I thought that The Amazing Spider-Man was a throughly enjoyable film. That’s perhaps the most important thing to say, first of all. I liked Andrew Garfield in the title role. I think he was a suitably teenaged Peter Parker and while people I know have described him as a prick I felt that it was necessary to the role for him to be that much of a prick. Slight spoiler alert, but we don’t see much of the mature Peter Parker in this film – he has barely come to terms with his uncle’s death (that’s not the spoiler) by the end of the film; all we see is the spoilt kid exploiting his powers, then the moody kid upset at the injustice of the world and burdened with the guilt that will make him the hero he is, in the end. Spider-Man is a bit of a prick, and a joker.
Martin Sheen’s performance as Uncle Ben was of course a highlight, although I had been expecting a little more from him; Sally Field was incredibly underused as Aunt May, something which I can only imagine will be rectified in future instalments. This did, however, give a little more time to the Stacys, who are an important part of the comic book version of Spider-Man sadly done very poorly in the previous film series. I liked Gwen, although there was little to distinguish her as a character from Mary Jane Watson, and her father, although a little underdeveloped, was also fairly likable. I wish a little more had been done to develop his role before (mild spoiler) you discover that he’s Gwen’s father, and his justification for going after Spider-Man had seemed a little bit more real. But there is much in Peter and Gwen’s relationship which holds true for a teenaged couple, which is what we were led to expect from a film by the director of (500) Days of Summer. Which I haven’t seen.
The action was less impressive than the relationships – many of the fight scenes felt a little like adverts for the video game. I wasn’t impressed by the CGI, and prefered the scenes when Spider-Man was more obviously a guy in a suit. It is worth saying now that I saw this film in 2D. But it was passable, at least as good as Fantastic Four or the previous Spider-Man films, if not up there with the current Batman series or Avengers Assemble.
Finally, a few words on the problems in the film. While I don’t think the film was a serious offender on many counts the lack of non-white characters, the minimal roles for the female characters, the focus on the interaction between Peter and Uncle Ben, and his missing father (his mother barely receiving a mention), and the obvious greater importance for father/son relationships over mother/daughter (or even father/daughter, with little time spent on Gwen’s relationship with her father either) are easy targets for complaint. Arguably the loss of the father figure is a strong theme in the Spider-Man series, especially in this film. But it’s an overworn theme in any case, and much more interesting things could have been made of it. I suppose the point is that I enjoyed the film, but it didn’t try particularly hard to do anything special with the themes; we might have expected a little more from so sudden a follow-up to the previous series of films.
It is inevitable that this new Spider-Man film will be compared to the previous series of Spider-Man films, only just ten years old. I think that a suitable comparison is between the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman film series and the more recent Christopher Nolan series (sixteen years from Batman to Batman Begins); the former is an increasingly camp, stylized comic book adaptation which ended on one of the worst travesties to have been put to film, while the latter is a darker, more serious attempt to bring the hero to the screen. Now, I didn’t think Batman Begins was brilliant, although I enjoyed it very much, and if forced to compare it to The Amazing Spider-Man then the latter certainly comes out worse. But the point is that the new film is trying something very different, and that is important and worth investigating. I have high hopes for the inevitable sequel, and hope that it can be as good as The Dark Knight.
One final point is the unfortunate fact that, as Sony have made a new Spider-Man film, this unfortunately means that the rights for the films are unlikely to fall back into the hands of Marvel; this means that Spider-Man will remain separate from The Avengers and we won’t see him written by Joss Whedon any time soon.