Director: Mark Webb
Talent: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen
Release Date: 6th July 2012
In an early sequence of Mark Webb’s reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker finds a battered old valise, bearing the initials R.P., in the basement of his uncle and aunt’s house. Inside the seemingly empty case are documents which point our hero towards a web of scientific intrigue that somewhat inevitably dovetails with his burgeoning romance with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Within the fiction of the film, these letters stand for Richard Parker, his scientist father who we discover perished in a plane crash, along with Peter’s mother, years ago. However, in the overarching narrative of “teen cinema”, they might as well stand for Robert Pattinson, such is the broody and troubled demeanour of our “new” Spider-Man.
There is not a great deal to separate this reboot from Sam Raimi’s original trilogy on a stylistic level. The violence of Webb’s revolution is, you might say, not essential enough. Garfield is awkward, emotional and, frequently, morally relativistic, in a more overt way than Toby Maguire was. Stone plays Gwen Stacy with slightly more individual agency than ever was allowed Kirsten Dunst’s M.J., though the troublesomely goal-oriented hero’s narrative of “stop the bad guy, get the girl” remains unchanged, this time, however, with the introduction of the Agamemnon-like Police Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), Gwen’s protective father and enforcer of city law. More on this later.
First order of business is for Peter to seek out Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a maverick animal husbandrist and former partner of his father’s. Connors is leading a study into the possibilities of cell regeneration in mammals through the splicing of lizard DNA or some such. Peter’s help in his project, courtesy of the notes he found in his father’s valise, lead to the development of a formula which shows promising signs in early testing on mice. Connors, however, fatefully introduces the experimental serum into his own body, leading to his mutation into a giant, humanoid lizard, similar to the ones that run our banks, governments and media outlets.
So far, so terrible. But it is the conflict between Peter and Captain Stacy that, for us, is perhaps most intriguing. Stacy’s suspicion of Peter as a suitor of his daughter’s is matched by his dislike of Spider-Man, a vigilante crimefighter whom Peter defends at the dinner table, leading to an argument between the two. Stacy regards Spider-Man as an affront to procedural law-enforcement, an unknown quantity which disrupts the proper functioning of the justice system (in the previous scene, Spider-Man captures a criminal who has been under surveillance by the police department in the hope that he might lead them to criminals higher up the chain of command, his heroics derailing their case). Peter believes that Spider-Man means to do good (after all, he is himself Spider-Man) and that his contribution to society must be measured in moral terms, rather than by its (non-)integration with established policing procedures: two sides of the same neoliberal coin.
But can this disagreement be resolved? If it can, it is sadly not within the narrative of The Amazing Spider-Man. After learning Spider-Man’s true identity and helping him to defeat Giant Lizard Doctor Connors, getting eviscerated in the process, Stacy uses his death-bed speech to resolve the dialectic opened an hour previous: “I was wrong about you, Peter. There is a place for you,” he says, gasping. The emotional bond produced by their cooperation is enough to successfully assail the logical and ethical gap between the two that was so defined previously. Or at least it is, within the confines of the speech. Stacy does not embrace moral vigilanteism on his death-bed any more than he rejects the infallibility of the neoliberal police apparatus. But the film functions on such emotion, on such irrationality. Moreover, Stacy makes Peter promise to leave his daughter alone, for her own safety. The patriarchy is reaffirmed in such emotional terms, out of such disingenuousness, as the film itself demands, at its core.
The invocation of the irrational or the fantastical in order to resolve basic contradictions has long been a staple of totalitarian thought. Cinematic love; patriarchal, male bonding; superpowers themselves; combine to reconcile a narrative whose questions ought not to so easy to answer. If The Amazing Spider-Man is the Roman solution to a neoliberal problem, there is not a trace of the historical about its means. The table is rigged to give this outcome from the outset.