Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man
I’ll admit it; I went into The Amazing Spider-Man ready to hate the movie. Had the movie been as bad as I had prepared for, I would have some wisecracks to make about it. As it turned out, I’m the one with egg on my face. The movie, while not perfect, continues the tradition of making Spider-Man a character we care about and keeping him at the top of comic book films.
Spider-Man came out ten years ago and, as hard as it is to admit, that’s a long time. On the other hand, Spider-Man 3 came out five years ago. So, it’s been a while since we’ve seen Spider-Man’s origin, but not too long since we’ve seen him. But the original Sam Raimi movies constantly reminded us about his origin; the third one even brought it back as a plot element. With that, we don’t really need another origin story for Peter Parker. With cartoons, musicals, and comics doing it every day, we should be able to skip that element of the story. Look at The Incredible Hulk . It rebooted a character five years after, one less popular than Spider-Man, and did it without telling an origin story. Spider-Man can be done the same way. During the opening credit, show Peter getting bitten by the spider, show him make the suit, show him become Spider-Man, start your reboot.
The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t go that route, and it both helps and hurts the film. It’s not that they’re just trying to make a Spider-Man movie with a new cast, Sony is trying to make it younger and bring in a different tone. In a way, you have to start at square one. If we don’t see Peter before he’s bitten by the spider, we miss out on seeing how different Andrew Garfield is to Tobey Maguire’s character. Peter isn’t so much a nerd as he is an outsider. He’s a bit more confident in this movie, but he’s still socially awkward and on his own. Yet, Spider-Man’s origin isn’t as flexible as other heroes, and much of the beginning of the movie begins to feel like a déjà vu.
There are moments where Marc Webb shows Peter using his new power in ways we haven’t seen before. Watching Peter practice in the warehouse on his skateboard is an interesting way of revealing his powers, as are both the subway and bathroom scenes. Unfortunately, the scenes with Peter practicing his webbing and him making his suit are right out of the Sam Raimi films. I had to feel bad for Webb at some points; there are just moments when he couldn’t get out of the original film’s shadow.
Andrew Garfield is a great Peter Parker and I could see many people preferring him over Maguire. He’s snarkier, and much more quick with a joke. One the biggest faults of Maguire’s Spider-Man was that, when the mask was on, he didn’t joke or quip. Garfield is funny and likable, though not as down and out as Maguire. The benefit to both actors is that Peter is one of the most likable characters out there. No matter if it’s Raimi’s cheese or Webb’s grit, Peter Parker is easy to love.
Emma Stone is charming as Gwen Stacy, though the character left little impact on me. To me, Gwen is Peter’s first but not true love. Mary Jane, no matter how you may feel about Kirsten Dunst, is a stronger character. The other problem I had is that Peter and Gwen seem to get together much faster than they should have. There’s little to no longing after the girl next door. Though, they are teenagers living in the big city. I suppose things just move faster there. When you compare them to Maguire and Dunst, it's not that the new kids have better chemistry, they're just different. Both couples having something to add, and neither seems to argue for one or the other.
Martin Sheen is decent as Uncle Ben, but Sally Field doesn’t work as Aunt May. Maybe it’s the script for giving her nothing to do, but she doesn’t seem to fit. I can see the producers wanting to go for a younger aunt, but she doesn’t even come across as endearing. Denis Leary makes for a perfect Captain Stacy with his hard look and tough demeanor. You can see Peter being intimidated by him and he actually has a great story arch. This movie does a much better job with the character than Spider-Man 3. I also enjoyed seeing Flash Thompson getting more screen time and a proper character.
Rhys Ifans is a mixed bag as the Lizard. For an origin movie, you could do worse than Curt Conners. He’s not as connected to Peter as the Green Goblin, but he’s still a scientist that Peter can relate to and trust. As Conner, Ifans is good; he’s convicted, he likes Peter, and he has a motive. When he’s the Lizard, it’s less than impressive. The CGI is middle of the road, which doesn’t make much sense in this day and age, and the design is lacking. The Lizard without a snout looks more like a green Voldemort than a human reptile. They give him his lab coat and let him talk, and the fact that he beats on Peter with his tail is impressive, it’s just a shame that the character doesn’t get to be all that he could. I’ve been waiting to see him since the original trilogy, but the Lizard is underwhelming when he could have been scary.
At times, the movie seems to be aware that it’s fighting an uphill battle. No one says the power and responsibility line, but they dance around it so much it’s almost painful. But for the majority of the movie, it works. The new suit is fine; the mechanical web shooters are cool and add some humor. The scene with Peter hunting the Lizard in the sewer is great. Keeping Peter in high school was a good call. The fight in the school wouldn’t have happened in Raimi’s films and it’s a great scene, with a perfect cameo. Moments that might not have worked in the original trilogy, such as the members of New York lending a hand are done well in this film. The idea of Spider-Man being on the run from the cops adds plenty of weight to the movie and helps separate it as new franchise. The bits about Peter’s parents are decent, though not as mysterious as the trailers have led you to believe. The opening is strong and it helps that Peter was old enough to remember his father.
The Amazing Spider-Man is much better than I expected. I was ready to watch the film and move on but it actually proves its worth. While it does many of the things we’ve seen before, it does some of them better. It might be trying too hard at times, and the balance between telling an origin story and dealing with a super villain is off, but it’s still a great movie. It's not the best Spider-Man film, that title still belongs to Spider-Man 2, but the new film has earned its place. In a lot of ways, it’s just nice to see Spider-Man back on the big screen.