Industry Analysis in 3D at the Gala European and UK Premiere on 18 June 2012 at the Odeon Leicester Square, London, UK
It is auspicious that the film which introduced Andrew Garfield, the new Spider-man, to a worldwide film audience also featured megastar Tom Cruise as one of its main stars. Though they didn’t share any scenes together in “Lions for Lambs” (2007), fans of the web-slinger can relish knowing that Cruise could have played Peter Parker as per James Cameron’s scriptment in the 1990s whilst Garfield gains the honour, as a life-long fan, to don the red and blue spandex in 2012. Though Cruise recently spun, climbed and jumped around the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (2011), Garfield’s portrayal of both Peter Parker and Spider-man is the closest genuine fans will get to see their hero from the comic books on screen, a casting coup. It also poses another hypothetical question: with the 28-year old Garfield portraying an 18-year old Peter Parker, would the British actor have been the best choice to portray the role at the start of the original franchise in 2002?
“The Amazing Spider-man” (2012) is a reboot of the now world-famous story of the young Peter Parker in New York who gets bitten by a radioactive spider, acquiring the powers of an arachnid, and dons a red-and-blue costume to fight crime under the name of Spider-man.
It is important to acknowledge anniversaries at this stage as well. 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of the character in the US comic book Amazing Fantasy #15 created by the legendary comic-book author Stan Lee of Marvel Comics.
The other anniversary to be celebrated, as well as be concerned of, was that in 2002 the first Spider-man film franchise came to the screen with Tobey Maguire in the lead role for “Spider-man” (2002), followed by “Spider-man 2” (2004) and “Spider-man 3” (2007). Though that franchise was always commercially successful, the highlight of the franchise was the second installment, seen at the time as the best comic book hero sequel ever till “The Dark Knight” (2008), with almost a pitch-perfect combination of story, characters, visuals and technology. Nevertheless, Sam Raimi’s directorial vision and Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Peter Parker, in particular, never seemed to match the once-vaunted combination of James Cameron with Tom Cruise – or for a more recent and actualised pairing, Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale in the Batman reboot of the 2000s. This new Spider-man comes only a decade after the original and five years since the previous cinematic outing, carrying with it an equal amount of burdens and assets.
In the reboot, Peter Parker is now a student in high-school, haunted by his parents’ departure as child who is abandoned to grow up in the home of his Aunt May, portrayed by Sally Field, and Uncle Ben, played by Martin Sheen. His classmate is platinum-blonde Gwen Stacy, essayed by Emma Stone, who is also his rival in who will top their science class. In an effort to find out what happened to his parents, Peter visits his father’s former colleague, Dr Curt Connors, played by Rhys Ifans, who is now working on many new applications of biotechnology, such as harnessing the power of spider-web or the limb regenerative abilities of reptiles (pertinent as Connors is one-armed). On one of these visits, a radioactive spider from one of Connors’ labs bites Parker, a journey that will take him from being an average teenager to a masked superhero saving the city.
“The Amazing Spider-man” is director Marc Webb’s first film after his quirky rom-com success, “(500) Days of Summer” (2009), and both films share many of the same themes. In the first franchise, the love story between Peter and Mary-Jane acted as a pivot, whilst here it is Peter and Gwen. With James Cameron declining the opportunity to be involved in the new franchise to focus on sequels to Avatar, Webb has been handed quite a challenge to begin with – a new rebooted franchise, ten years after the original and five years after the weakest installment. Though it does not manage to reach the pinnacles of reboots when compared to “Batman Begins” (2005), this instalment actually emerges as the second-best Spider-man film after “Spider-man 2”, bettering or equalling the original. Had Webb had a fresh slate to begin with, it could have been the best.
British actor Andrew Garfield is the film’s greatest strength. His lanky, arachnid-like frame and youthful looks allow him to bring to life the high-school Peter Parker of the comic books effectively. As Spider-man, he fits the costume like a glove, displaying the quintessential wit and humour of the hero as well as his agility, speed and strength. To face-off in emotional dramatic scenes against stellar acting veterans Martin Sheen and Sally Fields, whilst also fighting dangerous villains like the Lizard, is no mean feat.
Our hero has significant acting support. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey is an excellent foil for Garfield, no doubt buoyed in confidence and ability by her work on the Oscar-winning film, “The Help” (2011). Martin Sheen stands out as the film’s dramatic pillar, with one shot of him as a young man reminding fans of the franchise that his son, Charlie Sheen, may have once been a contender to essay the role of Peter Parker. Sally Fields, who has won two Oscars over her career, never feels like the comic book’s Aunt May, who was perpetually silver-haired as per the original franchise. Denis Leary manages to shift quite effortlessly from being sardonic to being stoic. Rhys Ifans relishes his role as both Dr Curt Connors and the Lizard, in some ways similar to the portrayal of Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin in the original. Dafoe’s role as the industrialist Norman Osborn in the original has now been split, with the industrialist character of Rajit Ratha being handed to Indian actor Irrfan Khan, last majorly seen in “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) as the owner of the lab in which Connors works. Though a joy to see for the purposes of ethnic diversification, Khan’s role does not fulfill a remit for developing a full-fledged character.
Webb faced a challenge with which story to pick for “The Amazing Spider-man”, focusing more on newer post-millennial incarnations of Spider-man than the original Spider-man which the first franchise was inspired by, but not necessarily faithful to. Here we lose the great love of Peter’s life, Mary-Jane, for Gwen Stacy, and where the famous red-and-blue spandex seems to have had a makeover, becoming more high-tech claret red than the original scarlet. The most significant loss appears to be the choice in villains, with the pantheon of Spider-man’s most famous foes such as Green Goblin, Dr Octopus, Venom and Sandman used in the original franchise now replaced by the Lizard, who is more brutish, muscular and scary than they were – acknowledged as a pint-sized Godzilla – but not having the same stature at least as the first three do in comic-book lore. Christopher Nolan grappled with this same issue in the rebooted Batman franchise and chose wisely – Ra’s al-Ghul in “Batman Begins” (2005), The Joker in “The Dark Knight” (2008) and Bane and Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012). The sequels to the new Spider-man franchise will have to focus on which villain they would like to face off against and why.
The new Amazing Spider-man franchise holds both great promise but significant challenges in an era with increasingly successful comic book franchises. Garfield is best suited, in the original Spider-man costume and not the version in this franchise, to portray this role for a number of years. He is capable of matching Sean Connery’s tenure in seven Bond films, but only if he physically develops to acquire greater muscle bulk as he ages – in the same way Tom Cruise and Christian Bale have. The success, both critical and commercial of “The Avengers” (2012), allows us to also ponder and potentially ask if Garfield will appear in the ensemble sequel. Who would not pay to see Garfield wax lyrical, trading both verbal and physical blows with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/ Iron Man?