In 2002 horror movie director Sam Raimi did something daring. He took a famous, loved, respected comic-book character and attempted to make a movie about him. But instead of making a nuts-and-bolts Hollywood superhero blockbuster, he infused his film Spider-Man with the sharp tinge of terror that had made his previous films, which included The Evil Dead and The Evil Dead II, so deliciously dark.
As a result, Spider-Man caused a stir with fans, critics and the British Board of Film Classification [BBFC]. When Sony’s request for a PG rating was refused by the BBFC, who saw fit to issue it with a 12 (this was a few months before 12A was introduced), there was a public outcry, which lead to the BBFC responding with a statement. In that statement (the full version of which you can read here), they explained that ‘Spider-Man is possibly the most violent film which is aimed at a young audience that the BBFC has classified’. They also commented that ‘the violence is set in a modern urban setting with a clear message that the use of violence is the normal and appropriate response when challenged’ and that ‘the Board does not believe that this is the sort of message to be sending to young children.’ Strong words indeed.
When I saw Spider-Man (pictured left) when I was ten years old in 2002, I found it disturbing. Looking back now, I completely understand the stance the Board chose to take. However, I do not believe Sam Raimi was the one at fault, but rather those at the Hollywood studio who deliberately marketed the film to young children – children who should not be allowed to witness the scenes of horror, threat or personalised violence that film contained.
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) could be seen as a remake of Sam Raimi’s inspired 2002 effort, although I suspect Columbia Pictures, Marvel and Disney would prefer me to use the word ‘reboot’. It goes back to the origins of the web-slinging hero, and replaces actor Tobi Maguire with the younger, fresh-faced British actor Andrew Garfield. Raimi is replaced with Marc Webb, director of romantic comedy 500 Days of Summer. It’s generally good fun, but when seen in comparison to Raimi’s Spider-Man, and his superior second film Spider-Man 2 (let’s forget the god-awful Spider-Man 3), it lacks bite and that exciting surge of menace that caused the BBFC ratings controversy back in 2002. It’s been given the same certificate (or today’s equivalent, 12A), and yes, it does contain a level of violence I wouldn’t like children younger than ten to see. But there is something missing. That sense of danger Raimi gave his pictures; of something being slightly mad and unpredictable. That’s what I was craving throughout Marc Webb’s new imagining.
Instead of a Raimi-bolt of horror, we get a Web-bolt of comedy. I’ve heard some critics moaning that this film doesn’t have a sense of humour. This baffles me. The Amazing Spider-Man is full of comedy and, thank-fully, it works for the most part, even better than the annoying wise-cracks in Avengers Assemble. Look out for a spectacularly destructive scene set within a school library. It’s near-genius.
But although I am glad Web’s talent for comic inspiration isn’t a failure, I would always chose that foreboding glint of evil Raimi injected into his Spider-Man films over a few laughs. The villain in this film – a biologically engineered giant lizard (played by Rhys Ifans) – isn’t particularly scary. It doesn’t help that the CGI effects make him look like something that’s wandered out of the upcoming Monsters Inc sequel. It’s strange, but in the decade since the first Spider-Man blockbuster, computer effects seem to have got worse rather than better. Everything in this new film looks cartoony and unconvincing. Maybe it’s deliberate, but I found it very distracting.
The Amazing Spider-Man is not dreadful. It’s rather enjoyable at times. Garfield is a very watchable actor who excels in the role, and Emma Stone as his love interest is a step-up from Kirsten Dunst. I’m glad Web hasn’t tried to copy Raimi, but I still find it hard not to feel dissatisfied. Once you’ve stared into the dark abyss of Raimi’s imagination, it’s hard to pull your head back out of the rabbit hole and try to enjoy something less daring, less exciting and less inspired.
The Amazing Spider-Man, directed by Marc Web, is distributed in the UK by Sony Pictures, Certificate 12A.