DIRECTED BY MARC WEBBSTARRING: ANDREW GARFIELD, EMMA STONE, RHYS IFANS, DENIS LEARY, MARTIN SHEEN, SALLY FIELD, CHRIS ZYLKA with IRRFAN KHAN and a cameo by STAN LEE
There’s no way that I can begin this analysis without talking about my kind of hero (whom I’ve talked about quite a bit before). He’s more of a character, really, but he’s an ideal and hence I call him a ‘Hero’. Anyway, this guy is a conversationalist. He’s kind of like what Ebert called Alvy Singer in his review of ‘Annie Hall’, about how Allen is a man who has his own running commentary alongside life; “a man who lives so he can talk about living,” if I had to quote.
Except that my hero would’ve taken things a step further. He’d record the conversations he makes, in and out of his profession. He’d work to sustain himself and buy cassettes for his recorder wherein he talks to record and records to talk – a simple case of life as a circle where the explanation ends right where it begins.
Marc Webb’s ‘the Amazing Spiderman’ is not entirely my kind of hero, but he’s close. And in that way, he’s distinctive from Sam Raimi’s hero who lives to think and thinks to live in a pitiable struggle to externalize. Raimi’s hero (played by Tobey Maguire) loses his strength to contemplation as investment in character-building, his predicament more intensive in the fact that he just doesn’t talk. There isn’t a moment that Peter Parker isn’t in love with Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the cause of his frustration, and he thinks he needs to be Spiderman for him to deserve her; for her to ‘give back’. And she’s no Rachel Dawes.
Peter Parker, in ‘the Amazing Spiderman’, doesn’t ask himself that question. His Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen, about as delightful as Jon Voight in the ‘National Treasure’ series) might not be as head-in-the-clouds as the one played by Cliff Robertson in Raimi’s series, but he’s less ambiguous. “With great power comes great responsibility,” is what Peter was left with, previously, alongside the ever-distressed MJ and Harry, the Prince (James Franco). Sheen’s Ben leaves him with even lesser, which is more. To him, and thus to Peter from then on, the gifted are obligated to share their endowments. If you do good math, you’re supposed to take it forward for the sake of humanity. Will Hunting wouldn’t survive an environment as this.
But Peter doesn’t mind. In fact, it’s a philosophy that fits his mould. A passive resistance stunt in the beginning tells you he can take some blows. And yet you sense that somewhere inside he bides his time with an alarm set for when it’s time for him to give back. He gets himself out of trouble that he had gotten himself into in the first place. He fixes things that he broke – it’s almost like he has to break things so he’d get around to fixing them later. The entire premise, thus, rests all its weight on him as an existential plot device. Peter Parker doesn’t live his life: He deals with it.
Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker reminded me of John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler from ‘Say Anything’, the twitchy, fast-talking, good-natured young romantic who wore heart on sleeve as a means to charm. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy isn’t a bad Diane Court (Ione Skye) herself. Between them is as enchanting and as sensible a romance as we’d never see between High-School students on the space of a screen. There isn’t a thing that Peter wouldn’t talk out loud, and even if he didn’t, Gwen has, in her, potential and care enough to understand. They just get each other, in short.
So how diabolical is the Spiderman with his lady-problem all sorted out? Remember the scene in ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ where Barry Egan goes head-to-head against the guy at the furniture store saying he “has a love in his life” and how it makes him “stronger than you can ever imagine”? Add a radioactive spider-bite to that confidence and an all-encompassing thoroughness that he puts two and two together faster than Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), the mad scientist at the cross-genetics lab at Oscorp could, and then push himself to atone for that blunder on a course that could very well cost his life – a walk on a tightrope that’s caught fire and he does it barefoot.
Martin Sheen and Denis Leary are striking fits as Uncle Ben and Captain Stacy – responsible men in their respective realms. They do their share in moving the story forward, but they have their moments in halting the scene as human beings. This, however, doesn’t change the fact that they’re characters written to heighten melodrama and, wherever necessitated, deliver it. Sally Field isn’t as remarkable an Aunt May as Rosemary Harris made her to be, but the little reconciliation that happens with Peter towards the end, as well as the abrupt disappearance of Dr. Rajit Ratha (Irrfan Khan) after passing mentions of Norman Osborn makes it look like a sequel is in order.
In a season of self-questioning superheroes, we have one who just likes to be. It falls in line with Webb’s ‘(500) Days of Summer’ as yet another convincing anti-cliché. Tom Hansen thought he felt love and then learnt on the move. Peter builds a web-shooter to facilitate. These are boys who turned men in an embrace of fate, made by a man who, I think, learnt to embrace his. This amazing Spiderman is quirky, neurotic; with his mind on his feet and his feet on a skateboard, his nemesis defeated by the human inside – much like Doc Oc. Between them, we have some great stunt sequences. The joy of CGI lies in the coherence of detail and not in streaks of undecipherable action. Very few filmmakers understand that. Marc Webb, excitingly, seems to be one of them.