The Amazing Spider-Man
If you were to use the words ‘comic’, ‘hero’, ‘dark’, ‘city’ and ‘tragedy’ to describe a character the answer you get would be Batman and for good reason, but I posit the theory that those terms are as apt to Spidey as they are Bruce Wayne and this picture all but proves it. There is a scene part way through in which Spiderman sits perched in shadow atop a New York skyscraper, he looks over the ridged brow of the granite gargoyle before him and out at the midnight lights of the city, his city. His body is still but beneath the suit and skin his heart is surely beating against his chest; a heart now driven by death and despair.
If his suit weren’t quite so gaudy you could have spliced the scene into a Batman movie without anyone noticing the difference. Don’t you ‘darker’ haters despair though, because for every scene like this there is another that wouldn’t have felt out of place in 500 Days of Summer or an animated kids cartoon and although this should make for a tonal disaster of a movie, amazingly this Spiderman pulls the double act off with aplomb: hybridizing the heart, humor and horror that the character has come to be known for over the past fifty years. This Spidey’s not so afraid to take of his mask, to mix work and pleasure and that makes the movie so much more of the latter.
Harvey Dent is perhaps the most fitting example to give but for clarities sake I will say like Mr.Hyde all doubles have a good and a dark side; here I will start by talking about the good. This film is quite literally a dark one, the vast majority of the action taking place at night and while Bats and his pictures use the pitch of night for cloaking camouflage and creating confusion this film employs it for the binary; nothing looks so bright as when it is set before black. When Spidey swoops through the cityscape after a criminal he screams off the screen between the bright glare of lights and he usually does this at a very brisk pace indeed; so visually speaking the film is made stunning by its two opposing poles.
In fact all of what Marc Webb does behind the camera is critically sound; his scenes are always interestingly shot (flipping from first to external perspectives with much more ease than the trailer suggests), they sound good ( the score mixing modern indie music with some very old school piano chords) and are seamlessly weaved together. The cast too are virtually flawless: as Peter, our protagonist, Andrew Garfield perfects the cheeky charm and comedic quips of the comics that the last few films excluded entirely while also bringing a brand new badass skater edge to the character. His supports all play slightly skewed parts in comparison to past pictures but all are better by far: the chemistry that Peter has with Gwen Stacey is greater than any upside down kiss with Mary-Jane, Dr.Connor is more complicated than the original’s Osborn despite having the same story and Sheen’s Uncle Ben is someone that we actually care for ourselves.
Where the formula begins to foul is in the script, which gets the worst end of the trade off. I think perhaps the best parlance to employ in my description of this part of the film is that of the paneled pages, despite never actually having read one of Spidey’s own stories. While a daring director can make two distinct tones mesh it is much harder to make two stories merge into one coherent movie and this is Amazing’s dilemma. It’s not it’s two separate films but two separate arcs in a single authors run; they’re bound in many ways but the distinction is still quite blunt.
The first of these is the ‘perfect jumping on point’ that we readers are always after; in essence this film is the biggest most expensive point one issue ever known to man, only when it comes to the medium of film this functions only as a recap for an already informed audience. The flaw in this is that we all know exactly what is going to happen here and without surprise there is no emotional connection. The spider bite and Uncle Ben’s battle feel so silly and contrived when we see them coming from before the opening credits. The only thing that saves this section is the stunning fun of Marc’s power montages and the extra emotional depths given to the characters in the extended opening. See Amazing isn’t just a movie with an origin component, it’s an entire movie of the stuff; we don’t see the actual suit until what feels like an hour and a half in.
Because of this splitting of time the second story, that of Dr.Connor and Mr.Lizard ( not his actual name, though he does wear a lab coat) is given Such short thrift. In the few scenes that are focused on him his intentions and influence are established well enough that we can empathize, so too are all the elements of his plot set up like proper little dominoes all in a row; the problem is that when they fall we don’t really care. I honestly was more interested in what effect the final fight would have on Peter’s romantic interests than anything to do with the creature itself which is silly. It’s a perfectly fine plot but a pat one, standard fare and not worth resurrecting and remaining a character for; the effort needed to get us there simply isn’t rewarded.
This begs the question then as to why this movie was made in the first place? Money obviously, but why else? If there is a Spiderman story important to Webb then it’s simply not shown here, in the sequels perhaps but I can’t rate on the basis of that. Seen in the greater context of cinema this is a pointless picture, there is no denying that, however seen in the greater context of time I think that it will have been worth it; this is by far the better of the two Spider-Man origins in almost every way. Seen in the much smaller context, which is where a small film like this should be judged, it is a well made and massively fun film and in the end that one thing is the only one that matters, that is the point of pictures.