The Amazing Spider-Man Review
Spider-Man returned to the big screen this Tuesday in Imax 3D. Is this Spider-Man truly amazing or is he, much like his comic book counterpart, haunted by the ghosts of his recently retconned past?
Spider-Man 3 came out in 2007. That is five years ago. That may seem like a fair amount of time between movies, but this new Amazing Spider-Man is trying something that no other series, save for the now crippled-by-Craig Bond series, would. It is totally throwing out an established continuity with a very short turnaround.
Five years ago really doesn’t seem that long ago. Everyone remembers the disaster that was Spider-Man 3. It seems like just yesterday. Anyone who is interested in seeing a Spider-Man movie now probably saw that movie five years ago. The only exception would be little kids, who frankly should not be watching a somewhat violent and scary PG-13 movie like this.
The problem is, even though it has been five years since the last Spider-Man movie, it has only been ten years since the first one. This is the fourth Spider-Man movie in a decade and it is unrelated to the previous three. If Raimi’s series continued instead of being scrapped for this reboot, that theoretical Spider-Man 4 would have only came out a year or two ago. Five years doesn’t really seem like a long enough time to totally reboot a franchise like this when you consider all of these circumstances.
That is the challenge that Marc Webb, the aptly named new director, faced. For the most part, Webb and The Amazing Spider-Man rise to the challenge. Despite the handicap of its timing and legacy, this new Spider-Man mostly succeeds in justifying its existence, new cast, and new direction. That doesn’t mean that it completely escapes the spectre of the Raimi movies, however. As always, Spider-Man does not escape from his past tragedies totally unscathed.
The first, and biggest difference between this movie and the Raimi franchise is the new cast. Andrew Garfield steps in as Peter Parker/ Spider-Man, while Emma Stone takes up the mantle of love interest as Gwen Stacy. Gwen Stacy being the girl instead of Mary Jane is the first major departure this version of Spider-Man has over the past film versions, but more on that later…
Garfield and Stone do a surprisingly good job filling in for Maguire and Dunst. Seeing Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker for the first time is a little jarring. He is a lankier version of Peter Parker than you’d usually imagine and his long neck, brooding demeanor, and over-stylized hair bring to mind uncomfortable thoughts of Twilight. A few minutes into seeing him as Parker, however, reveal him to be a perfect Peter Parker and a believable Spider-Man. Garfield captures the sort of nerdy independence that a young Parker should have. He is into science, he creates little gadgets in his room to lock his door. He is by no means cool or popular in high school, yet he has his own self-confidence and a strong sense of right and wrong long before he is bitten by any arachnids. Garfield plays the nerdy loner with actual conviction instead of making him a stereotypical loser, which is a refreshing, more realistic take on Peter Parker. It is important to note that this Parker is also a skateboarder, which is another detail that makes Spider-Man’s eventual comfort with death-defying acrobatics believable. Garfield’s Peter Parker is an awkward nerd, yet from the begining, you can see the wit, sarcasm, and thrill-seeking nature that will come out full-form, when he becomes Spider-Man. It is surprising given my first impression of him, but Garfield’s performance as Peter Parker/ Spider-Man is one of the best things about the film.
There’s much less to say about Emma stone as Gwen Stacy. She is serviceable as a love interest but the fact that she is Gwen Stacy and not Mary Jane is the most interesting aspect of her character. Gwen is Peter’s first high school love in the comics and the movie seems to be following that idea. Why did the other movies and even the old cartoon switch to Mary Jane instead? Well, Gwen Stacy very famously dies early in Spider-Man’s career in the comics (uh spoiler alert..oops, whatever, it’s a 50 year old story) so her character has very little hope or future attached to her. That said, this new Spider-Man movie, while in some ways is more true to the comics than the Raimi version, is not afraid to change up the formula significantly. You can’t be sure that Gwen is going to die in this version of Spider-Man and I certainly won’t spoil it here if she does in this movie or not.
Stone and Garfield have some real chemistry on-screen and it isn’t surprising because they are dating in real life. In fact, the least believable part of Garfield’s performance is how smooth this awkward nerd gets once he gets involved with the girl. As any self-proclaimed geek can tell you, the opposite is what usually happens in real life. Another minor problem with this couple is that they’re supposed to both be 17 year old high-school kids. Emma Stone, at 23, looks a little older than she actually is, and despite school-girl uniforms (even though there’s clearly no dress code at the school) she doesn’t look like a high school kid. Garfield, on the other hand, does look like a 17 year old with his awkward lankiness. Shockingly, an imdb.com search reveals him to be 28, almost 29. It is nice he still looks the part, but one has to wonder what will happen if this new franchise lasts a few movies? Will this guy still look like a young Peter Parker when he’s 35?
The supporting cast is strong. An appropriately douchey jock-looking actor plays Flash Thomson and fleshes out the high school crowd. Dennis Leary plays the hard-ass cop/ father of Gwen well, in a distinctly non-comedic role. Sally Field and Martin Sheen make for a great, slightly less geriatric Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Rhys Ifans plays semi-sympathetic antagonist Curt Connors/ the Lizard. He does occasionally slip into over-the top land here and there, but for the most part, he captures the essence of the Lizard and the dilemmas surrounding Dr. Connors and his quest for scientific breakthroughs at the cost of his own sanity. His storyline is important because it is the main focus of the movie’s plot, once it gets past all that annoying origin stuff.
The origin stuff is this movie’s biggest problem. Once again, we have to see how Spider-Man became Spider-Man. To justify showing this to an audience who likely already knows the story, the writers changed things up just a little. There is some truly new and interesting stuff about Peter’s parents, why Peter was left with his aunt and uncle, and cross-species genetics perhaps playing into Peter’s history more directly than a chance encounter with a spider would have you believe. Despite this new stuff, a fair amount of time is still spent on Peter getting bitten, discovering his powers, being awkward with them, taking advantage of them at school, unbelievably constructing his own Spider-Suit, and finally his interactions with Uncle Ben that directly lead to him getting out there on the street as Spider-Man.
While all these plot points are redundant for most fans, they are still necessary when explaining a new Spider-Man’s formative experiences and they are generally done better this time around. The justification for making Peter actually feel guilty about not stopping a criminal who then happens to hurt someone he cares about is done in a much more convincing way than in past tellings of that familiar story. The timeless Spider-Man motto of “with great power, comes great responsibility” is certainly addressed in this version of Spider-Man, but it is never literally spoken. A paraphrasing of that ideal may seem like a good way to avoid the obvious cheese and recognition of such a famous quote, but I am not sure it has the same impact without having that ringing familiarity to it. This type of new vs. old dilemma seems to plague The Amazing Spider-Man and its creators through much of the retelling of the Web-Slinger’s origins.
The problem with Spider-Man’s origin story is that it takes time. A lot of time. You can tell that the filmmakers knew that most of it was going to be redundant for most fans, so much of it feels fast-tracked. Many things are implied instead of being spelled out as they were in the older movies. The spider that bites Peter is probably genetically enhanced, and maybe also radioactive…it isn’t explained. Spider-sense is implied but never really explicitly shown. Peter getting use to and testing out his powers is done through a quick montage. The retold origin is rushed and it mostly works, but it does leave for some pretty severe logical inconsistency’s. For example, nobody seems to care that a previously wimpy kid suddenly is able to kick everyone’s ass, do flips out of nowhere, and dunk from the foul line. Honestly, Peter’s high school and everyone on one subway ride should be able to figure out that he is Spider-Man. Now, I’ll admit that many superhero movies are guilty of these types of logically questionable occurrences, but this one seems worse than normal and I think it is due to the rushed nature of the origin
Despite the fact that the origin is appropriately rushed, it still takes about half of the movie. The Amazing Spider-Man has two distinct parts: becoming Spider-Man, and then his struggle with the Lizard. While the origin is handled well and is creatively altered in a few interesting ways, you can’t help but shake the feeling that the truly “new” part of the movie doesn’t happen until the last hour or so. The actual plot of the Lizard struggle, isn’t terribly interesting if you already know the premise of Curt Connors/the Lizard. I’m almost positive it is nearly the same as an episode of the 90s Spider-Man cartoon. It isn’t a bad story, but it certainly is not groundbreaking storytelling.
The action does pick up once the Lizard is involved and the CGI and set pieces that make up the finale look great. Seeing this movie in IMAX 3D really becomes worth it in the climactic sequence, which was shot in IMAX and uses 3D for floating particles and a few “it’s coming right at you” scenes, effectively. The only CGI that occasionally looks bad is the Lizard himself, who has a somewhat cartoony look. Visually, Garfield’s donning of the slightly redesigned Spider-Man suit is also a plus. His lankier frame works better in the Spider-Man suit and all his typically crouched positions. The CGI does a good job of blending live action Spider-Man with CGI Spider-Man, so that it is as not obvious when it is one or the other as it was in the Raimi films.
Spider-Man is an emotional character and The Amazing Spider-Man does a good job at capturing this. Garfield looks a little bit like an emo kid, but honestly, a modern take on Peter Parker would make him one. Despite this, he is never annoying when he breaks down about his missing parents or his own personal failings as Spider-Man. He still seems less self-pitying than Tobey Maguire. There still is a third act funeral in this movie, which reminds me a of the Raimi movies, but it does seem unavoidable that somebody is going to die in a Spider-Man movie. The movie strikes a good balance of action, comedy, and tragedy.
What you may notice about this review is that I’ve compared The Amazing Spider-Man to the Raimi trilogy a number of times. This may be a reviewer’s crutch, but it also could be the fact that this movie was made and released too soon and such comparisons are unavoidable. This new movie is a good Spider-Man film, maybe the best one yet, but the timing of its release ties its hands a little. You can’t help but question why they changed certain things and retained other things. I miss the actual verbal “with great power comes great responsibility”, but I am puzzled as to why the post 9/11 “New Yorkers are strong and on the good guy’s side” theme from the Raimi films needed to be replicated in this movie by having q bunch of construction workers coordinate cranes to help an injured Spidey swing to his destination. It seemed cheesy, unrealistic, and out of place. The general public should not like Spider-Man at this point in his career, that goes against nearly all the comic canon.
Despite the too-soon nature of this reboot, it does seem better than the original trilogy in almost every way. The cast is more interesting and the new stuff with Peter’s parents’ dark past is sure to be a defining part of the series that differentiates it from other Spider-Man stories. Because it regenerates interest in the character, The Amazing Spider-Man succeeds as a reboot, even if it came too early. Minor gripes about the retold origin and some typical superhero movie dumbness aside, this would have been the best superhero movie of the summer if Avengers wasn’t so much better than expected. As it is, The Amazing Spider-Man is a surprisingly close second.
AYCG SCORE: 8 out of 10