There is a sequence in Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man, in which Peter Parker, the teenage Spider-Man revels in his new-found invincibility. It is set in a huge, beat-up warehouse in New York City, where he leaps, somersaults and flies around on his roller skates. This is fleeting teenage nirvana, captured in silky-smooth special effects—the levitation before the big thump.
The sequence somewhat encapsulates what this Spider-Man instalment is about—a boy’s sweet struggles with superherodom. The teenage superhero’s transition from geeky teenager to a man battling to save the city from a gargantuan, genetically altered reptilian humanoid running amok, is charming, if not entirely thrilling. The script has no charm or originality; it’s lead man Andrew Garfield who gives the franchise a much-needed breather.
The story by James Vanderbilt has no intriguing additions to the Marvel prototype. It is pretty much the same story that drove the first and second Spider-Man films. He may have tweaked situations here and there, but the basic circumstances remain unaltered: Peter’s parents leave him with his uncle (Martin Sheen) and aunt (Sally Field) and never return. The father, a scientist who was working on a breakthrough in cross-genetic breeding, had a partner, Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), and Peter sets out in search of the man. While meandering into his laboratory, Peter is stung by a spider.
Worth a watch: Actor Andrew Garfield’s offhand charm is the perfect accent on the role. Photo by Jaimie Trueblood/Columbia—Sony Pictures/AP
He is empowered, which first leads to immense fun because he gets to mess with the bullies in his high school. Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) plays Peter’s classmate and an intern with Dr Connors, who is first sympathetic towards the shy Peter, and then eager to unlock the mysteries of the superhero boyfriend. Irrfan Khan has a minor role, not developed enough to make sense, as Dr Connors’ boss, who threatens him into creating the murderous monster.
The film rests largely on the romance and the lead performances. Garfield is soulful lover, superhero and a boy gracefully embracing the cusp of manhood and great responsibility, in one role. His offhand charm is the perfect accent on the role. Stone is a sharp and savvy actor, and she does justice to Gwen’s grit and vulnerability. Together, they make this Spider-Man film worth the watch. For a franchise that’s been on the back-burner for five years, that too during times when superhero movie themes have transcended the simplistic premise of the superhero’s moral obligation to counter unfettered evil created by science, the brilliant lead cast is a saving grace.
The special effects, 3D and all the other technical wizardry on display, of course, add to the spectacle. They seem to justify Spider-Man’s every free falling sweep over Manhattan and his every dive into its sewers. There’s enough superhero movie testosterone in the film despite the old story and a typically Hollywood romcom core.
The only big disappointment is the character of Dr Connors—an entirely underdeveloped representation of evil. Spider-Man is not loved for moral nuances, but even so, Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn in the 2002 film and later Alfred Molina’s Dr Otto Octavius in the second film in 2004 were more menacing than the lizard man recording his own moral litanies about the need to overcome human weakness.
So don’t expect a Spider-Man whose battles are bigger, more complex or more interesting. This is perhaps not a movie for fans of the comic, as much as for lovers of college romance. Garfield’s Spider-Man has the girl, and she herself won’t have it any other way.
The Amazing Spider-Man released in theatres on Friday.