fantastic Four- another series from Marvel), this antagonist cannot be favourably compared to the rasping evil in Wilhelm Dafoe’s William Osborn/Green Goblin. That villain ,chillingly mired in a split-personality disorder, was seething with perversely justified hatred. The Lizard’s angst, comparatively, is not so acutely etched. But the film’s sense of humour is a welcome bonus. Spiderman feigning terror at the sight of a thug’s small knife, Gwen explaining to her father that her weird behaviour may be due to pre-menstrual tension, and a fight that operatically proceeds in a laboratory’s background as the lab tech enjoys his earphone-music, give a light-hearted flamboyance to the story-telling.

Critics the world-over have long attacked (for good reason) filmmakers for unimaginative use of 3D- consider this with the fact that 3D darkens the images,and often blurs and distorts the objects. While this movie has no problems with brightness, the blurring and distortion is a significant problem with the dynamic action sequences. I almost never got the wow effect when Spiderman flies past and around the skyscrapers; often his body is reduced to the size of small puppet while the screen remains vast. Moreover the action choreography should have ensured more clarity.

This film’s real 3D impact lies its relatively static foreground images - the way in which the red-blue frame of Spiderman on a ledge is shown large-scale with impressive clarity ,looming closer to us than in a 2D version. A scene set in a sewer, where Spidey creates a wide network of webs, makes keen use of the 3D spatial effect. This high-resolution appeal can also be found in 70 mm close-ups of Gwen and Peter's photogenic faces, and in a climactic scene where the Lizard-Man surges to the top of a skyscraper - the camera zooms into his nearing face with fearsomely direct focus. The IMAX bonus amplifies the size of this stunning clarity. Lastly, while the 2001 edition ended with a marvellous vicarious sequence in which the camera follows Spiderman as he swings and zooms around the skyscrapers, this movie only reaches that effect in one short-lived scene where we follow the hero as he zips through the long hollow interior of a crane.

Is this Spiderman instalment better than the 2001 version? No. Was this movie unnecessary? No, again. After all, why persist with going on tasting a Jamun, when you might as well try out the taste of a Rosogulla?




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