It’s difficult to argue that Raimi’s take on Marvel’s webcrawler had begun to fail under pressure. In the third film in particular, there was a feeling that the series was succumbing to an ever-increasing demand for the more recognisable villains andt there was a tangible drag on the film itself. It felt bloated, bereft of life and the emotional heart which beat so strongly in the previous instalment was gone.
In going back to high school Sony had the chance to once again retell the story of Peter Parker and his becoming into Spider-Man, and this strategy was a risky one. With a recent telling of the story still relatively fresh in the mind how would Marc Webb breathe new life into the character?
Casting Andrew Garfield was a stroke of genius. He has precisely the geeky charm to make the character engage us and he has the acting chops to stay on the right line of arrogance. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy is more than Peter Parker’s equal and it seems Webb draws on his (500) Days experience to bring us into their relationship effortlessly. Given that this is an origin story the relationship with Parker and his Uncle Ben suffers from the same fate as Raimi’s version – that of being too short lived to have the required emotional impact. However there is enough to Peter’s teenage angst to make for a sold foundation on which to throw in the CG-laden action shots.
Some of the effects work here is the best I’ve seen. The New York cityscapes are so well rendered, and Webb’s choreography is inventive enough that we are too entertained to see the seams. The problem of the villain has been brought up many times before however for my money I thought Rhys Ifans did some great work as the conflicted Curt Connors, though the bar was set very high by Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus a few years earlier. Also the CG rendition of the creature doesn’t seem worthy of the scorn it seems to have provoked; perhaps Spider-fans were hoping for a more recognisable adversary?. The inclusion of a back story involving Connors and Peter’s father is a neat addition and yet despite some excellent CG work in the fight scenes it never feels as though the main thrust of the action is this fight between these two supers. Instead we have a well thought out set of relationships and some excellent action sequences which don’t make for the perfect Spider-Man film, but do set us on the path for a very bright future.
There is a second disc full of extras, charting the progression from development to the finished article. While it is diverting to go through the process (and all involved show take great pains to convey their love for the character and the world) I would have loved to have seen a more candid approach. Often the best extras illuminate the technical elements of a film, and this disc has that in spades, I would have liked to know the story behind the film. Sometimes the marketing shadow of the studio looms large over this collection which is understandable but a missed opportunity perhaps.
The extended and deleted scenes are, as per usual, a mixed bag with the greatest worth coming from the alternative takes on whole scenes. The original death of Uncle Ben carries far less of an emotional punch as the actions of a cocksure young boy are here replaced with the odd twists of happenstance which completely fail to convince. To see what is essentially a failed idea rendered as completely as this is a rare treat, and shows how necessary re-shoots and rethinking can be. There is another scene which we are giving the chance to see played out differently. The discovery of the Lizard’s lair, in the film a mixture of the camera following Peter’s train of thought through a series of video blogs from Curt Connors and newspaper clippings, is in this alternative version a far more protracted affair.
The CG progression an other technical extras are worth watching – if for nothing else the chance to see how the high school battle was built entirely in a computer, then directed by Marc Webb using a virtual camera, is fascinating. Overall it’s nothing mind-blowing, but a good accompaniment to what is a surprisingly decent film.