Fast & Furious 6
Director Justin Lin takes the high-speed action franchise to London, with Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson along for the ride
Nerdy teen Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is transformed by spider-bite into Spider-Man. Now he must juggle wooing Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) with confronting a well-meaning scientist turned giant lizard
How many times can you retell the same story? If it's an origin, apparently the answer is "quite a few". From Casino Royale to Batman Begins to Star Trek, we just love seeing a fresh take on how our heroes got started. In the case of The Amazing Spider-Man, they're retelling the story of Peter Parker's first days as a superhero just ten years after Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire's hugely successful version.
And during a long opening act, Marc Webb's take on Marvel's famous webslinger struggles to justify the tear-up-and-start-again approach. If we hadn't seen Spider-Man onscreen for decades, then perhaps the refresher would be necessary - but it's hard to shake the feeling that the major beats (outsider nerd, loving adoptive family, mutated spider bite, avoidable ironic tragedy) are iconic enough that they could have been dispensed with in an opening montage. The changes - flashbacks to Peter's parents, a revamped Aunt and Uncle (Sally Field and Martin Sheen, safe hands in slightly under-serving roles), and a new reason for Peter to visit the fateful Oscorp laboratory - are nuanced rather than dramatically game-changing.
But from the moment Spider bites Man, this new take comes alive - and as the deviations from both the comic book source material and Raimi's films grow, it's hard to deny that they're canny and sure-footed throughout. Taking a cue from Nolan's Bat-flicks, there's a determination to show the path by which Peter ends up throwing on a red-and-blue unitard and jumping around the city as being a logical and natural progression of events. Once fully suited up, meanwhile, the new wallcrawler feels far more torn from the page. Lithe and spindly, he dances around the screen dispensing exactly the right blend of irritating wisecrackery. Webb, meanwhile, shows far more of a head for heights than his predecessor – delighting in throwing his hero (and the audience) through the air high above a New York City that takes its rightful place as a character in the story. Whisper it, but when it comes to the visceral thrill of webslinging, this is arguably a better take than Raimi's.
As Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield makes a compelling leading man in a performance that balances muted awkwardness with extroverted heroism. He's also, notably, recognisable as the same person both under and out of the mask - no mean feat. He also benefits from tangible chemistry with the excellent Emma Stone playing a Gwen Stacy that owes little to her comic book counterpart's personality, but is nevertheless one of the strongest superhero love interest roles since Margot Kidder's Lois Lane.
The Amazing Spider-Man's biggest problems aren't on the geek-satisfaction level, but are instead matters of more basic pacing and structure. Early plot threads are discarded in later acts, while a promising subplot with Denis Leary as Gwen's police chief father emerges far too late in the day. It also feels like there's an entire middle section missing in which the hero properly establishes his reputation among the good folk of NYC. In the end, though - and despite lacking a villain of real conviction - the film gets by on a heady wave of confidence. It has the brass neck to make significant changes to the established lore and - on joyous occasion - to let its hero truly soar. It's the sort of confidence that could be mistaken for arrogance; but then, isn't that our Spidey through and through?
It doesn't quite justify the full-on reboot in the way - say - Batman Begins did, but this is a bold new direction that should open up Spider-Man's appeal to a fresh audience.
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