Spider-Man reboot really is Amazing

 
Stephen Dinneen
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ews by Steve Dinneen

FILM
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
Cert 12A
****

Restarting a franchise just five years after the last one finished is either very brave or very cynical. Okay, it’s the second one – Spider-Man is one of Marvel’s hottest properties, guaranteed to fill cinemas. It is just as well, then, that Marc Webb’s version happens to be brilliant.

It does everything a super-hero movie should: instills you with a childlike sense of wonder; provides some great visual gags and acts out your schoolboy power fantasies.

Much of this is down to Andrew Garfield, who is an inspired choice to play Peter Parker. If you’ve seen his previous films (especially the excellent Boy A and Never Let Me Go), you can hazard a pretty good guess at the direction he takes Parker: it’s a far more introspective Spider-Man than the wise-cracking web-slinger we’re used to.

Young Garfield is an emotional soul, and you really feel for him as he once again lives the death of dear old Uncle Ben (no relation to the sauce), as he has in the pages of comics for the last 50 years. This time you care even more, as Uncle Ben’s brand of all-American goodness is portrayed with a stoic dignity by Martin Sheen (the impossibly glassy-eyed Sally Field plays long-suffering Aunt May).

There is, inevitably, a slight feeling of deja vu, especially in the vertiginous swinging-through-New York scenes. Don’t get me wrong – they look great, but I can’t help thinking I’d have been more impressed if I hadn’t seen it before.

Another unintended consequence of rebooting the franchise so soon is that Sam Raimi rather greedily nicked a lot of the most high-profile villains (both versions of the Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Sandman and Venom). To keep things fresh, Webb really needed someone new: unfortunately that someone was The Lizard, a generic part-man-part-animal baddie who spends his time tipping over vans and roaring, despite being the world’s foremost herpetologist (Google it). Rhys Ifans plays the pre-transformation Lizard with just the right amount of hand-wringing and simmering menace but the good work is largely undone when he turns into what looks like a weedy version of the Hulk.

In fact, my only real problem with The Amazing Spider-Man is exactly what has made the super-hero genre so successful: the fight scenes. They start well but suffer from diminishing returns as the scale and CGI are ramped up. Webb’s Spider-Man would stand up without all the bangs and flashes – and that is a very big compliment indeed.

ART
EDVARD MUNCH
Tate Modern
****

The Scream is one of those paintings that suffers from its own success. Tattered versions of it hang on the walls of too many student bedrooms – an emblem of a kind of cultural aspiration (“Yeah, I like Munch. It’s just so raw, you know? One day I’ll probably go to the opera too. Would you like to smoke a joint and have sex with me?”).

The Scream, of course, is conspicuous by its absence at the Tate’s new exhibition. The Norwegians won’t let their copies out of their sight after a couple of rather unfortunate incidents, and the one privately held version is hanging on the wall of someone who recently bought it for £80m – I imagine they didn’t fancy lending it out. In the end, though, it’s probably for the best – it allows the other paintings speak for themselves, rather than act as a protracted warm-up for the howling money-shot. If you’re looking for alienation and silent despair, though, there is still plenty here. Works from Munch’s Green Room series are particularly bleak, with claustrophobic figures penned in by their drab, sinister surroundings.

His paintings are strikingly cinematic, with the restriction of space and tight composition showing techniques that horror film directors would take decades to perfect.

Clever curation sees different versions of some of his more iconic works, including The Kiss and Vampire, hung on opposite walls, allowing you to pick out common themes and subtle differences. One such painting is Two Human Beings: The Lonely Ones, featuring two figures, possibly newlyweds, standing apart on a beach. While they are tightly defined, their surroundings bulge and bleed. You can’t see their faces but, lost in their familiar world, you can bet they are screaming inside.

Two rooms dedicated to Munch’s amateur photography seem a little gratuitous – they are interesting enough morsels in the context of the artist but individually they are no great shakes – they look a bit like a hipster’s Instagram page, all blurry snaps of unmade beds and self-taken portraits.

This retrospective, though, shows that Munch is far more than the sum of his Screams.

THEATRE
THE TEMPEST
Camden Roundhouse
****

THE Tempest is one third of a loose “shipwreck trilogy” by the RSC at Camden’s Roundhouse – and it is the pick of the bunch.

I’ve always thought of Prospero as cold and aloof – not a fundamentally bad bloke but definitely not someone you’d want to go for a pint with. I tend to imagine him with a pointy hat, too, but that might say more about me than the play. Jonathan Slinger’s Prospero, though, is ragged, jaded and in posession of a tinderbox temper. You get the distinct impression that being deserted on a magical island for 12 years has driven him a bit bonkers. I suppose it would, all things considered.

Of course, the ambiguous spirit Ariel is on hand to help – wonderfully played by Glaswegian Sandy Grierson, who performs his airy tricks with an unmistakable edge of menace, as well as some impressive feats of acrobatics, vanishing through holes in the stage, only to reappear elsewhere at an impossible speed.

Jon Bausor’s set is as good as you would expect from the world-renowned designer, with some very clever lighting transforming a clear perspex box from a stricken ship to Prospero’s island cell.

The three plays – the others being The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night – are running concurrently and it’s fascinating to see how the actors adapt to their different roles. While one or two play essentially the same character reading different lines, the best of them are almost unrecognisable from play to play.

Of the trilogy, The Tempest takes the fewest liberties (The Comedy of Errors, for instance, became a very modern tale exploring issues of immigration). You get the impression that this is the one they really, really wanted to get right. They did – it was a joy.

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