Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans
Director: Marc Webb
Spins a web, any size, puts on spandex, has nice thighs.
Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. When this film featured in the Coming Attractions at the end of my review of The Hunger Games, I gave advanced notice that I would have So Many Feelings about Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, and of course that is exactly what happened – but I wasn’t entirely expecting to have such an instinctively positive reaction to the movie as a whole.
In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is the best superhero film I’ve seen in a long time – partly because it’s not content just to be a big dumb summer blockbuster (not that there’s anything wrong with that; I’ll defend GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra until my dying breath), but it wants to mix the web-slinging thrills with warmth and heart as well. A running time of 136 minutes is a lot to ask of an audience these days (regrettably), but Webb takes his time building the world that Peter Parker lives in so that we care about this kid, not just because he’s Spider-Man, but because we’ve been involved in his life by the time the transformation happens. It’s essentially a superhero story told from ground level, where the headiness of teenage love is every bit as important as saving the world; where Peter catching the crook who killed his Uncle Ben means as much to him as saving the entire city.
Giving the film such a personal perspective is undoubtedly a risk, but it’s one that pays off by anchoring the film in Andrew Garfield’s sensitive performance. Despite clocking in at the ripe old age of 28 off-screen, he makes for an extremely convincing teenager – slumping around with hunched shoulders at times, coiled with relentless adolescent energy at others. The film handles the body horror aspect of Peter Parker’s transformation into Spider-Man particularly well – the scene where Garfield sits frozen on his bed, clutching a toothbrush, too tense to move an inch in case he shatters another part of his aunt and uncle’s house is hilarious and entirely relatable. In fact, the only real problem with having Garfield in this film is that he has such a wonderfully expressive face that it’s a shame that he has to spend so much of the film with it hidden by a mask. (The same can be said, obviously, for Andrew Garfield’s Lovely Hair.)
The rest of the cast are extremely solid as well – I’ve never seen Emma Stone give a bad performance yet, and her Gwen Stacy is smart, charming and a well-matched foil for Peter Parker. Martin Sheen and Sally Field lend an extra level of class to the proceedings as Uncle Ben and Aunt May and, despite being saddled with some of the weightier dialogue about morals and responsibility, make for sympathetic parental figures. In fact, if there’s an actress currently working who can deliver a moralising speech more convincingly and engagingly than Sally Field can, I’d like to know who it is.
It’s not all a smooth ride to the end credits, sadly – the film suffers from some noticeable structural problems. While I enjoyed how much time was spent really developing the role of Peter Parker, it did mean that The Lizard was rather short-changed – I remember realising halfway through the film that Dr Connors hadn’t even transformed yet, and as a result most of the descent of his character into violence and madness is a little too compressed to be truly effective. Not all of the special effects shots are particularly convincing – the cars dangling from the bridge stands out in my memory. Perhaps it was designed for 3D to be truly effective, but still: don’t bother offering a 2D version if you’re not going to do it properly. Similarly, the final scene of Spidey leaping through NYC seems like it’s only there to give 3D viewers one last visual treat – I thought it would have been dramatically far more effective to end right after the scene between Peter and Gwen in the classroom. There’s also something deeply odd going on with the score when the Lizard attacks the school – it was very jarring and didn’t work with the rest of the film’s music at all.
Despite these minor gripes, I was enthralled by the film from beginning to end, and for me it worked on all counts: as a blockbuster, as a superhero origin tale, as a quirky love story. Truly, it’s a web of wonders.
The Watch: Vince Vaughn + Jonah Hill = Steven giving this the widest possible berth. (PS. No women were used in the making of this movie.)
The Bourne Legacy: Bourne Again.
The Dark Knight Rises: Christian. (Bale)
Total Recall: Chris and I saw a poster for this in the lobby and we were trying to figure out who was playing the lead role. I guessed Colin Farrell, he guessed Orlando Bloom. I won.