Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Les Démoniaques (1973)

Jean Rollin’s debut film, Le Viol du Vampire (1967), began life as a short quickly flung together at the behest of a distributor to fill out the allotted theatrical bill with another vampire film, and then expanded it into a feature when the money men and audiences alike were intrigued by the result. In spite of its commercial reasons for existing, Le Viol du Vampire is all but an underground film, a heady whiff of transgressive pleasures offered up with a sense of humour and a large dash of Dadaist art and late-‘60s-style rebelliousness exhibited on many levels of style and story, purposefully grotesque and incoherent, textured like a fevered onanistic dream. In his subsequent films, La Vampire Nue (1969), Le Frissons du Vampires (1970), Requiem pour un Vampire (1971), and La Rose de Fer (1972), Rollin’s rough-hewn artistry erupts in moments of splendiferous strangeness and surrealist virtuosity, both liberated by and just as often held in check by the awkwardness of his cruelly low budgets, and the crude necessity of the sexploitation he injected to make the films commercially viable. Watching Rollin’s works always requires tolerance for sitting through the sometimes arbitrary and prolonged nudie scenes, which coexist uneasily with Rollin’s genuine, wittier eroticist impulses. But his fascination for the potent commingling of the savage and the romantic defined films which, at their best, turn into protean dreamscapes of Sadean imagery and symbolism.

Rollin was still warming up for his greatest achievement, the Proustian fantasia of Lips of Blood (1975), when he made Les Démoniaques, his sixth feature (not counting his forays into straight-up porn), and a relatively straightforward narrative compared to his early odyssean nightmares. That said, it’s one of his most brutal and direct films. Rollin’s obsessive efforts to capture the atmosphere of the French coast are here justified by a story that plays like Rollin’s peculiar twist on Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn (1939), or Fritz Lang’s Moonfleet (1955), whilst anticipating Jacques Rivette’s Noroit (1974) as a freewheeling riff on nautical shenanigans. Les Démoniaques, set sometime around the turn of the 20th century, introduces its cast of villains, a small band of wrecker cutthroats, consisting of the bristling Captain (John Rico), his two semi-loyal helpmates Bosco (Willy Braque) and Paul (Paul Bisciglia), and their sensual, capricious, sadistic squaw Tina (Joëlle Coeur), with a series of portraits that fill us in on their nefarious actions and their relations with one-another, excusing Rollin from any need to interrupt the tale’s subsequent texture for characterisation. This style of introduction proves a miscue, however, as it’s not so much the individual characters and group tensions of the wreckers that preoccupy Les Démoniaques, elements Rollin was scarcely interested in anyway, so much as their embodiment of base, reactive impulse, and animalistic instinct. 

Attracted to the shoreline by floating wreckage of a smashed ship, the criminals discover two tragic maids (Lieva Lone and Patricia Hermenier, filling in, it seems, for Rollin’s regular pairing of doppelganger waifs, the Castel twins) clinging to each-other as they cry for help and stumble out of the surf. True to their natures, the criminals attack, rape, and leave the girls for dead. An uncertain amount of time later, the Captain, drunk in a tavern run by the psychic Louise (Louise Dhour), is beset by visions of the two victims as pale, wraith-like, and blood-smeared, driving him into a panic. Reports come to the gang that the women, who may be actually still alive or the living dead who refuse to be stilled, are lurking in the wrecks ranging the coast. The gang set out to finish the duo off. If the opening seems almost like Rollin’s personal take on Boorman’s Deliverance (1972) mixed with Frank Perry’s Last Summer (1969), the narrative accords roughly with the decade’s fondness for rape-revenge sagas like Last House on the Left (1972) and Lipstick (1976), but deeper within this saga are clear links to Jacobean drama, with the Macbeth-esque nature of the Captain’s growing hysteria in the face of a tormenting guilt that he mistakes for literal supernatural haunting. The supernatural does play a part in Les Démoniaques, but not until after the Captain has whipped himself into frenzy in seeing the gore-spattered angels hovering over his cups, and once the uncanny does enter the story, it does so with typically eccentric Rollin style. 

Rollin’s magic-realist talent for coaxing a powerfully oneiric atmosphere in films that could scarcely afford any artifice, his unique capacity to suggest the ethereal through the firmly tangible and corporeal, and his mining of the complex relationship in the western canon between erotic and macabre imagery, is in constant evidence throughout Les Démoniaques. His touch is especially apparent in sequences set in the ships’ graveyard, and the cavernous ruins in which a satanic force dwells and damaged purity ironically finds safe-harbour. Rollin’s keenness to space and physicality, and his capacity to dream up images that seem torn from some Jungian lode of imagery, pay off in moments of weird majesty and sonorous strangeness: the Captain’s hallucination scene, dogged in the midst of the steamily boisterous tavern by the pale ghouls, complete with a pinch from Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) as the Captain espies blood dripping into his beer; the two demon-girls marching stark naked through the cavernous spaces of a ruined cathedral, transformed from ravaged innocents to pagan priestesses imbued with the right to unleash incredible powers; the two shipwrecked girls slowly emerging from the black sea, groaning in desperation only to be confronted by human savagery that accords with the violence of the elements and exceeds it; shots of Tina dancing and copulating in ecstatic abandon after the Captain has been draping her in fineries retrieved from the wreck, and driven to new heights of sensual excitement by the spectacle of the girls being ravaged and murdered.

Much of the appeal of Rollin’s films, if one gets into synch with them, is found precisely in their no-budget, bare-boned beauty, their air of having been improvised on the weekend by a cabal of cinematic anarchists. It’s this aspect which feeds the elusive quality they possess, of having been half-remembered and anxiously sketched from the very horizon of liminal awareness, a quality Rollin finally nailed by making the poignant nature of memory itself the lynchpin of Lips of Blood. Here Rollin’s usual 30 franc budget seems here to have been boosted to about 50, as he employs an actual set for the tavern, although he obviously could not afford to keep all the extras needed for these scenes around for long. A lengthy chase scene sees the wreckers hunt the girls high and low in a vibrant piece of location shooting, as the gutted, skeletal hulls of the ships suggest a graveyard for marine mammals, consumed by the rage of the sea and the demimonde scum who wait on the shore to pick over their remains. This is a fairly well-staged action sequence by Rollin’s one-shot standards. The duo elude their enemies within the hulks, battle off Tina, and finally escape, leaving Tina to almost die in the blaze her fellows have started to burn out their prey; Tina is only narrowly rescued by the Captain. As usual in Rollin’s action scenes stuntwork and pyrotechnics are non-existent, but compensated for by the immediacy of the conflict, especially as the two girls, who seem so weak and outmatched, furiously wrestle and defeat the knife-wielding Tina, in the most genuinely ferocious-seeming cat-fight I’ve ever seen in a film, and the flames of the burning wrecks begin to whirl about the cast. The girls manage to flee across a shallow and Tina’s comrades prevent her from following them into the ruined cathedral that abuts the beach, a taboo place for the locals because of the legend that the Devil is imprisoned there.

Rollin’s reductive contemplations of the human animal often boiled all motivations to Freudian essences, and biological essentials of reproduction and consumption, with ironic reflections on contemporary western society as an ever-worsening Faustian bargain trying to buy off mortality, but eaten away by the undimmed natural impulses. Finally, true to the surrealist creed, passion transcends material boundaries and distorts reality. The wreckers all take a very real pleasure in asserting power over others in their crimes, particularly Tina, for whom the need to extinguish the supernal threat of the two haunting women becomes a mad lust. Within the film’s purposefully crude logic, killing and subjugating are the ultimate way of proving one’s own life potency, an aspect which specifically seems to motivate Tina, who charges most recklessly into the fray against the demon-girls, repeatedly declaring her lack of fear, whilst the dead refuse to surrender to oblivion before karmic balance is exacted. The two women discover helpmates, in a duo who live in the ancient ruins: a young woman dressed in garish clown make-up – a bizarre touch that self-references the opening scenes of Requiem pour un Vampire – and an Exorcist (Ben Zimet), perhaps her father, who live as the appointed guardians over the imprisoned Devil. The Exorcist, however, encourages the two girls to release his charge, which only innocents can do, for the sake of their revenge, whilst cautioning them that this Devil is a trickster who is possessed by evil, and all his gifts are two-faced.

Les Démoniaques, like many of Rollin’s films and indeed exemplifying this quality, feels like a folk myth partly misheard and translated into one language and back again. The traditions and peculiar mood of sea shanties and murder ballads are beautifully captured, and specifically invoked as Louise sings one such morbid ditty with the specific aim of torturing the Captain’s already fraying nerves. Louise is a bridge between the worlds of the spirit and the worlds of flesh, empress-chanteuse in her gin-joint who welcomes the two strayed waifs with assurances she’s on their side, and she expires with an axe planted by Tina in her back. Rollin was often mischievous, and equally often careless, with the specific laws of whatever supernatural gimmick he was using (the nature of vampirism, for instance, changes from movie to movie in his canon), and here the Devil (Miletic Zivomir) the girls release proves, far from being a source of infinite malignancy, rather a commanding, handsome necromancer with immediate empathy for the girls’ hunger for justice, beset by distinct limitations on his power over the natural universe. He agrees to give his powers over to the girls to exact their revenge, and they consummate the pact in a languorous scene of rutting as he deflowers one and the other masturbates excitedly whilst watching. One problem Rollin’s films in this phase exhibited – one that hurts Requiem pour un Vampire particularly – was his uncertainty in how to develop story when trying to tell more ordered narratives, after leaving behind the artful gibberish of his first few works. This uncertainty helps make Les Démoniaques both frustrating and also surprising, as the film’s last third, seemingly set up for a familiar, Stephen King-esque vengeance tale, refuses to play out that way. The girls turn up at Louise’s tavern just as the wreckers are forcing her to use her psychic powers to locate their prey: “They’re right there!” Louise informs them as they march in the door, baiting their enemies as one unblinkingly accepts a knife in the chest from Bosco, who retreats in horror that his ever-effective phallic weapon has been rendered impotent.

Rollin’s oeuvre is filled with oddball twists on the familiar rules of supernatural figurations, and openly embraced the surrealist-informed chaos underneath the surface of seemingly rigid concepts. Where in La Viol du Vampire the undead cabal stood in for corrupt regimes to be torn down, that would be totally reversed by the time of Lips of Blood, where the vampires would become symbols of revolutionary sexuality and subversion of a repressive social order. Here the reconceptualization of the Devil figure makes him an empathetic force who is actually neither good nor evil but a repository of cosmic power and justice beyond the familiar limitations of humanity. Magic is another force to be used constructively or clumsily, and one that proves, finally, less powerful than the raw malignancy in the human soul. Imbued with Satanic powers, the two demon-girls almost manage to destroy Tina, utilising telekinetic force to topple statuettes in the church, one (of Jesus, naturellement) momentarily pinning her down. But they fail in their efforts, because their quarries are still powerful in their relentless hate and sadism: whereas in most horror films good mortal characters struggle to overcome the seemingly limitless force of the supernatural with bravery and determination, here the supernatural is a positive force of mystery and sublime intent rendered meek by the sheer unrelenting force of the flesh, and the intended targets are ruthless bastards. The girls are also defeated by their own remnant compassion, as the wreckers turn their fury on their helpmates the Exorcist and the Clown, who are mauled and left dying. The girls forlornly give the Devil’s powers back to him so he can save their lives, at, he warns them the inevitable cost of their own.

Les Démoniaques, thus, finally becomes a peculiarly blasphemous reconfiguration of the Christ myth as a pseudo-feminist, psycho-sexual passion play, as the wreckers, capturing the now-defenceless girls, crucify them by tying them to pieces of wreckage, with Tina joyfully egging on the men to rape the girls again, seeming to be a complete triumph for rapacious amorality. But this is finally undone as the same force of termite-like guilt that started the wreckers’ hunt sends the Captain into a fit of lunacy: he strangles Tina and wastes Bosco, before drowning in a desperate effort to save the tethered girls. The demon-girls thus die as Christ figures, ruined innocents sacrificed for the world’s sins who nonetheless inspire, at last, a maddened but powerful moral reaction. This is one of the purest figurations of Rollin’s ingrained streak of Catholic fetishism, an assault on the traditions of religious art as well as an evocation of them, as well as one of his darkest, most cruelly lustrous inversions on standard moral meaning. The delirious conclusion of Les Démoniaques stands as one of Rollin’s greatest achievements, in a career notable for its prolixity of great climaxes. Rollin’s constant collaborator at the time, Jean-Jacques Renon, provides the grainy yet expressive cinematography that gave Rollin’s films their air of rough, low-fi yet poetic beauty, and whereas Rollin’s works often featured weak and deliberately flat performances from amateur actors, here Rico is effective, and Coeur is something else. Like Brigitte Lahaie, who would feature in Fascination (1979) and other mid-period Rollin films, Couer came to his horror work first from one of the hardcore movies he made in between his genre efforts, and like Lahaie goes off like a firecracker in playing one of his merrily evocations of unruly femininity, taunting her masculine partners for whom she serves theoretically as shared love object but in fact commands and excels them all as an unregenerate barbarian, whether pleasuring herself on the seaside rocks in imperial delight in using the men as her phallic proxies in savaging the girls, and unleashing unhinged contempt on all the neutered, timid humans around her, feeling all the fury and pleasure of heaven and hell through her own sex and violence-fed nervous system.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting The White Shadow

Earlier this year, This Island Rod took part in the third annual Film Preservation Blogathon, alongside Marilyn Ferdinand at Ferdy On Films and Farran Smith Nehme at Self-Styled Siren, for the sake of raising money for the restoration and web hosting of The White Shadow, a long-lost film that was one of a trove of silent treasures rediscovered in New Zealand several years ago. The White Shadow is a work with great historical resonance for world cinema. Directed by Graham Cutts, an important figure of early British cinema, the film features a lauded performance by lead actress Betty Compson, and also sports actor Clive Brook, who would later go on to romance Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express (1932) and star in the Best Picture winner of 1933, Cavalcade. But the chief reason for the film’s special stature, of course, is that it constitutes the earliest extant film credit for Alfred Hitchcock, who served a multiple roles on the production, including as writer and editor. It also marked the start of two fateful associations for Hitchcock, one with the Selznick family, which distributed the film in the US (what is left for us comes from one of their prints), and with his future wife and life-long collaborator Alma Reville. The object of our labours and donations during the Blogathon is finally ready for all to see: for the next two months, starting today, the restored print of The White Shadow is available for viewing at The National Film Preservation Foundation's Preserved Films page. This remarkable resuscitation for a work once considered probably lost forever is thanks to the restoration labours of Park Road Post Production for the New Zealand Film Archive, whilst the esteemed film viewing and critiquing website Fandor has donated web hosting, and the film now sports a specially written and recorded score by Michael Mortilla, sporting violinist Nicole Garcia. 

A slice of good old-fashioned melodrama with clear intimations of some of Hitchcock’s favourite themes already apparent, The White Shadow sees Compson playing a dual role, as English twins Georgina and Nancy Brent. Nancy’s wayward nature is excited by her schooling in Europe and a romance with a dashing American gentleman, Robin Field (Brook), and she eventually runs away from home, abandoning her family and her beau in favour of Continental kicks. Georgina pretends to be Nancy, for Field’s sake and to try and sustain her sister’s honour, whilst their father (A. B. Imeson) attempts to track down his missing daughter. But tragedy is unavoidable, as the girls’ mother dies heartbroken after her husband fails to return, and a friend of Field brings news of his amour’s depraved adventures. Sadly, the last three reels of the film are still missing, filled in for the moment by a synopsis of the conclusion. Also featured on the presentation page are program notes about the film by David Sterritt, a short biography of the New Zealand projectionist, Jack Murtagh, thanks to whom the film was saved in the first place, and a slide show about the story of the film’s discovery and work of the New Zealand Film Archive and the Academy Film Archive. For anyone at all interested in silent cinema in general and Hitchcock in particular, what remains of The White Shadow represents an irresistible lode of cinephilic fascination. Marilyn and Farran, esteemed creators and leaders of the Blogathon’s efforts, and my humble self bid you enjoy. We also give our thanks to Annette Melville of the National Film Preservation Foundation and her organisation, for all their efforts in bringing this project to fruition, so that you can watch:

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Ten years after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man reinvigorated the superhero genre with spectacular financial success and a measure of aesthetic worth, reboot time has rolled around already. Apparently necessitated by a strict mixture of fiscal and contractural requirements, this year's model was entrusted to the inevitably pun-inspiring Marc Webb. Webb’s speciality is a slickly commercialised version of independent film’s toey romanticism, having helmed the mildly acute (500) Days of Summer (2010), and therefore it’s not too surprising that the best parts of The Amazing Spider-Man are those that concentrate on Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and his immediate human quandaries. In theory the rehashing of Peter’s tragic relationship with his inevitably murdered uncle Ben, and his attempts to leave behind the petty harassments of high school alienation, ought to be tiresome, considering all of that stuff is so fresh in the memory from Raimi’s film. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005), generally considered the progenitor of this style of reboot, wasn’t a film I enjoyed much, but it was at least an origin story -- the events between an iconic initial trauma and eventual caped crusading -- that was usually elided by other versions, and therefore worth reiteration, whereas Spidey’s is well-known, and not that complicated. The Amazing Spider-Man has pretences to offering, nonetheless, an account hewing more closely to the comic book’s original storylines and retconned developments, and to presenting a deeper, more intimate and authentic portrait of the superhero as a troubled teen. Mary Jane Watson is left out for the time being and Peter’s most tragic lover in the comic, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), steps up. The specifics of how and why Peter was left living with his aunt and uncle (Sally Field and Martin Sheen), what happened to his parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz), and how this ties in to the incidents that transform him into Spider-Man in a matrix of convenient plot convergences, are worked through with care if not particularly great drama.

And so, Webb and company laboriously set up franchise fodder in hinting Peter’s parents’ close involvement with Norman Osborn, who remains off-screen undoubtedly to facilitate the casting an appropriately big-name actor at a later date. The mystery of the Parkers’ deaths, not long after they fled their house following a suspicious break-in with a brief stopover to leave Peter with the far more earnestly blue-collar Ben and May, haunts Peter with far greater immediacy here than in earlier films. The presence of screenwriter Steve Kloves, fresh off a decade on the Harry Potter series, suggests attempts to reforge Spidey in the bespectacled boy hero’s mould, and there are obvious conceptual similarities. Garfield, slipping into the skin-tight spandex, offers a less stereotypically nerdy version of Peter than the one Raimi and Tobey Maguire crafted. Whilst still being beaten up by school bully Flash (Chris Zylka) and at odds with his environment as a young prodigy with an alienating past, this Peter is more wilfully an outcast, beset by a private tension, stemming from his awareness of his own mismanaged intelligence and the emotional damage he’s suffered, and trying in spite of inevitable consequences to stand up for the victimised. Ben and May are still more distinctive, eccentric, less idealised versions of plebeian decency, and Sheen and Garfield manage to invest their scenes together with enough vitality so watching this predestined Calvary again is more than tolerable, particularly as the script and the actors sharpen the edges on Peter’s sense of loss, his long-withheld anger and grief leaking out in a fit of teenaged insouciance. Webb’s skill with depicting contemporary mating rituals is manifest as Gwen’s attraction to Peter is more clearly based in their shared smarts and love of science, and Stone and Garfield, both excellent actors, are a delight when interacting, particularly in a scene where Peter asks Gwen on a date and she accepts all without any actual, specific words being uttered. 

After Ben is killed, Peter’s search for a new father figure presents two alternatives, in the form of Gwen’s stern police captain sire (Denis Leary), and Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Connors happens to be both a former colleague of Peter’s father and Gwen’s mentor, and as Peter follows a thread of evidence he discovers in his father’s long-forgotten briefcase, he sneaks into Connors’ labs and is bitten by one of the genetically modified spiders ironically developed by his father years before. Peter discovers and learns to control the powers this imbues him with, and he seeks out Ben’s long-haired killer in what evolves into a crime-fighting crusade, whilst handing to Connors a crucial formula of his father’s that allows Connors to finally achieve his dream of improving human DNA with advantages borrowed from other animal species. This advantage is the one Connors particularly desires, to regrow his missing right arm, and which his financer Osborn, who is dying, also wants badly, with sleazy middle-managers pressing for results. But what worked accidentally for Peter proves still maddeningly elusive for Connors, as he transforms under the influence of his serum into a lizard-like monster that rampages periodically about the city, and eventually develops a psychotic intention to subject the rest of the city to the same transformation. 

Garfield’s Parker, twitchy, muttering, distracted, is more realistic than Maguire’s, and it doesn’t feel so sarcastic to describe this as the first mumblecore superhero flick. But therein lies some of the problem that begins to unravel the initial effectiveness of The Amazing Spider-Man: where Raimi’s deliberately naïve, deeply stylised take was keen to the shifting energies of the comic book style, this Peter Parker feels distant from the cheeky, dynamic superhero, too great to be chalked up to the liberating factor of the mask. In much the same way, Webb’s engaging teen angst film remains largely disconnected from the entirely lumpen superhero film around it. There’s little if anything original and striking about Webb’s visuals as he goes through the already dutiful poses of Spidey flying through the air, trucked in via Raimi from the comic, given the slight tweak of being mostly nocturnal now. The action is weak, and the situations delve into the dullest clichés of the superhero genre. Whereas The Avengers dressed up the familiar “climb the skyscraper and knock out the villain’s super-duper thingamabob” climactic contrivance with sufficient distractions, here it’s unadorned and cruelly unimaginative. Ifans, an actor who managed to be at once plaintively endearing and perversely menacing in Enduring Love (2004), is fine as Connors when he’s supposed to be a vaguely paternal, brilliant yet slightly pathetic savant. But once the good doctor is beset by his transformations, Connors becomes schizoid and megalomaniacal, and prone to delivering veiled warnings in a low and menacing fashion to his good friend Peter, for no particularly good reason other than hacky screenwriting requires easily signposted story beats. The resulting monster mayhem is pretty dreary. The fact that this is nothing more than a half-hearted recycling of the same relationship between Peter and Otto “Dr Octopus” Octavius in Spider-Man 2 (2004) is all too apparent, and whereas that film allowed Alfred Molina to work arch magic, here Ifans is lost under remarkably unfrightening CGI.

Webb presents Peter’s initial discoveries of his powers with a nifty subway fight that’s 90% slapstick, and there’s an amusing aside revealing that Peter’s inspiration for his mask is a Mexican wrestling poster. But details of Peter’s construction of his Spidey alter ego, particularly his development and deployment of web-shooters utilising an Oscorp invention – how does he obtain supplies of this stuff? – are sped through, and the sense of the film just checking off necessary details begins to feel oppressive. One terrific aside nearly rescues the film’s second half from doldrums, as Peter combats the Lizard in his high school, the duo rampaging through the school library whilst the librarian – the cleverest cameo for Stan Lee yet – is obliviously listening to dashing orchestral music on headphones, a beautiful mismatch of sound, attitude, and violence that suggests what the film might have become if Webb had asserted more personality over the fantastic action part of the movie. When I first learned of their casting, I thought that Stone ought to play Spider-Man, or Spider-Girl or Spider-Chick or whatever, and Garfield ought to be the sweetly befuddled love interest, and after watching the film, I still felt the same, not merely in the interests of seeing the ranks of female superheroes filled out a little, but because Stone has the physical wit and gumption that suits the role. Here Stone is as beguiling as ever, adding suggestions of real dramatic strength to her already proven comic abilities particularly in the epilogue, elevating Gwen far higher than the usual girlfriend part, but that’s still all it is. The script tries to help her by having her perform some heroic acts, particularly in her rush to create an antidote for Connors’ transformation gas, but it’s all too rushed and silly to be effective. 

Similarly, the attempts to restage the climactic aid of ordinary New Yorkers for Spidey in a tight situation seen in Raimi’s first film, and which felt unusually powerful in the wake of 9/11, are here stymied in impact by the clumsiness of the scriptwriting as it strains for an effective device. So we get skyscraper cranes ranked out like a video game obstacle course, so that the wounded Spidey can more easily reach his destination. And that’s a problem The Amazing Spider-Man never quite escapes: so many of its basic elements are just by-rote repetitions designed to quickly move the tale back to an acceptable jumping-off point for generic adventures and familiar narrative reflexes, giving so much of it a feeling of deja-vu, and even the presumption that most of its key audience, now pubescent, were pre-schoolers when the first film came feels dodgy in our great new digital age. So much of the labour of this reinvention seems set to pay off later – will the tame blockbuster mentality this film exemplifies have the cojones to mimic Nolan and bump off Gwen? And will the admittedly engaging evolution depicted in Peter and Flash’s prickly relationship pay off with substance? And should I care? One of the best things about Raimi’s series, including, yes, the lumpy third instalment, was that it added up to one of the best portraits ever put on screen about a particular phase in life, the shifts in expectations, passions, and sense of self that can beset us in the years between leaving high school, and finding whatever, and whoever, constitutes an acceptable future. This clear basis in realistic experience underpinned the candy-coloured action and self-mocking veneer. Ultimately, in this regard, The Amazing Spider-Man seems both more down to earth but less coherent, and the product engenders a seriously mixed response, travelling a course from something like exhilaration at the unexpected strength of its first third to a bare interest by the finale. I was torn between admiration for the stronger aspects on offer, the skill with which it recycles some aspects, and also bewilderment in how those good things still can’t add up to a genuinely enjoyable film, as the whole superstructure strains and groans for the weight of its own mercenary, shop-worn raison d’etre.