It was ten years after the first in the initial trilogy and just five years after the last in the trilogy when Marvel have released already a reboot of the successful Spider-Man franchise. How would this effort fare in the light of inevitable comparisons to the previous one?
When Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) was a boy his father and mother left him with his Aunt May (Sally Fields) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). The circumstances around it were ominous, but he never saw his parents again. This obviously had a telling effect on him, despite the love he received from May and Ben. Now as a teenager on the cusp of full adulthood, events in his life conspire to potentially give some more news about his parents.
This comes about as he discovers an article with his father and one Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Connors, who has lost an arm, is now working at Oscorp hoping to develop a breakthrough in medical gene work along with the best that animals have to construct a way to make illness a thing of the past. Parker finds out about Connors and pursues him to the hi-tec lab running various experiments on animals. It is while he does so and as he sneaks around that he finds himself stuck with some spiders and then …
Whilst he undergoes this transformation he is also getting closer to Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a girl in his class, and their blossoming romance gets seriously affected by his new abilities. This is especially the case as we discover her father is Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) of the NYPD who views the Spider-Man vigilante as a menace to be stopped.
While Parker makes a breakthrough, he also enables Connor to make a breakthrough of his own with the regenerative powers of lizards, which has side effects of its own with potentially grave effects not just for Parker but for humankind. Can the inexperienced new super hero deal with the threat and make any head-way in discovering more about his parents? How will he deal with the tragedies that are about to befall him?
This origins story is very different to the Raimi/Maguire version of 2002. This film is a fairly darker and more grim approach to the Parker world. Where Raimi’s Spider-Man was rich in colour, this is not so much and prone to being bleak and clinical. That is not a bad thing necessarily, but it makes it all the more important for the story and acting to liven things up.
Garfield’s Parker is also very different from Maguire’s Parker. Garfield carries the weight of his world on his shoulders, he is a tougher Parker even if there is still aspects of the nerd about him. Garfield is still utterly convincing and at times compelling in his role. The one strong element of this film is that it lives up to the fact that it is centred on the key character and Garfield rises to the task admirably. He makes Peter Parker available to be refashioned in the way that other actors can refashion other fictional characters like James Bond and Sherlock Holmes.
Gwen Stacy is a sufficiently sparky personality played well by Emma Stone and the romance between her and Parker comes across fairly well. It is not fully developed and by the end of the film there is a sense that there has to be further to come from this relationship.
Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben did well, but at times was perhaps a bit too much in the face. The Uncle Ben character is important to the Peter Parker story, but he is not one to become too overwhelming. In contrast Sally Field’s effort as Aunt May was fairly reined in, and refreshing to see an Aunt May that doesn’t look more like a Gran May.
The part of Dr. Connors sums up the film as a whole, though. Rhys Ifans is good in doses as the Lizard, but it appears at times as though his character isn’t as compelling as you’d expect a villain to be and is more instrumental in setting up the Spider-Man character.
The film is good without being great. It is not a mind-blowing blockbuster that is up there with some of the biggest hits of the summer. The reason for that is how the pacing is sometimes pedestrian and although there are some decent set-ups the plot moves from one focus to another without much sense. I left the film thinking it was passably good, but the standard has been high for super-hero movies since Batman Begins. This film just about does sufficiently to merit a sequel – it’s good, but it’s not amazing.