Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen, Embeth Davidz and Sally Field.
Running Time: 130 mins approx.
Seen At: Didsbury.
On: Monday, 16th July, 2012.
Once Danny Elfman’s inimitable, instantly iconic strings started up over the Columbia Pictures logo followed by the rat-a-tat tap of those bongo-drums, I was glued to Sam Raimi’s original trilogy of only ten years ago, throughout.
They were to me, caught up in the ultimate web of encapsulating every essential element of simple, memorable, summer blockbuster entertainment should be – bombastic, theme-lead score, a huge dollop of set-piece, (using what I can only describe as sweeping, panoramic shots to signify moments of great peril – falling or climbing – in real time), whilst capitalizing on the iconography of its extensive marketing. I, like lots of teenage boys in a very particular, powerhouse generation for cinema during the early 2000’s, had the massive Spiderman posters for the big-screen incarnation adorning my bedroom wall, along with of course, billboards and the sides of buses everywhere.
Now, only a decade later, and five years after the third installment, the web-slinging schoolboy has been ‘rebooted’ again. Much talk has been made in the press as to exactly why it’s necessary, but – the more superhero blockbusters the better as far as I’m concerned! I’m definitely a blockbuster boy!
Now, it’s our truly wonderful British actor Andrew Garfield, who takes over from Tobey Maguire to wear that red and blue suit. For my money, as much as I did enjoy Maguire’s shy, meek take, Andrew is infinitely better - proving himself brilliantly nervy and intensely empathic in the role, in equal measure.
Stylistically, this re-envisioning substitutes the last trilogy’s delightfully mainstream, grandiose Hollywood approach, for an almost equally enjoyable, more subtle, simpler, more streamlined structure – whilst also being more thematically complex and rather consciously, darker, beginning by exploring the back-story of how Peter Parker was orphaned, which leads him unsuspectingly into the decidedly conflicted clutches of Dr. Kurt Conners, played by Rhys Ifans. He’s a one-armed scientist with shady glasses and even shadier ideas…
One of this installment’s few disservices is the characterization of this over-indulgence in creating a flimsy ‘mad-scientist’ sterotype. Before his all-to-brief, ‘scaly’ transformation bursts from within, Rhys Ifans, a talented, diverse actor certainly (he was last seen to blistering effect as Edward De Vere, Shakespeare’s rumored amanuensis in the brilliant Anonymous), is provided with little else to do except look ominous and flatly misunderstood.
I strongly feel that produces will have to go an awful long way to surpass Willem Dafoe – possibly the best actor in the business for ‘injecting’ chilling ounces of menace into a creepy array of genuinely affecting villains over the years. Not least with The Green Goblin. The sight of him psychoanalyzing his personification of schizophrenia in the mirror (where he’s also resurrected in Harry – screaming ‘AVENGE ME!’, or his gleefully unrelenting cackle on a verdantly sleek aerodynamic hover-board, firing rockets, throwing spherical bombs and growling: ‘Incy-Wincy spider climbed up the water-spout…’ is one of my favourite in the comic-book-nemises cannon. Unusual casting continued to work in Raimi’s favour for Dr. Octopus, as Alfred Molina ‘got to grips’ with tentacled, slippery throwaway: ‘Butterfingers!’ Topher Grace’s Venom - ('Hey Parker') - also dripped a literally ‘infectious’ malevolence, but Ifans’s Lizard alter-ego, despite following the grand tradition of dramatically declaring their ‘evil plan’ and Spider-Man’s real name, followed by a deeply engaging sneer and orchestral crescendo – just ends up rather overblown, and all the more cumbersomely laborious, and strangely formulaic, for all the obvious digital effort put in.
Directed by the aptly named Marc ‘Webb’, he comes from an accomplished body of work, having also made one of my all-time favourites: (500) Days of Summer. This of course means that here we have a strongly contemporary, almost self-sufficient flavour to it throughout, exploring a tumultuous slow-burner of a budding romance with Emma Stone’s kooky Gwen Stacy, as well as seeing Peter Parker be the resourceful but rebellious, bullied, orphaned teenager, constructing his own web-slinging machine, which is refreshing.
No doubt these choices we made for more than only artistic reasoning, deliberately designed to appeal to the late-teen demographic, raised on a cinematic menu of adolescent boy-wizards and angst-ridden, paled-faced, cynically constructed and utterly lifeless, airbrushed teenage vampires with model good-looks and nothing else.
In thankful antithesis, Andrew Garfield is actually 28, although it’s useful that he looks so young for his age. A key component that our revitalized Spider-Man possesses over previous outings, is setting the majority of the cleverly economical set-pieces at night, as opposed to in broad sunlight.
It may take him almost an hour of screen-time to actually fully suited-up, (the spider-bite sequence itself, brilliantly bubbles with tinkering tension, being realized perfectly now), but it’s breathlessly worth the wait. I immediately took to this mesmeric, instantly iconic sight of the floodlit, yellow-taxied streets of Manhattan playing voyeuristically low-angle host to a newly departed speed-ramped Spidey, swinging from skyscrapers in the spellbinding and gingerly utilized tool of 3D – which is the marketing’s defining image of him isn’t it? Just a joy to have back, and one that Garfield enthusiastically embraces with a freeing sense of easy naturalism better than Maguire ever did – and it shows. Humour, and lightness-of-touch is also a predominant element. Spider-Man here has a dry, sardonic, almost self-deprecating manner, often exposing the incompetence of the archetypal petty criminal: ‘You’ve found my weakness – it’s small knives!’ ‘If you’re gonna steal cars, don’t dress like a car thief!’.
Maybe it’s because Peter Parker the teenage boy isn’t either a billionaire or from another planet, that sets him apart in being perhaps the most identifiable superhero we have, and, in my opinion, this in turn, also makes him the most child-centric and product endorsing.
Most interestingly though, one of the many differences between Andrew Garfield’s embodiment when indirectly ‘compared’ to Maguire’s, apart from personality (Maguire’s Parker was demonstratively mellow, Garfield more, humanely, cautiously intense and subtle) – is the decision that Garfield makes no attempt to conceal our favourite web-slinger’s true identity, instead actively choosing to show off the fact his basic sensibilities are ultimately identical to any member of the public he must save.
Sally Field makes for a far earthier Aunt May, and Martin Sheen much more urbane, as the grouchier version of the ill-fated Uncle Ben…
These smart decisions boad well for the future. With a least two more forthcoming chapters, and the sequel billed for release as early as May 2014, there’s much more to come. It’s almost certain to be a financial success, with the Summer Of 2012 proving it was the year for costumed superhero cinema.
It may be far slighter than its predecessors and not quite match them in Hollywood grandiosity and spectacle, but that dosen’t stop it from being a resounding success with principal credit to Garfield for trailblazing an unarguably iconoclastic figure in contemporary cinema, to an entirely new generation. It’s just tonally executed through an entirely subtler, freshly woven web of dynamics - spun full of love, heart, humour, humanity, but above all, a more traditional Spidey-sense of old-fashioned fun!
Rating: * * * *