Not but ten years ago Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man and ushered in the comic book movie decade. Since then comic book films have become the hottest thing on the film market and Marvel has shot ahead culminating in the epic Avengers. Yes, there were Batman films before Spidey, but it was Spider-Man that started it all.
Of course Spidey continued on with an even more popular sequel directed by Raimi and then a third film. That film was not so good. Mired by a forced villain, an unhappy director and a poor screenplay it dug the franchise into a hole that almost no one could dig it out of — so they decided not to. Instead the studios wiped the slate clean (yes, this is a complete restart) and now we have The Amazing Spider-Man directed by Marc Webb and resetting the entire franchise back to ground zero.
Was the reset necessary? Of course. Does it live up to the high standards of the first (modern) crack at the character? Read on.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Director: Marc Webb
Release Date: July 3, 2012
To be absolutely clear, this is a full reset of the franchise. Completely forget the first three Spidey films because this film is almost completely and totally origin story. More so than anyone ever expected it be, really. In fact the entire thing has a feeling like you just watched it ten years ago except Spider-Man/Peter Parker wasn’t played by Andrew Garfield and Mary Jane is now Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). Also, the villain is now The Lizard (Rhys Ifans), but he and Willem Defoe have that same creepy facial structure and both are green so we’ll call it a wash. It would have been wise, since the last film came out so recently, for the filmmakers to have condensed the Spider-Man origin story down and trucked right into the villain/love story. Instead much of the film is focused around the acquiring of new powers and the learning that with those great powers comes great responsibility even though that classic line is never uttered.
In fact that might be emblematic of the entire film’s take on the webslinger. In an almost direct opposite approach to Raimi’s style the film avoids as much comic bookness as it can. In fact at the end of the film one of Spider-Man’s biggest challenges is that he can’t swing straight down a street to where he needs to go because in reality physics don’t work like that. It also means far more of a focus on the kid outside the costume than the hero behind the mask. This means less action sequences and disappointingly less smart-ass Spidey remarks being thrown around. This trade-off would have worked if this was the first recent crack at Spidey’s origin, but considering we’ve already seen most of this and we’ve had two other movies of Spidey action it doesn’t really entice as much as it could.
It does, however, mean that we get more Emma Stone, and that is always a good thing. For this movie in particular it’s an even better thing because Gwen Stacey’s story arc with Spider-Man is one of the best in comics. It’s one of those instances where you know they’ve set something great up for the next films and it makes the first film’s experience all the better. Stone and Garfield are wonderfully charming as Parker and Stacey, though Garfield’s Parker is nowhere near the nerdy kid that the original Parker was. He’s a social outcast, yes, but his gelled hair and sharp good looks belay the nerd factor by a ton. For the tone and realistic setting of the film it works fine, but this isn’t the all out nerd Peter Parker we know.
As for Garfield’s Spider-Man he’s often hit or miss, though he hits more often. His one-liners, an iconic part of the character, never stick like they should, but he does do a fantastic job of growing the character. The difference between the confident Spidey and the shy Peter Parker is one of the greatest things about Spider-Man’s beginnings and Garfield is fantastic at showing the two sides even if he can’t throw out the quick lines as well as he should. Of course Spidey’s quips don’t fit as well in this film’s tone anyway, which develops the character very well, but at the sake of some of the fun they could have had with it.
Even less fun is had with The Lizard, who is more of an excuse to have an action sequence at the end than a great villain. Because of the focus on the Uncle Ben/Peter Parker relationship and the Gwen Stacey/Peter Parker relationship and the Spider-Man/Peter Parker relationship there isn’t much time for the Lizard/Spider-Man relationship. The film does set the two up as opposing forces who make different choices of what to do with great power, but this was done before and better in both Spider-Man 1 and 2. I suppose if you’re going to push a villain to the background The Lizard is a decent choice, but a bit more focus on him and less on Ben/Peter (since we’ve seen that already) could have helped.
From the beginning director Mark Webb (best name ever for the job) said he wanted the film to be more about the characters than the superheroes, and he definitely succeeded. There’s far less wonder and amazement than in Raimi’s initial outing. This shows through in not just the darker tone of the entire film, but in simple sequences like whenever Spidey swings through the city. Webb doesn’t seem to have the same “woohoo” attitude that Raimi did when shooting Spider-Man himself and it rubs off. Trying to spice his swinging sections up with first-person swinging doesn’t help much.
The question becomes does the change in focus and tone make The Amazing Spider-Man a bad movie or just a different one. The answer is that it is simply different and depending on what you prefer you could end up liking this one even more than the original. Webb is a surprisingly competent director considering his only other film credit is (500) Days of Summer, and his ability to develop convincing characters and relationships shines throughout the film. The question is do you want a movie that feels like the comic book it’s based on or a movie that feels like it’s going in a different direction. Whichever you prefer, and despite my somewhat trivial gripes, The Amazing Spider-Man is far from bad, and easily good.