Any attempt at reviewing The Amazing Spider-man will undoubtedly result in comparisons with Sam Raimi’s original 2002 Spider-man film. The biggest question surrounding this movie is “why bother?” And rightfully so: it’s a reboot no one asked for. In fact, we could have continued the adventures of Tobey Maguire’s Spider-man as he faced off against the Vulture (who was going to be played by John Malkovich) and the world would have kept spinning, tickets would have been sold, and we all would have been able to put Spider-man 3’s Emo-Parker behind us. However, Sony Studios saw fit to start over with a new cast, new story, and an updated setting. The result is, thankfully, refreshing and enjoyable–but not quite amazing.
The problem is that it is an origin story that we’ve already seen before. While director Mark Webb ((500) Days of Summer) tries earnestly to create his own versions of key scenes (such as Peter being bit) we’ve ultimately seen them before. The film seems eager to rush past these points to get to the new stuff, which results in these key moments, like Uncle Ben’s death or Peter designing his suit, lacking the emotional punch we are supposed to feel. The film was largely marketed around the “Untold Story” regarding Peter’s parents. However, this element falls at the wayside and is forgotten until near the end of the film, and even then it’s not fully explained. In fact, a lot of elements are being saved for future films. Norman Osbourne is one of them, and he operates as a Moriarty-type character, mentioned frequently and operating in the shadows, but never fully revealed. The relationship between Peter and Aunt May and Uncle Ben is still important, but I found it interesting how, in this version of Spider-man, all is not well in the Parker household. Peter is more distant from his adoptive aunt and uncle than in previous versions, and watching him slowly open up toward them really added another dimension to the film that I wasn’t expecting.
Though it’s only been 5 years since Spider-man 3, The Amazing Spider-man feels surprisingly more modern. Technology and gadgetry play a huge part in the film, which help this new Spider-man feel more high tech and, in a strange way, relatable to our tech-centric. Uncle Ben’s words of wisdom are recorded as a voicemail message, and Peter listens to the police scanner on his cell phone. Oscorp Industries looks like a playground for science and technology, with hundreds of white coats and floating holographic displays; it would be right at home aboard the Starship Enterprise or an Aperture Science facility. Peter’s mechanical webshooters are probably the biggest change to the character, and highlights Peter Parker’s obsession for tinkering as well as his intellect. I always thought that biological webshooters made more sense; after all if a radioactive spider gives you superpowers, it may as well give you the whole package, and not just sticky fingers and superstrength. But I’ll cave and say that mechanical webshooters actually make more sense for this iteration of Spider-man.
I was troubled when I first heard that The Amazing Spider-man was being inspired by Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Spider-man is not a dark character. He’s not meant to be psychoanalyzed the same way Bruce Wayne is. Thankfully, this Spider-man actually feels closer to his comic book counterpart than in the original trilogy. Humour is peppered evenly throughout the film, and watching Peter Parker deal with his newfound strength was hilarious. Spider-man, and by extension Peter Parker, is also more of a smartass, even when facing near-death situations. A lot of this boils down to Andrew Garfield. It isn’t really fair to compare his performance with Tobey Maguire, since both actors succeed in crafting a Spider-man that fits the setting and the story being told. Maguire’s Peter Parker was a nerd and an outcast at school; Garfield’s Peter Parker is still a nerd, but he’s living in today’s world where nerds are cool, and he’s fine with that.
Now the problem I’ve always had with female leads in comic book films is that they are often reduced to damsel-in-distress roles, serving only to get kidnapped by the villain, thereby raising the stakes and furthering the plot. This is apparent in the original Spider-man films, where Mary-Jane always ends up being kidnapped and dangling off something, holding on for dear life while Spider-man comes and saves her. Gwen Stacy, however, has no problem facing down the Lizard with a makeshift flamethrower. As with Peter, a large part of Gwen’s likability is due to Emma Stone, who rockets Gwen to the top of the list of female leads with her sharp wit and surprising depth. She’s not just a pretty face for Peter to save; she is more or less his equal. So does Gwen Stacy follow The Dark Knight’s example of being a love interest that actually gets killed off, as was her fate in the comics? I won’t tell you that, but I will say that as the movie goes on, you’ll like her so much that you hope it never happens.
Webb puts the relationship between Gwen and Peter to the forefront, working off his skills from the (anti) romantic-comedy (500) Days of Summer. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone share great chemistry, which makes the gradual relationship between Peter and Gwen more believable. I really liked how Gwen was attracted to Peter before knowing he was Spider-man, and once she finds out she replies with a perfect dead-pan “I’m in trouble”. I honestly wouldn’t be dismayed if this new series of Spider-man films nixes Mary-Jane from the equation entirely (though if you look in the background, you may see a familiar head of long red hair walking through the school halls).
Now, any superhero film is only as good as its villain, and The Amazing Spider-man is a bit of a mixed bag in that regard. The Lizard is, without a doubt, the most physical cinematic enemy Spider-man has faced. He’s a massive beast made up of scales and muscle, and every step he takes is threatening. Watching him tear away at walls and six inch thick metal doors is impressive, and watching Spider-man trying to dodge his monstrous claws and towering physique is harrowing. The design of The Lizard has received some scrutiny from the fan-base, but the screenshots and promo art do not do it justice; when you actually see this beast in motion, it looks great. While The Lizard is a formidable foe, his alter-ego, Dr. Curt Connors (played with genuine sincerity by Rhys Ifans), is a let-down. He ends up suffering from the mad-scientist syndrome that seems to affect most comic book villains, even down to the Gollum-like voice-inside-the-head. Connors lacks the tragic push that shoves him over the edge; sure he is missing an arm, but he functions just fine without it, and we never learn how he lost it in the first place. He and Peter develop a regenerative serum from (obviously) lizard DNA, but his motivation seems selfish. He mentions how it could heal people and treat illnesses, but we all know he is driven with a desire to treat himself. And, in a replay of the original film, shady corporate figures inexplicably shut down the project, forcing Connors to use himself as a guinea pig. As a character, Connors exists just to transform into The Lizard, without adding any real depth to the movie as a whole.
The biggest change in this new Spider-man is probably the over-all feel of the film. While Bryan Singer’s X-Men revived the superhero film, Raimi’s Spider-man crafted a cohesive origin story that had a surprising amount of depth, and pretty much created the template for superhero origin films. After all, I’m sure we’ll all remember that with great power, and so on and so forth. This Spider-man seems content with being just a summer action movie, rather than a study of teenage-with-superpower angst. This is even recognizable in the film’s score; Danny Elfman’s score to the original film was complex and sweeping, while James Horner’s score here is nearly themeless and forgettable, punctuating itself mainly during the action scenes. But as an action movie, The Amazing Spider-man succeeds. Marc Webb is able to craft some brilliant and exciting action scenes, and I loved the occasional POV shots of first-person web slinging. As mentioned before, the fights between Spider-man and The Lizard are pretty brutal and it was great watching them tear it up in the great set pieces. That’s not to say the film has no heart; any scene with Gwen and Peter is immediately memorable, and even though they may not share the same iconic upside-down kiss as in the original, their relationship feels more whole and real.
The Amazing Spider-man manages to successfully reboot the franchise, even if no one wanted it. Mark Webb has crafted a Spider-man that manages to stand on its own but leaves us with many questions that will need to be answered in future installments. What happened to Peter’s parents? How will Gwen and Peter’s relationship grow? And, most importantly, who is going to replace J.K. Simmons’ scene-chewing performance as J. Jonah Jamieson?
7 / 10