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Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Amazing Spiderman.


The Amazing Spiderman.


Through science, I managed to wipe my memory of the Tobey Maguire Spiderman films. It's useful, frees up space for other things, but it does mean that whenever I mention Spiderman 3 to someone, and that haunted, horrified look passes over their face like they're remembering the time their uncle got shot, I feel compelled to grab them and hiss 'Who are you?! What did you see?!' at them.

*strangled sobbing noises*

I didn't see the Andrew Garfield film until – well, yesterday, actually. It's not that I was deliberately avoiding it, it's just that, like so many things, I had never found myself well-positioned to actually watch it. But I said a while ago that I'd review it, and its glorious sequel The Amazing Spiderman II has just been released, so this is a fine time for me to sit down, watch it, and review it.

My first thoughts?

My god, it's been a while since I've seen so many cliches stuffed into one film. I think the last time was when I watched Never Back Down, which was pretty much just every cliche the writers could think of strung together into a narrative.

Mysterious missing parents whose fate is somehow tied to the hero's superhero origin? Check. Awkward, bullied teenager is assisted by eventual love interest who for some reason fails to appear in sufficient time to stop aesthetically pleasing bruising? Check. Wacky side-effects of powers scene? Check. Montage in which powers are mastered? Check. Scene in which hero gets one over on the boy who bullied him? Check. Scientist tests his serum on himself, leading to disastrous effects? Check. New Yorkers band together to help out the hero? Check. Hero must reject his love interest to keep her safe? Check, but pleasantly subverted towards the end.

Is that a bad thing? Well, no, not really. Okay, this film is not going to surprise you, not at any point, not ever. You will see every story beat coming a mile off, because you've seen them a dozen times before. It is a film that if I were being nice would say 'borrows from a long cinematic tradition' and if I was being less nice would say 'is formulaic.' All that having been said, though, it's competently made. I have seen films that were more original and at the same time much, much worse – more than I can count. This is not a film that stretches any boundaries, to be sure, but it's well-made, and there's something worth celebrating about a film that might not be high art, but is a very well-executed demonstration of the form.

This, incidentally, was a problem with the Tobey Maguire films. They also didn't stretch any boundaries (in fact, they used almost the exact same cliches, so it came as no surprise to me to learn that they shared a writer with this film), but they weren't competently built enough to balance it out – some of their flaws were the result of circumstance, like the hamfisted patriotism shoved in to appeal to an increasingly insecure post-9/11 audience, but most were just compositional flaws like poor casting, lacklustre and often inconsistent and nonsensical writing, uninspiring cinematography, and painfully obvious executive meddling.

Obligatory Stan Lee cameo picture.

Let's talk about casting, for a moment, because there's a lot to talk about there.

Tobey Maguire never felt like Spiderman, he felt like a caricature of Spiderman, often a very cardboardy one. He kind of bounced from character moment to character moment in an almost turgidly bland way, and this was not helped by having a frankly uninspiring supporting cast of That Guy Who Would Later Star In The Weird Men's Rights Activist Wizard of Oz Film And Who I Remember Literally Nothing Else About and Kirsten Dunst, for whom I don't have any good jokes about right now because it's genuinely a struggle to remember anything about her.

This is not true of Andrew Garfield. He makes an excellent Spiderman – he captures the essence of Peter Parker in every way: How he speaks, how he moves in and out of suit, in his expressions. Some of the credit for this should also go to the scriptwriters, who wrote in Peter Parker's wit, his wisecracking, which is a large part of the character and which the Tobey Maguire films often forgot.

Garfield is also assisted by a very good supporting cast. There's no Harry Osborn in sight, although I gather he's in the second film, but Emma Stone makes an excellent Gwen Stacy, being sharp and witty and thoroughly interesting to watch. I enjoyed every single scene she was in, and my heart skipped a beat when Peter threw her out a window and caught her with some webbing because, um. Er. That's – less said about scenarios involving falling and webbing lines the better.

Quick, a distraction!

She's not the only one, either. Denis Leary plays the role of her gruff father perfectly, Chris Zylka makes a perfectly adequate Flash who I hope to see more of, and Rhys Ifans … is Rhys Ifans. Rhys Ifans is always excellent, and he does very well at being both 'benevolent scientist' and 'angry lizard creature' here, although his accent is – um. I didn't actually realise he was trying to put on an American accent until several scenes in, let's put it that way.

'Am I from Wales or Florida? You'll never know, Mister Parker.'
- Doctor Curtis Connors.

I always feel a little guilty saying that a film is 'solid' or 'competently made', because it feels like a back-handed compliment, a way of saying 'there is nothing special here, but it was enjoyable.' The Amazing Spiderman is solid, though, and competently made, and that's special in and of itself, because making a good film is really hard – harder than we often give film produers credit for. People have been given easier material to adapt and failed miserably at making even a passable film before, cough 2013 Romeo and Juliet, cough The Lorax, cough cough The Dark Knight Rises cough. It's a fun film with a lot of genuinely touching moments, and I think that's all you can ask for from a Spiderman film. He's a fun character, after all, that's his point, and it's a large part of why he's such an enduring figure in pop culture. It's a large part of why it's such a shame he's not going to be joining the Avengers, they could use someone else who's good fun.

I'm still bewildered as to why there's no good Spiderman video games, though. I played Spiderman: Edge of Time, it was – it was not good, guys.

How does that even happen? 

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