The Amazing Spider-Man‘s Spider-Man soars and director Marc Webb lets us tag along for the ride, writes Raja Sen
We’ve seen it before, of course. We know he gets bitten by accident, yahoos about his powers, learns tragically about power and responsibility, and is surprisingly adept at sewing himself a spandex costume with significant embellishment.
The beats aren’t new, and — this is crucial – they shouldn’t be. Watching a superhero origin story is like watching yet another cinematic troupe play out a Shakespearean saga, an analogy that Stan Lee, with his faux-Bard posturing, might like. There are liberties taken, certainly, but the essence of it all — whether the movie is directed by the fortunately named Marc Webb or Sam Raimi or by us, with a phalanx of action figures duking it out in bed — is the same.
And the reason Spider-Man stands at the very top of the increasingly cluttered superhero heap — a heap made up of aliens and mutants and shadowy vigilantes and men with really long fingernails — is because there’s a real man underneath that mask. Other heroes veer wildly in personality and character and scope based on writers and artists working on them, but there is only one Peter Parker.
One who is as much about saving the day as he is about the frustration of not having done it more seamlessly; one who is as much about the utter inability to ask a girl out as he is about being a genius scientist; as much about heart, then, as he is about heroics. And, given he’s a high schooler, the mask is all about acting out.
Webb’s film starts with a knee-high Peter Parker, playing hide and seek with wily parents who elaborately balance hats on broomsticks to confuse the child. He isn’t the only one hunting for them, even though that hunt becomes a way of life as he grows up and continues to wonder where — and why — they hid. Relentlessly, recklessly he fumbles his way toward answers?
But while the film begins with the boy, it only genuinely kicks off with the girl. Making Parker’s jaw drop with her go-go boots and the Vonnegut novel in her hand, Gwen Stacy is a confident, striking platinum blonde heroine who melts our boy right through. It is this impulsive, heady romance that gives a vitally thumping bassline to The Amazing Spider-Man. Even as a slithering foe (compared, in the script, to Godzilla) raises the story’s stakes and lends it hihat reptilian chills.
Dr Curt Connors, while lacking of limb, is anything but ‘armless. (Sorry, couldn’t resist. Spidey’d get it.) A scientist trying to harness the regenerative power of lizards, he grows back his right arm but, in the process, turns into the long-tongued Lizard, a monster who wants to create an equally scaly army. Cue action sequences, each amplified by how genuinely formidable this foe looks. For a film shot in 3D, this doesn’t take gimmicky advantage of the format as often, but when things roll, they really roll.
The action is lucid, urgent and importantly imaginative — Spidey seems to be improvising, desperately, on the fly — and the bits when Webb lets us look through those friendly neighbourhood eyes as he careens dramatically around the city, putting us right in the middle of a rollercoaster ride, are worth the IMAX prices. 3D this one, true believers.
Strangely for a superhero blockbuster, however, the sentiments overwhelm the setpieces. For one, the cast is smashing.