Ten years is enough time for the internet to grow from a slow-moving, loose association of computers to the fastest and most popular communication tool on the planet (thank you Facebook – 2004, Twitter – 2006, YouTube – 2005 and Skype – 2003). Not to mention mobile phones going from big to small to big again and Apple seemingly taking over the world with a combination of Pad, Pod and Phone.
The question is, is it enough time for us to forget the last Spider-Man origin story? Released back in 2002, Tobey Maguire introduced audiences to awkward teen Peter Parker, under the guidance of veteran horror director Sam Raimi. The film was a commercial success, pulling in over $821million worldwide, and although part three (which came out only five years ago) over-complicated things with multiple villains, the films were largely considered a definitive film version.
Spider-Man circa 2012 then, has a long way to go to fill those tights, not just for the figures-focused studio, but for the fans of all ages who have grown up with Maguire’s Spidey over the past decade.
Luckily, the signs are good right from the start. Andrew Garfield, who dons the mask this time around, is a far more natural and convincing Parker than Maguire ever was, and what’s even better is that he brings character, and particularly humour, to Spider-Man himself.
All the boxes are ticked in this instalment: nerdy, geeky, would-be hero – check, unrealistically attractive love interest – check, daddy issues – check. What’s interesting this time though is the time and weight put on Parker as a character, rather than the adventures of his web-slinging alter ego – he even manages to spend a fair amount of time as Spidey with his mask off.
Parker has clear issues with authority and responsibility from the word go, and doesn’t fall as naturally into his superhero endeavours as you might expect. At first he prowls the streets with only a Mexican wrestling-style mask and sunglasses as his ‘costume’, searching for the killer of his ill-fated uncle Ben.
Despite being a story many of us feel very familiar with, the director – the appropriately named Marc Webb – keeps things feeling fresh at every turn. At one point uncle Ben, fantastically brought to life by Martin Sheen, comes close to saying the over-used line “With great power, comes great responsibility,” but thankfully falls short of coming up with a replacement line at all, merely the sentiment is enough to steer Peter on his way.
The Lizard is on villain duty this time around, with Norman Osbourne banished to a silhouette of a sick old man. Rhys Ifans does the reptilian monster terrific justice, despite the slightly jarring CGI, which is otherwise unnoticeable throughout the film. Like any villain though, the real substance comes from his mild-mannered alter ego, in this case Doctor Curt Connors, who dreams of regrowing his lost arm with help from cross-species genetics. Ifans commands sympathy for Connors’ plight, and the character’s most moving moment comes as he longingly holds his hand up to a pane of glass to see his missing right arm restored through the illusion of the reflection.
The story is particularly unpredictable. It’s always tricky to come up with an original story for a well-known character, let alone one which has constraints in what viewers may have seen before. Luckily Webb still manages to take a handful of steps away from the OTT camp-factor of hero flicks of the past, and towards the gritty could-be-realism of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
What is refreshing is how the character himself, through Andrew Garfield, doesn’t take himself too seriously. He doesn’t get to bogged down on what he’s doing or why he’s doing it, he just acts impulsively, something which fits the erratic nature of Parker’s character.
Emma Stone is not Mary Jane Watson. Leaving all comparisons with Kirstin Dunst at the door, Stone isn’t even your typical damsel in distress as fellow student Gwen Stacy. Stacy shares Peter’s interest in science, working at OSCORP with Connors as an intern, and can handle herself in a fight, even taking on the Lizard with a stool at one point. Though there are emotional moments between Parker and Stacy, it’s very down-played, awkward and under the surface, just as it is for Parker himself, and thankfully there are no cringing moments at all, it plays out quite naturally.
Those going to see this film with no knowledge of the Raimi era are certain to love every minute, and even those who remember the trilogy fondly will find a place in their heart for Garfield’s version of the masked arachnid. The story won’t win awards but is solid, bar the usual suspension of disbelief, and each cast member adds exactly what they should in good balance. You can’t help but wish for one more meeting between the Spider and the Lizard, with a real exchange of words rather than just blows, but to indulge too much in banter would risk the ‘camp’ factor coming in to play.
As a superhero flick released this year the film faces stiff competition. As the years go by though, and with possible sequels to come, we may well look on this more fondly in ten years time.
James Michael Parry