The Amazing Spider-Man.

08Jul12

Anthony Lane has a great line in his review of The Amazing Spider-Man which summarises my feelings about the film quite succinctlyHe notes a wonderfully fun scene early on in which Parker hasn’t quite perfected his powers yet. In a New York subway carriage that proves to be the cause of some calamitous consequences, a girl’s top is accidentally ripped off and her boyfriend is smacked and sent soaring. It oozes with fun. It’s everything we want from a comic-book comedy action-flick. And yet, as Lane notes, the potential is not pounced upon. Instead we’re left with the sort of moralising tale better left to Batman, just when “the idea that to be rendered superhuman is neither some sombre moral privilege nor a queasy Faustian temptation but a prelude to ungovernable slapstick might be just what the genre needs”.

I can’t stress how spot on that judgement is. Spider-Man is at its best when it is intent on making us laugh rather than pathetically wimper. Garfield makes a great geek, but his natural curiosity and desire to just swing like Tarzan through a concrete jungle is soon subordinated and replaced by an ethical crusade. Oh so tragically, Parker’s Uncle Ben (the loveably soft Marty Sheen) is stabbed to death in the street by a shop-lifter, right after he gave a talk about the obligation of everyone to cultivate their talents for the benefit of others. The scene is set, and soon the slapstick of glass smashing uncontrollably and Parker teasing past bullies with a basketball evaporates, and in its place we get Spider-Man playing the committed vigilante, culminating in the father of Gwen (Parker’s high-school crush) slowly dying and losing his voice on the top of a skyscraper, attempting to extract a promise from Parker that he will keep his daughter safe by leaving her well alone.

It’s a shame, for there’s lots to like here. Stone, playing Gwen, is as enjoyable and attractive as Garfield, but they both get swamped up in a story at times tiresome when not farcical. The antagonist – a genius scientist who falls victim to the evil potential of his own technology – morphs into a mega-lizard and tries to get us all to follow suit as his gift to humanity, but a steamy lime-green dungeon packed with liquids in testtubes is too cliché to be cool. We want a villain with a little more class than this.

But the film will rake in money, of course, and no doubt it will be the first in a trilogy. About which we must have mixed feelings. I’ll give the second a go, if only because the overall effect isn’t to leave you feeling conned. It delivers enough. But a small shift of emphasis could have made it a real gem. And with some luck the history lesson about the rise of Peter Parker will be over so that the feather-light fun, facilitated by Garfield, can begin.

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