In Cinemas Now
Wall-crawling reboot for our friendly neighbourhood superhero.
When this was first announced, rising from the ashes of Sam Raimi’s aborted Spider-Man 4, there was understandably some apprehension. For starters, they were recasting Peter Parker – replacing Toby Maguire (who had, let’s face it, made the role his own in the Noughties) with Brit newcomer Andrew Garfield. There were also concerns about the fact that this new movie was taking things back to high school, substituting love interest Mary Jane Watson for Gwen Stacy (last seen being played by a disinterested Bryce Dallas Howard in Spider-Man 3). So, spin on a few years and we now have the end result – released in a year that not only saw arguably the best superhero film of all time hit cinemas, Avengers Assemble, but also Christopher Nolan’s long-awaited final chapter of the Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, due out a couple of weeks later. It’s a bold move, but has it paid off?
We start the film by going right back to Peter’s childhood, in which his father Richard (Campbell Scott) and mother Mary (Embeth Davidtz) leave him in the care of his Aunt May and Uncle Ben (cinema legends Sally Field and Martin Sheen) before promptly, and conveniently, dying in a plane crash.
Catching up with him in his teens, we find the awkward Parker we know and love getting beaten up by Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka) on a regular basis and mooning after an out-of-reach girl, Gwen (Emma Stone). When he discovers that his father was involved in some shady Oscorp gene-splicing business with Dr Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans) Peter visits the lab and – surprise, surprise – gets bitten by a modified spider. Before you can say sticky hands, he’s climbing walls and swinging about as part of his skateboarding workouts, plus getting closer to Gwen in the process.
Inevitably, things go wrong pretty quickly. Uncle Ben is shot during a robbery attempt, leaving a guilt-ridden Peter – who could have stopped the crook – no option but to go out with a mask on, searching for the culprit. As if that wasn’t enough, after helping Connors with the missing part of a formula he needs, Parker inadvertently gives him the means not only to grow back a missing arm, but also turn himself into a giant rampaging lizard. Can our hero keep on top of his love life, stop the monster he created – not to mention the thing’s insane plans – whilst avoiding Gwen’s police Captain dad (Denis Leary) who has branded Spidey a dangerous vigilante?
Nothing about this reboot of the Spider-Man franchise should have worked, but then nothing about the reboot of the Star Trek movies should have either. Luckily it manages to capture that same kind of lightning in a bottle, everything eventually coming together to produce an enjoyable popcorn film for all the family. Breathing fresh life into the origins story by introducing Peter’s parents was a stroke of genius, especially when it actually links in to him getting his powers later on. The stuff with the wrestling has been reduced to one scene where Parker falls into a disused ring and is inspired by a poster to create Spider-Man’s mask. Bringing back the original idea of having mechanical web shooters – rather than the organic material Maguire spun from his wrists – also provides additional excitement when they misbehave or are just plain squished by the Lizard.
But the main attraction here is the believable relationship that develops between Peter and Gwen (the fact Garfield and Stone became a couple during filming shouldn’t come as any shock, seeing as the chemistry is electric between them). And Garfield pulls off a pitch perfect Parker, with just the right amount of vulnerability, bravery and wise-crackery; in fact he’s so good you come out of the movie saying ‘Toby who?’
All right, the plot isn’t original in the slightest, pinching elements from The Fly (tortured scientist going insane), Batman Begins (the gas dispersal threat) and even the superior Spider-Man 2 (Ifans talks to his lizard side, à la Doc Ock and his mechanical arms). But where this one wins out is in sheer spectacle – making full use of the 3D during the swinging scenes, and harking back to the nostalgic point of view camerawork from the 1970s live action TV series. It might not be a serious contender for best superhero movie of all time, but it does have a damned good try.
It also bodes well for more Amazing adventures to come, hinted at during the closing credits.
Successfully recreating Spider-Man for a new generation of fans 8/10