Amazing Spiderman Poster (Photo : Sony Pictures)
Comic book movies have witnessed tremendous metamorphoses over the last decade. In the genre's infancy at the start of this century, comic book films were simply vehicles for action and dazzling effects. Thematically, they retained a light and aloof tone, often cheerful and positive in their output. However, that all changed in the middle of the decade with the arrival of Christopher Nolan's "Batman" series; essentially a philosophical essay on the nature of the hero. Not only did the thematic profundity of Nolan's saga push the genre's expectations in new directions, but so did its tone. Gone were the days of lightness and camp; comic book movies needed to be dark, moody, profound. From that arise "V for Vendetta," "Watchmen," and most recently the "X-men" reboot and the upcoming "Superman" reboot.
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Caught in this hurricane of change was the series that brought comic book films to the forefront, but belonged to its first stage and found itself slowly losing its identity and path: Spiderman. The first Spiderman film was the textbook comic book film of the genre's early stages: fun, charming, campy, filled with dazzling action, and strong characters. The second film in that series built on the first one thematically with a confused hero grappling with his shifting world and responsibilities. However, the third film, from a post-Batman Begins world, found itself confused with the type of film it wanted to be. Sam Raimi looked to keep his aloof style from his earlier work while maintaining some level of maturity, but the studio demanded a Batman-like film with a brooding hero and a damning tone. The result was a complete flop creatively.
Five years later, Fox has rebooted the franchise with the aim of "refreshing" Spiderman for the new era of comic book films. But is "The Amazing Spiderman" still relevant?
The film essentially covers the same ground as the 2002 series starter. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is an orphan who lives with his uncle Ben and aunt May. He has a crush on the brilliant and lovely Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), but his social awkwardness prevents him from doing anything about it. Eventually he gets bitten by a spider and turns out with new superpowers. When his Uncle Ben gets murdered in an assault that Peter is unintentionally at fault for, he sets out on a vigilante campaign to seek out the murderer. From here the story diverges in its villain's origin story and all the events that lead up to the film's rather predictable finale.
Immediately apparent is the darker more mysterious tone of the film. In 2002, we were treated to a voice over, a bright morning, and Peter Parker chasing a bus. 10 years later, the film opens with the child Parker playing hide-and-seek with his dad (a major theme of the film) and happening upon some of his research amid a messy desk and an open window. The film feels like it could go the route of the suspense thriller and while it never materializes this way, it certainly feels like it for many instances.
From here the aforementioned plot points unfold with a combination of darker hue, pizazz, and subdued humor. The humor of the film never escalates to the campiness of the 2002 hit, but instead retains an awkwardness to fit the nature of its main character. That isn't to say that Director Marc Webb doesn't take liberties and insert some such moments. One that comes to mind is a battle between Spiderman and the Lizard inside the school. When they enter into the library, Webb chooses to focus on the oblivious librarian in his own world created by his headphones and loud classical music. Behind him the entire library falls apart without him ever knowing.
Andrew Garfield brings a different dimension to Peter Parker. Whereas Tobey Maguire was a more cheery Peter Parker, Garfield is more of a loner. He has no best friend this time around but simply sulks and mumbles. Even his downward posture suggests his awkwardness, loneliness, and outsider quality. Garfield rarely flashes any semblance of a smile and comes off as more of a reckless force rather than a noble hero. He never quite attains that stature in this film, which adds to the fact that this guy is only in high school and still subject to emotional swings. However, screenwriter James Vanderbilt's greatest achievement in this screenplay is that he imbues Peter with a greater sense of guilt. In both films, Uncle Ben's death is his fault. But in this one, he does not catch the killer. It haunts him. He lost his father, now he lost his surrogate father, and when it seems that he might have yet another surrogate father, he ends up turning that one into a monster that he is now tasked with stopping. The entire film follows this arc of a man trying to come to terms first with his sense of guilt, and later with his responsibility as a hero. More importantly, Garfield does not miss a beat in portraying this reckless teenager's attempts to come to terms with his increasing loneliness.
Emma Stone brings her trademark charm and sarcasm to the role of Gwen Stacy, making her a far more attractive partner for Parker. She is written as Parker's intellectual equal and unlike MJ in the last series, she is no damsel in distress. In fact, she is usually the complete opposite and is instrumental to triggering events in the story. Anyone who knows Spiderman comics knows what is supposed to happen to Gwen and Emma is certainly the actress capable of developing this storyline.
Rhys Ifans was last seen as the Earl of Oxford in "Anonymous," a film that presumed him to be the "real" author behind Shakespeare's masterworks. Now the actor brings his talents to what is likely one of the more controversial figures in the new Spiderman movie, Curt Connors. Why Controversial? Because the inclusion of Lizard was rumored to be the reason for Director Sam Raimi's departure from the franchise. Raimi did not see Lizard as being an effective part of his Spiderman universe, but Sony insisted on his inclusion due to his popularity. In this iteration, Ifans imbues Curt Connors with the vulnerability expected of a man who lacks an arm; he also represents this overarching theme of seeking wholeness in the film. But his plan goes wrong and he ends up as a terrifying Lizard with a master plan. Lizard is by no means the most complex of Spiderman villains (and may be one of the film's only missteps), but Ifans gives Connors enough dignity to retain his viability as a tragic character.
The film boasts an elaborate supporting cast that includes an impressive pairing of Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May as well as veteran Indian Actor Irrfan Khan as a ruthless corporate worker.
James Horner takes a stab at rebooting the film under his music guidance and fails. Comparisons are tough to avoid but when one hears the propulsion of Danny Elfman's Spiderman compositions or even Hans Zimmer's rhythmic power in the Batman series, it is evident that Horner is not in the same league. His music is unmemorable and often unnecessarily placed.
Ultimately this Spiderman movie is a huge success. Had this been the film made in 2002, it would surely be held in more favorable light than how critics and fans are responding to it now. However, context is everything when judging a film's place in the medium and genre and this film ultimately is a remake of a film made 10 years ago. The time might not be right for a reboot (Sony had no choice lest they lose the rights to the franchise), but there can be no doubt of how strong the film is. "The Amazing Spiderman" feels more varied thematically than two of the three original films in the franchise and surely feels more relevant to the style of the current wave of super hero movies. It is not groundbreaking like the film it attempts to remake, but if one is able to simply ignore the predecessors while taking in the experience of "The Amazing Spiderman," the result will be an engaging emotional journey that represents how traditional Hollywood blockbusters should be made.