You have to marvel (puns intended) at how bleeding obvious it is, that nothing rings in box-office music sweeter than a superhero flick. Clichéd or not, it leaves us feeling more empowered to see one of us suddenly outgrow our ordinary life and add that “extra” to it, strike one on our behalf. Spidey evokes more of that, since he isn’t born to such riches, neither is he blessed with extra-terrestrial powers, nor is he super-rich and super-smart rolled in one. The story of him being bitten by a radioactive arachnid is part of comic-loving folklore, and reasonably well done in Raimi’s 2002 version. So what sets this apart?
Well, for a start a far more relatable, human flavor to the oft-told story. Those who’ve followed his (500) days of Summer, or his stint for the mockumentary “The Office” would know, Mark Webb does have that touch. He delivers on that front, despite the difference in canvas. Dr. Curt Connors, Aunt May, and Captain Stacy each get to share genuine everyday warmth of their characters; expectedly Martin Sheen takes the cake with his short, but sharp impact as Uncle Ben, a big improvement from the last franchise. Irrfan Khan has more impact and presence than most Indian actors get to portray in Hollywood.
Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker resembles the fond memories from Stan Lee’s vision more closely than Tobey Maguire. Be it the lack of Superman-esque muscularity in favor of a leaner build of an acrobat; or that cocky, wisecracking attitude once he’s behind the mask, the vote is firmly in Garfield’s favor. The presence of Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy lends a controlled, yet simmering chemistry to the love-life of Parker – another thumbs up for a genre notorious for turning the Mary Jane into plain jane. Stone gets the mix of sass and sense just about right, much like Stacy’s character itself. There’s none of those upside down kisses, but that’s no downer at all.
Parker’s angst, rebel streak, confusion and sense of purpose are mostly run-of-the-mill, though the humor helps. One of the more enjoyable parts of the movie is when he confuses himself (and the baddies) while getting to know about his powers.
Unlike the previous franchise his web isn’t organic, so you do worry for a bit about his supply running out. However, such details are banished to oblivion with some razor sharp 3-D effect. If there’s one aspect where Sony Pictures scores, it’s the effects! The feeling of Spidey and Lizard smashing each other, the glass shards and debris flying around, or Spidey’s hypergymnastics – was arguably the finest in recent memory, certainly better than what the Avengers doled out a few months back.
It’s not without it’s flaws though. Despite a seriously bad sequel to the remarkable Spiderman-2 of the previous franchise, it seems a bit too soon for a franchise reboot. More so, because unlike Nolan’s uniquely cerebral, dark re-take on Batman, here there’s only so much grey you can explore with Parker. Like Aunt May (an endearing Sally Field) quips “if there’s one thing you are .. Peter Parker, it’s good!”
Rhys Ifans as the Lizard is a bit of letdown. He fails to evoke sympathy as the troubled soul, or fear as one of Spidey’s deadliest foes. James Horner doesn’t quite reprise his Titanic or Braveheart form either, and Elfman’s scores from the last series remains superior. Parker’s scientific wunderkind abilities lack explanation too (high-tech web shooters created in a jiffy, complex decay algos memorized in a trice). Before the Avengers came along with their thrill-a-second action packed roster of multiple superheroes, Spiderman was Marvel’s poster-boy. While he manages to establish that one man can still save the day, it’d take more than this to become “amazing”.