With just five years passing since the webslinger’s last big screen outing, a series reboot seems a little drastic, not to mention premature. Sam Raimi’s record-smashing original trilogy grossed around $2.5bn and left an indelible mark on blockbuster history, so you can forgive the movie-going public for their groans of dismay when the new film was first announced two years ago. But, despite having some pretty big shoes to fill, The Amazing Spider-Man not only matches the original 2002 fill, it tops it.
Inevitably, this new release invites close comparison with its antecedents, and, naturally, there is some unavoidable retreading of familiar territory. Though, fortunately, the scenes detailing the origin of Spider-Man’s powers are briskly dealt with early on, before a new villain and love interest allow the film to forge ahead with its own story.
Directed by Marc Webb (yep, seriously), The Amazing Spider-Man stars Andrew Garfield as the friendly neighbourhood hero. Endowed with superhuman abilities after receiving a radioactive spider bite, Peter Parker gradually adopts the role of masked vigilante in order to avenge the death of his beloved Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and take on crazy mutant scientist Curt Connors, aka Lizard (Rhys Ifans).
With the mysterious disappearance of Peter Parker’s parents and his blossoming romance with Gwen Stacy as major themes, there’s a greater emphasis on character development than in the previous series. Webb is best known for directing indie romance(500) Days of Summer, and deftly brings a pinch of rom-com sparkle to the party; Emma Stone, veteran of cute teen romances, is very much in her element here as Spidey’s high school crush. Without much detriment to the action (the vertigo-inducing fight scenes are as spectacular as you’d expect), the other character relationships are handled with impressive sensitivity, particularly Peter’s touching paternal bond with Uncle Ben.
Peter himself is given more depth as the film focuses on his growth from gangly absent-minded loner, to using parkour to catch petty crooks, and finally to superhero. Like Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, this film examines the darker psychology behind its protagonist’s need to run around in spandex and save the day. Garfield is excellent in the lead role, replacing Tobey Maguire’s sincere, fresh-faced but dorky heroism with an awkward, fidgety humour, tinged with an inner angst. Here we have a believable teen who delights in his newfound superpowers, relishes humiliating the school bully on the basketball court, and, in one scene, gets distracted playing with his phone whilst waiting for the Lizard to emerge from his subterranean lair.
Meanwhile, Ifans’ Lizard makes a superb villain, achieving the impressive feat of imbuing a sinister reptilian mutant with humility as well as malevolence. Lizard, like all the best villains, perceives himself as a misunderstood, even tragic, hero, and at times engenders almost as much sympathy as the bereaved Peter Parker. It’s a far cry from Willem Dafoe’s gleefully cackling, pantomime-esque Green Goblin from the Spider-Man of yore.
But then, the superhero film has changed so much in the last decade. The Amazing Spider-Man is clearly informed by darker fare (Batman Begins, Watchmen, even Kick-Ass) than its predecessors, and is better off for it. Aimed at an older demographic than Raimi’s films, Webb’s character-driven treatment avoids the pitfalls of over-familiarity and instead rejuvenates the Spider-Man franchise with a film that is even better than the original.