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The Amazing Spider-Man - Film Review

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
Event: -
Theatrical Release Poster (courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

High School outsider Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has never had many friends, but that doesn't bother him so much when he indulges himself in photography and other hobbies. There is of course the girl he is attracted to, who happens to have a locker across the corridor from him so we get to see a lot of glances and awkward romantic moments.

Privy to receiving these glances from the ruggedly handsome Peter is Gwyn (Emma Stone), who has the intellect and the looks to reciprocate Peter's feelings. We learn early on that Peter's parents died mysteriously when he was a child and has since lived with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) who know more about it than they let on. While on a tour of the research headquarters of OSCORP, he catches the attention of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) Peter's father's partner and who only has one arm. Together they finish what he and Peter's father started 20 years prior and use biological science to grow back Connor's arm. But unbeknownst to either of them at first, there is one side effect: Using cells from a lizard, Connor's takes on the complete form of a huge ill-tempered lizard. Meanwhile, Peter becomes Spider-Man and they battle it out.

Based on the comic (apparently, a more faithful adaptation than that of Sam Raimi's 2003 film Spider-Man), this reboot is an attempt to capitalise on the success of Christopher Nolan's Batman series by telling the story with a darker tone and will underlying humanistic themes of loss, grief and responsibility. As a result, this new version is much more focused on the character of Peter Parker rather than Spider-Man which is what I ultimately found to be the most interesting aspect of the movie. Andrew Garfield plays Peter as not just a character, but as a human being. I wanted to understand him more and get to know him and I felt that with Garfield's wholesome and convicting embodiment of the 'social outcast' I did. Emma Stone is always great to watch and here she plays the central love interest a few tiers above the 'damsel in distress' which was a relief.

As far as the casting goes though, the great surprise was Rhys Ifans, who after having been primarily concerned with larrikinism and laughs in his other roles, portrays the antagonist Dr. Connors with utmost seriousness and gravity. The only problem with this is the laughable nature of the villain he morphs into, which I didn't find threatening or disturbing enough to enrich the darker tone of the film. I suspect it has to do with some dodgy CGI - perhaps they'd used up the budget on hiring veteran actors in supporting roles (Martin Sheen, Sally Field and Denis Leary) and the giant super-strength lizard got what was left over.

A typical flaw in the plot is that it tries to set-up some sort of intriguing investigation into Parker's family history that is left by the wayside. We hope the very intuitive Peter will solve the mystery surrounding his parent's death but it gets forgotten about when the film suddenly becomes all the 'hero vs. villain' conflict. This is fine to an extent because presumably this will be the first of a series (is there a film that isn't at the moment?), so it can be built upon and continued in later instalments, but director Marc Webb seems confused about whether he wants the audience to not know anything about it or to make the obvious assumption that his parents were murdered. Moreover, if he did want the audience to think that, he would have been much clearer about it. This may seem trivial to many - notably those who just want to experience CGI on an orgasmic scale - but when the whole point of the reboot is to explore the Peter Parker character in grim detail, it's a trivial aspect that suddenly is vital in getting to the core of who he is.

The Amazing Spider-Man has enough to enjoy, with solid performances and some interesting ideas of identity and power. It probably doesn't go as dark as one might like it to, but whether it really can or not is up to the fans, and whether it should or not well, for me, Sam Raimi's 2003 movie was fine.

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Why? A Reboot to the Dark Side of Spider-Man
When: July 5th (Aus)
Where: Your local cinema
Cost: Check your local cinema for details
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