How Spider-Man Became Amazing Again
Spider-Man Survives the Reboot Treatment Magnificently
When I was a kid there was only one superhero that I really wanted to be. Only one superhero was on The Electric Company and that was Spider-Man. Yes, those Electric Company bits featuring Spidey were pretty lame, but, at the same time, when you are four or five years old, they are also massively cool. Spidey, in many ways, taught me to read since the Spider-Man in those Electric Company bits did not talk, but spoke in thought and word balloons. I still remember the sound the web-head’s web-shooters made on those goofy skits.
Years later I would discover other heroes like Batman. But, for me, the first superhero I loved was Spidey. I went as Spider-Man for Halloween several years in a row. Always wearing the silly plastic mask and stupid plastic costume, but always excited at pretending to be Spider-Man. When they came out with web shooters that shot some string and a suction cup from your wrist, I wanted one so bad. I was convinced I would be able to websling around town the way Spider-Man did. When the web shooter arrived and I realized there was no way this thing would support my weight, I learned a valuable lesson - not all ads were to be believed and the world was not the way you thought it was. Again, Spidey taught me something important.
I watched the cartoons. There is a good chance you did, too. The bad animation and the fact that Spider-Man seemed to swing past the same buildings again and again and again in the same episode did not matter. I thought Spider-Man was awesome.
There was something so relatable to Spider-Man. He almost never existed at all. When Stan Lee helped create him, his boss said that no one liked spiders and a hero that was based on one would not sell. Plus, Stan wanted to create Spider-Man’s alter ego as a kid in high school. That had never been done before. Sure, there had been kids in comics, but they were always the sidekicks of adult heroes (think Robin and Speedy, among others). Spider-Man was something new. Stan’s boss let him put the short Spider-Man story in the last issue of a comic book series that was going to be cancelled. That was known as Amazing Fantasy number 15. These days, it’s one of the most valuable comic books you can find.
Spider-Man became a hit and quickly became the face of Marvel Comics. It’s amazing how long it took Marvel to bring the wall-crawler to the big screen. And when they did, they did it in style. I loved Tobey MaGuire as Peter and Spidey. I still think that Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is one of the finest movies in the superhero genre. I was devastated at how bad the third installment was. They managed to neuter great Spidey villains such as Venom and the Sandman and crammed too many characters, sub-plots and villains into one story. It was a hot mess.
So, just 10 years after the first Spider-Man movie came out, there was a reboot. As a lifelong fan, I was interested, but dubious. I had long ago fallen in love with Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboot and thought that maybe Spidey just could not survive the reboot treatment.
It turns out I was wrong and The Amazing Spider-Man may be one of the best in the Spider-Man series.
Andrew Garfield takes over the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man and his performance is outstanding. He manages to bring attitude to the role, but, at the same time, invests Peter Parker with real vulnerability. Parker was always supposed to be awkward and strange. He was a nerd, to say the least. He was unpopular at school and the mystery of what happened to his parents led to an awkward upbringing. Spider-Man was a hero who had to learn the mistakes of being a hero as he went along. Garfield manages to portray that vulnerability amazingly well.
Then there’s Emma Stone as Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy. While neither Stone nor Garfield really look like they are in high school, does that really matter? There are few movies who have protagonists in high school who look the right age. MaGuire didn’t look right, either. And Gwen Stacy was always the brainier and cooler of Parker’s girlfriends. Stone manages to portray that flawlessly. Knowing that Garfield and Stone fell in love in real life while filming this movie makes the chemistry even more real. Yes, Peter and Gwen are awkward and staggering towards love, because the actors playing them were, as well.
Then there is the interesting choice to have the villain by Dr. Curt Connors, aka The Lizard. I love a good troubled villain. I like the X-Men’s Magneto for many of the same reasons I like the way Rhys Ifans plays Connors. Both men want to do good, but they get clouded in their reasoning and bring about destruction instead. Connors is not inherently evil, cackling and twirling his mustache. He is a troubled and disturbed man who has lost his arm. He wants, more than anything, to be whole again and is experimenting with lizard DNA to help amputees re-grow lost limbs. This is a good thing. He starts out with good intentions, but when his experiments are threatened by Oscorp, he subjects himself to the experimental drug and turns into the vicious Lizard. No longer in his right mind, subsumed by the beast and the power, he goes astray, but is not really inherently out to kill anyone.
Such a conflict adds gravitas to the battle sequences. Spider-Man must stop The Lizard, sure, but he doesn’t want to kill him. He wants to help Connors get help.
The movie moves quickly and the director, Marc Webb, manages to remember to include a love story and pay attention to his characters. His first movie was a touching and funny love story called (500)Days of Summer. He uses the same skills here to keep the story of Peter and Gwen at the forefront which, again, adds to the drama and danger when Spider-Man has to battle the Lizard atop the New York skyscrapers.
The action is great. The story is well done. The acting is superb and even tangential characters are well cast (look for Sally Field and Martin Sheen). There are even scenes that could be spectacularly cheesy that this movie manages to earn. When the skyscraper crane operators of New York (led by C. Thomas Howell) band together to turn their cranes to help Spider-Man web-sling his way across town to get to the Oscorp building, it should be the height of corniness. However, by that time, I was so into the movie that I got goosebumps at the scene and cheered Spider-Man on.
All in all, this is a movie that manages to be dramatic, touching, loving, funny and exciting and balance all of those nicely. I look forward to the next installment.