Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man 2012

He is amazing indeed, this Spider-Man. Barely a decade after the previous franchise was launched, Spidey gets a reboot and is recast - much to the delight of old lovers like me. But I have to admit, it's been quite a journey to get here.

When I was growing up in the eighties, I had a huge crush on sweet Spider-Man. I don't know whether it was the less than adequate cartoon series that did it, or the even worse TV series, but he was my hero. I loved his graceful movements and his ability to hang from ceilings and swing across buildings - his ability to save the day without a big, black cape or the need for a low, raspy voice.

All that was wiped clean with the onset of my teen years. I was suddenly more fascinated by dark, brooding, unpredictable men (cue Angel, the vampire with a soul and Batman, the dark knight). When first Michael Keaton, then Val Kilmer, and later Christian Bale became Batman (yes, I love George Clooney as much as the next breathing homo sapien, but c'mon, even he apologises for desecrating the very best of DC Comics), I completely gave up on Spider-Man. It didn't help that when he finally got to grace the silver screen, Tobey Maguire was picked to play Peter Parker, along with Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson - two actors who I saw as neither innocent, nor sweet - and so the very premise of the first film seemed flawed. I just wanted Peter to wipe the stupid smile off his face and MJ to not be such a self-centred, conniving girl all the time. They did not win me over at all - and their struggles meant nothing to me.

So, when I saw it announced that the franchise was getting a fresh start, I was happy. And when I learnt that Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are the lead pair, I was ecstatic. Garfield had had me mesmerised during 2010's Never Let Me Go and Stone's natural freshness in 2010's Easy A and 2011's Crazy, Stupid, Love had brought me hope for a future Sandra Bullock. This sounded like a dream team.

Then the trailer came out. The trailer that carefully, painfully, in the most detailed way, explained the story of the film, in near-chronological order. I thought, 'that's it...what's the point of going to the cinema now?' Well, obviously I did go (even though it's taken me five paragraphs to get to the point) and I am so glad I did.

The Amazing Spider-Man repeats much of the storyline of 2002's Spider-Man. You see how Peter (Andrew Garfield), bullied and battered at school, tries to keep his head down and be good. You see how his curiosity gets him bit by a radioactive spider and how he acquires an alter-ego. The corresponding rebellion, the ensuing guilt and the desire for revenge from the first film, is imagined in a very similar manner - but there are slight deviations from the original tales, all the way through, which surprise you a little bit. There is definitely more creativity in reference to the back story about his parents, and the secrets they guarded, than in previous films - and this time, it isn't MJ, but rather Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), Peter's comic-book first love, who shares the screen with him. Also, the villain is new, though so many villains have such a similar story that I can hardly tell the difference nowadays. So Dr Curt Connor (Rhys Ifans) too wants to improve his life and humanity in general - but ends up as The Lizard, because of his personal greed and ambition. And of course, it is left to Peter / Spider-Man to save the world from certain darkness, because no one else could ever face the villain like our hero.

But this film is a joy, from start to finish. The entire script is speckled with comic moments and the dialogue is hardly ever cheesy. In fact, the cutest moments - especially between the young lovers - work because the script doesn't actually give them mature, unnatural lines to spout. They're awkward, tongue-tied and very, very smitten - and they show it, with the way they look at each other and how they express their feelings with incomplete, nonsensical exchanges. Garfield and Stone have buckets of chemistry, which helps immensely to bring about the light frothiness of their love story.

Others seem to be doing what they do best. Rhys Ifans plays Dr Connor's insecurities and aspirations to perfection, but honestly, it doesn't seem like he had to act much differently from many of his previous appearances. Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben and Sally Field as Aunt May are genius choices. Excellent actors both, they don't need to be overly dramatic to show pride or disappointment - and again, these weren't difficult roles for them. All three of them are the familiar faces that do exactly what we expect them to do - but they do it so well.

Despite the predictability, and the very expected moments, it is Peter's discovery of his new abilities, the development of his relationship with Gwen, his teenage angst and silent rage, and the realisation of what his mission should be that are portrayed excellently - not only because Andrew Garfield's face is like a canvas of emotions, but also because the scenes are very well-written, directed and edited. Director Marc Webb, with 500 Days of Summer (2009) behind him, certainly knows how to pull at heartstrings. I can't say I have been emotional while watching many other comic-book films, but I sat with moist eyes through quite a bit of this one.

A thoroughly enjoyable ride - with great special effects (all that swinging made me nauseous!), strong acting and a very engaging script. My original crush on Spidey is back - and I would like more of this, please!


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