This ain’t your marginally older relative’s Spider-Man

Thursday June 28th 2012

For all its promises of the ‘untold story’ of student photographer Peter Parker and his secret arachnid fixation, The Amazing Spider-Man is essentially a bigger budgeted, better acted, tonally undecided, grossly extended remake of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, right down to its webs-as-spunk visual metaphor and lacklustre green antagonist. Almost every narrative beat is carried across from Raimi’s box office firework, albeit via the quirky prism of (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb.

Andrew Garfield is instantly a better Parker than old Tobes Maguire ever was, partly because he suits the role down to the ground (he’s gangly as fuck and I love it) and partly because, this time around, the script gives him space to develop as a character before it flings a load of pantomime villains at him. Here, Parker is a real teenager, with inconsistencies and bad habits and a barely concealed dark side. Where a newly-empowered Maguire had to be provoked into humiliating the school bully, Garfield does it for kicks. Where Maguire coquettishly gazed at Kirsten Dunst from afar, Garfield wanks incessantly over Emma Stone’s yearbook photo.

His relationships with Uncle Plot Device and Aunt Moral Backbone are equally well-defined, and as he struggles to cope with his newfound abilities there’s a real sense of instability and uncertainty to Peter’s character arc. Even his super-hot relationship with Stone has a measure of complexity to it, and only occasionally strays into nerd wish-fulfillment territory.

And then the fucking lizard shows up. Rhys Ifans’s scaly supervillain is perhaps the least relevant, least interesting, least dynamic antagonist in Marvel Studios’s history — and yes, that includes the weird Pokémon thing Tim Roth became in The Incredible Hulk. There’s no real motive behind his evil scheme, nor his personal vendetta against Peter, which leaves them with nothing much to talk about during their painfully stagnant face-offs. The Peter who mourned his uncle’s death and struggled with his own physicality soon disappears, to be replaced by a kind of web-slinging Tim Vine, dispensing badly-ADR’d reptile puns as he swings his way across the city skyline.

It’s a problem that’s plagued previous Spider-Man films as well: Peter Parker’s private battles are almost always more interesting than his public ones. In fact, the entire franchise can effectively be summed up in one verbal inequality:

Horror of Giant Lizard < Horror of Adolescence

The sooner Marvel realise that and make a low-budget, antagonist-free Spider-Man movie in which the greatest demon Peter has to face is his own sense of inadequacy, the sooner I’ll be happy. And the sooner they’ll be filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.