Opening 28 Jun 2012
Writing credits: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Principal actors: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen
Spider Man is a hugely successful comic book series from Marvel Comics by Stan Lee and Steve Dikto; the first issue appeared 50 years ago in 1962. In 2002 actor Tobey Maguire starred in the first Spider Man film. Sequels followed in 2004 and 2007. Now, ten years after the first film, we have a new star: Andrew Garfield. My film-critical press colleagues said, “there is nothing new in this film.” Naturally, a Spider Man film adheres to the original comics; still, it is true that this newest version retells the story of Spidey’s origin: Peter Parker is a high-school teenager, a nerd bullied at school. While visiting the OsCorp science laboratory, he is stung by a spider and develops abilities, unusual for humans, but quite appropriate for spiders: climbing up perpendicular walls, swinging out on long sticky threads, weaving webs and capturing prey. Not bad if you can do it. With these newly developed abilities, he takes to upholding justice.
So, if we agree that this is not a “new” film, but a successful remake, then we can dwell on the highlights, of which there are many. First Andrew Garfield is excellent (and skinny, which is important for a spider, especially if he wears a skin-tight red leotard). Maguire was wonderful, but he has had his chance and we can look forward to more with Garfield. (Both were in their end 20s when playing the 17-year-old Parker). Garfield is good-looking, but also serious and credible as a studious type, shy with the girls and tongue-tied when it is most inappropriate.
His adversary is Dr. Curt Connors, a scientist at OsCorp. Played by Rhys Ifans, an extremely impressive actor from Wales, he stole the show as a laid-back, hippie teacher with a British accent in Five-Year Engagement and is equally convincing here as both the good scientist with the amputated arm who knew Parker’s father and the monstrous lizard which he becomes with just a jab of a needle.
I’m not a friend of the 3D craze, but it seems here to stay (and who’s complaining: Spidey can sit in our laps any time) and this 3D goes well – not too much and only when it is reasonable, believable. The script develops slowly to show Parker as just an orphaned teenager, growing up with more than the average problems during puberty. He matures slowly with help from his uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), his girlfriend Gwen (Emma Stone), and her father, Captain Stacy, head of the police department (Denis Leary). Unlike some other superheroes, e.g., Superman, here several people know the true identity of Spider Man, but his secret seems to be safe all the same. Like Clark Kent, he wears glasses in his “normal” life. Throughout there is a moralistic touch with underlying lessons about loyalty, priorities, dependability.
The film is long (136 minutes) and Spider Man (actually more of a Spider Boy who plays computer games) doesn’t appear in full drag until the film is more than half over. At times, it seems slow, but it’s worth sitting through the slow parts, because the finale is the best I’ve seen since Titanic; in fact, it’s similar: high action and tender good-byes. Or perhaps it seems like Titanic because the same man, James Horner, composed the music for both films. My favorite scene is what I call “The Waltz of the Construction Cranes.” The construction workers unite to place their cranes high into the air so that an injured Spider Man can proceed more easily; I wanted to jump up and scream, “Yes, you got it. It’s Spider Man.”
Congratulations to director Marc Webb. Certainly he will come up with a sequel; after all we still don’t know what happened to Peter Parker’s parents. Recommended for 13 and older; the kids will love the scenes where they trash the school. (Becky Tan)