The Review: When they come to write the history books, they’ll hopefully note the key cultural touchstones of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The impact of 9/11. An actual Big Brother. Krispy Kremes hitting the UK (and shortly after, my waistline). But one which has as good a chance as any as standing the test of time is the comic book movie adaptation. It’s a genre that first took root in the late seventies with Superman: The Movie and has seen some iconic names captured on celluloid, and many now more than once. For any children of the Seventies or Eighties, there are probably three comic book heroes that stand out, that endure the test of time and that seemingly now need to be reinvented for cinema every ten years or so. While this year sees the end of another Batman cycle, it also sees the start of the third, and most relatable – unless you happen to be a billionaire or an alien, anyway – spandex-clad hero on another round of adventures, and this time Spider-Man is back and making claims to be Amazing. It’s a bold statement, especially when two-thirds of Sam Raimi’s web-slinging saga are still so fondly remembered.
Part of the reason – but by no means whole story – of why Nolan’s Bat-saga has succeeded less than a generation after Burton and Schumaker has their stab at interpreting the mythology is down to how much Nolan and co managed to differentiate their version in both style and substance. It’s not just a case of a different story; other than a man who dresses like a bat and a lunatic in clown make-up, the two approaches have little in common and are all the better for it. So it’s easy to criticise The Amazing Spider-Man for its lack of differentiation, but for all the attempts to bring in additions such as the parents’ back story, there’s an awful lot here that feels an awful lot like Raimi’s Spider-Man. Substitute a lizard for a guy in green on a flying skateboard and you’re practically into remake territory. For those questioning whether it was worth going back to the web quite so soon, the answer is far from a definitive yes.
Raimi’s original Spider-Man wasn’t perfect by any means, and Webb’s version gets as much wrong – especially the odd design of the main antagonist – but it also gets a fair amount right. First and foremost is the casting, which nails its Spidey in the form of Andrew Garfield, all teenage irritability and learning hard lessons as he tries to become a hero, more fuelled by vengeance than altruism in this take and willing to risk making himself genuinely unlikeable for long stretches. By way of contrast, Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey doesn’t look much like a teenager but does have more charm and charisma than either Kirsten Dunst or Bryce Dallas Howard managed. Martin Sheen makes a memorable Uncle Ben and Dennis Leary a suitably stern authority figure. The let-downs are Rhys Ifans, never quite able to exude the level of menace required and a rather wet and unsympathetic turn from Sally Field as Aunt May.
It’s fair to say that balance of good and bad is also about what The Amazing Spider-Man manages as a whole. Taken on its own terms, there’s a lot to like, with a couple of satisfying action set pieces and a slightly darker tone than you might expect. This does mean that the Spidey wisecracking gets limited to the odd scene or two, and while the romance is good and the web swinging looks authentic, what’s really missing is just a little more fun. It’s a shame as we know director Mark Webb can certainly deliver that, based on his previous effort, (500) Days of Summer, but it’s just about enjoyable enough on its own terms. But there’s an elephant-sized spider in the room; Raimi’s original casts such a cloud that you can almost feel the gears straining as TASM attempts to avoid covering the same ground, and there would have been no shame in wheeling out the same catchphrase about power and responsibility, with this film coming off slightly worse for it. In terms of those cultural touchstones, one looms larger than any other, and the Spider-man series we’ve just had felt like a better reaction to the the mood of the times, as did Nolan’s Dark Knight (but for completely different reasons). When the most that TASM feels like a reaction to is the Twilight movies, you can’t help but feel that this is a reboot too far, too soon.
Why see it at the cinema: Spider geeks will find plenty to enjoy, and the web-slinging action is as crisp and as wide scale as it’s ever been.
Why see it in 3D: I nearly didn’t put 3D on this review, so anonymous is the extra dimension. While there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s absolutely not essential unless you’re a 3D obsessive.
The Score: 7/10 (if you ignore the 2002 Spider-Man, knock at least a point off if you don’t)
The Review: 2011 has been a heck of a year for one member of the Estevez family. Carlos has lost his job and embarked on a tour in an attempt to find himself. You might know him better as Charlie Sheen, of course, but while he’s currently the most famous member of that particular family, father Ramon (or Michael Sheen if you prefer) and brother Emilio (who’s a full time Estevez, of course) have collaborated for the third time under Emilio’s direction, in a film that’s come a very long way from his early collaboration with his younger brother, Men At Work. Unlike his brother he seems to be mellowing with age and The Way is his most sedate work to date, in which he plays the disenchanted son of his father’s ophthalmologist who gives up his education and sets out to see the world.
Tragically, one day into a pilgrimage down the Camino de Santiago son Daniel suffers and accident and is killed. Devastated by the loss and the fact that they didn’t part on the best of terms, father Tom travels to the Pyrenees to collect Daniel’s body and finds himself drawn in a struggle to understand Daniel’s quest. After talking through with the local police chief (Tcheky Karyo), Tom resolves to take his son’s ashes and complete the pilgrimage himself. With his grief still raw, he’s not keen to be sociable but he hasn’t accounted for the camaraderie and companionship that go hand in hand with walking the Camino, and his encounters with a friendly, doped up Dutchman Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), bristly Canadian Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger) and insensitive Irishman Jack (James Nesbitt) shape not only his own journey, but helps in turn to shape each of theirs.
The idea for the film came about originally after another Estevez, Emilio’s son Taylor, and Martin toured the Camino (the journey to the presumed final resting place of St. James) while Martin was on a break from his West Wing duties. Martin originally suggested a low budget documentary but Emilio had larger ambitions, and what we’ve actually ended up with feels like a slight hybrid of the two. Emilio uses his camera well and captures enough of the scenery to make it easy to see why people would take this trek, but there’s always a little of a travelogue feel, almost as if the next monastery or hostel has a crew of a TV travel show waiting to get their latest thoughts when they cross the threshold. The upside of that approach is that everything feels very natural and unforced – that does include the pacing, and the film is just the wrong side of two hours, but no one ever said a pilgrimage would be short.
Of the other pilgrims, Joost feels a little caricaturish but adds much needed humour and jollity early on without jarring the mood. In a lesser film Sarah would have ended up as a shoehorned love interest, especially when Tom is a widower, but The Way has more respect for its characters than that. Jack is James Nesbitt just being James Nesbitt, not much of a stretch and Jack might be the least sympathetic of the characters, but it’s nice to have four people who feel real and aren’t coloured in with black and white but all have shades of grey. What they get out of the pilgrimage changes and becomes clearer as they edge closer to their destination, but along the journey there’s enough here for most people to enjoy the passage of their company as well.
Why see it at the cinema: It might feel more like a TV travelogue at certain points, but you’re a hardened soul if this doesn’t make you want to head out to the Camino tomorrow morning. The cinema screen is the next best place to see that gorgeous scenery if you don’t feel like the spirituality or the blisters.
The Score: 7/10