The Amazing Spider-Man * * * *
Cert 12A, 136 mins
Still brave, still vulnerable – rather like the England football team! – web-slinging superhero Spider-Man is celebrating his half-century this year.
So that’s enough of an excuse for Hollywood to start afresh... a mere five years after Sam Raimi’s trilogy came to an unexpectedly disappointing end with Spider-Man 3 (2007).
Prior to Christopher Nolan reinvigorating Gotham City with Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), we should not forget that Raimi earlier raised the bar of what to expect from this type of movie.
His first two Spider-Man hits from 2002 and 2004 are still in the all-time top 40 worldwide box office hits at 31 and 37 respectively.
With 89-year-old creator Stan Lee’s support, debut genre director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) relaunches the franchise again with British star Andrew Garfield now replacing Tobey Maguire.
Webb has respected the Spider-Man characters involved but reworks too much of Raimi’s original version.
By taking his time to introduce Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) as well as the moment that nerdy Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is bitten by a spider, it’s almost as if Webb is the one stuck on Stan Lee’s own web.
For a good hour of a film which tests its own 136-minute running time, you might keep asking yourself: ‘Why are we going round in circles?’
If you pay extra for the 3D version – after it is released on the strange day of Tuesday, July 3 – you might also be wondering why they bothered.
It seems to animate Sheen’s top teeth and hair more than Spidey himself, while also making the eyes of love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) look rather bulbous early on.
For all of these issues, The Amazing Spider-Man still has a degree of freshness, with Lee delivering his latest trademark cameo performance in the library scene.
Perhaps because of comparatively lightweight digital camera technology, our rebooted hero has got plenty of computer game-style swing.
But the marketing men’s inference that the film will see Parker find out more about his parents’ death is eschewed during a weak extra scene woven into the end credits.
While Spider-Man 3 got carried away with enemies, Webb concentrates solely on Dr Curt Connors. One credible villain is better than several duds.
Notting Hill star Rhys Ifans clearly relishes the challenge.
The Welshman is an imposingly big fella for a bad boy promise like: ‘I want to create a world without weakness’.
He also has a mischievous grin and, like Stone, a fine talent for comedy.
Useful traits to have, since this Spider-Man movie doesn’t take itself at all seriously during its more human, lighter moments.
Compared with the ubiquitous, relatively one-dimensional Russell Brand (Rock of Ages), Ifans is also a natural actor, too.
As is LA-born, London-raised Andrew Garfield in the title role.
Fresh from starring as Eduardo Severin in The Social Network, his bravery here will catapult him into the big league.
He just about gets away with playing a teenager, even though he’s now almost 29 and sometimes looks like dour tennis star Andy Murray.
Scarcely having been on our cinema screens for more than a decade, the great Sally Field has a ball as Parker’s Aunt May.
Fresh from playing a father who loses his son in The Way (2010), Martin Sheen is all cuddly and loveable as the paternal Uncle Ben.
There’s also the familiar feel of Back To The Future with the early emphasis on skateboarding and bullying – delete Biff, insert Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka).
Denis Leary’s Capt Stacy is no match though for JK Simmons’ irrascible J Johan Jameson in Spider-Man.
But, when the gloves come off – and, far too often, our hero’s mask – The Amazing Spider-Man is not found lacking in the action stakes, even if the effects mean that the degree of genuine peril is so mild.
For a film which feels almost depressingly-familiar, it still becomes an exciting thrill ride with an interesting, watery test for Spidey’s newfound web-slinging prowess.
And one underpinned by the medical world’s very real desire to be able to regenerate limbs.
Friends With Kids * * * *
Cert 15, 107 mins
Major football championships like 2012 will always deliver an alternative romantic drama like The Truth About Cats & Dogs, which followed England’s own Euro ‘96.
But to have two really good ones this weekend surely has to be cause for many women to celebrate in style.
Hint: the leading female character here always buys double tickets at the movies! Not unlike a contemporary reworking of When Harry Met Sally might feel, Friends With Kids is the story of two best friends who discuss having a child together even though they are not a couple.
Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt) isn’t getting any younger, so Jason (Adam Scott) suggests that she ‘pops one out’ before returning to the job of finding the man of her dreams.
A decade after writing and starring in Kissing Jessica Stein (2001), Westfeld steps up to debut direct her own script here.
She’s a very watchable screen presence, too.
Even though Irish star Chris O’Dowd (Alex) is back in harness again with fellow Bridesmaids stars John Hamm (Ben), Kristen Wiig (Missy), and Maya Rudolph (Leslie), Friends With Kids is effervescent fun and never unbearably smutty – just very adult, with language to match.
It’s also socially relevant. As Ed Burns’ character Kurt says: ‘How do you explain to your kids, that your parents want to be with other people?’
There’s no easy answer to that.
But it’s a strange position that many parents put themselves in regardless.
Your Sister’s Sister * * * *
Cert 15, 90 mins
I’m not convinced the title makes sense, but well done to actress Lynn Shelton for writing and directing such a sharp, deeply-felt comedy drama about relationships within relationships.
There’s a tangible integrity about this story which is endearing.
Yes, the language is decidedly fruity, just like Friends With Kids.
But at least it feels like the characters really would talk like that and, within the known circle of a company of adults, that’s fine.
Director Shelton has recast Mark Duplass from her little seen ‘bromance’ movie Humpday (2009) and turned him into an everyman called Jack.
His recently-deceased brother once dated Iris (Emily Blunt), whom Jack now counts as a best friend. Wishing for him to clear his head, Iris insists that Jack dusts down his red bicycle ready to spend a week at her father’s island hideaway, without thinking for a minute that sibling Hannah (Rosemary DeWitt) might be there, too.
Though now 37, Dewitt is still a relatively little known cinema actress whose previous movies include minor hits like Rachel Getting Married (2008), The Company Men (2010) and Margaret (2011).
But if the New York-born Mad Men star ever gives a better performance than the one here, I can’t wait to see it.
Your Sister’s Sister was shot quickly and with an often improvised script, but it has an honesty which makes you care about the characters’ fates.
Shelton uses the delightfully unpredictable story to show how one relationship can often be recognisably crystallised – or damaged – by the type of chemistry involved in other pairings.
Such is life in our ever-revolving human solar system.
If you like Your Sister’s Sister and develop a raging thirst for this type of film, you might also want to discover Laura Linney’s You Can Count on Me (2000), Katie Holmes’ Pieces of April (2003), Toni Collette’s In Her Shoes (2005), Glen Hansard’s Once (2006), Waitress (2007) – beautifully directed by the subsequently murdered Adrienne Shelly – or Julie Delpy’s Two Days In New York (2012).
The Five-Year Engagement * *
Cert 15, 124 mins
Instead of being a 90-minute, three-act romantic comedy, this 124-minute plod almost begins to feel like a five-year term at its midpoint low.
Thanks to producer Judd Apatow (Bridesmaids), there is also an unwanted degree of smut.
Stoller has previously directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him To The Greek, both with Russell Brand. He’s also written Yes Man and Fun With Dick and Jane – both starring an off-colour Jim Carrey – as well as Jack Black’s poor Gulliver’s Travels which also starred the two leads from this film. The Five Year Engagement starts off quite brightly, with San Francsico-based sous chef Tom Solomon (Jason Segers) quickly proposing to psychology graduate Violet (Emily Blunt).
But when she gets the chance to go the frozen midwest to study with Professor Winton Childs (Ifans), will their relationship survive?
Stoller clearly shows how anything and everything can get in the way of best laid plans – which often means older relatives missing out on a good wedding by going six feet under first.
The whole subplot with Prof Childs is dragged out way too far and, in any case, Ifans is on sub Spider-Man form. I would have much preferred to have seen a lot more of Animal Kingdom’s (2010) Oscar-nominated matriarch Jackie Weaver.
She is such a brilliant actress – and utterly believable as Violent’s mother, Sylvia – that she deserves her own story. Blunt has more to do here than in the recent Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and, to a large extent, this is the more realistic movie.
But even then Five Year is not half as good as her other current film, Your Sister’s Sister.