For my entire life up to 2002, I impatiently awaited the time when I could see my favorite hero, Spider-Man, up on the silver-screen. I’ll never forget the excitement of sitting in the theatre waiting for the movie to start, anxiously anticipating the arachnid awesomeness that was to come; and that first Spider-Man movie will always have a huge soft-spot in my heart.
I’m a passionate Spidey fanatic and a big fan of director Sam Raimi. I’m also an enthusiastic supporter of actor Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker and in fact thought I could never imagine anyone else in that role. I’m telling you all of this because despite my love and admiration for the first Spider-Man movie, I have to say that the new Amazing Spider-Man film is actually better than that beloved, now decade-old classic.
In The Amazing Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire has been replaced by a relative newcomer to the American screen, British actor Andrew Garfield. The Aunt May role is now played by Sally Field, Uncle Ben is portrayed by Martin Sheen, Mary-Jane Watson is out altogether and the role of Gwen Stacy is now played by the valley’s own Emma Stone. The new movie is helmed by director Marc Webb and all of these changes have been played without missing a beat; and for the most part have improved on the original stellar cast.
Spider-Man celebrates his fiftieth anniversary this year and unless you’ve been living under a rock like an eight-legged freak, then you probably already know the basic origin tale of the web-headed hero. The Amazing Spider-Man [ASM] is an amalgamation of the original Stan Lee & Steve Ditko story and the updated, more modern Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man comics. At its root, Spider-man is a simple coming-of-age tale and the new narrative works great; but it does leave some unanswered questions that one assumes will be addressed in the sequel that is already planned. But not to fret; this is the way that comic books (and good comic-book movies) work.
Andrew Garfield is fantastic as the angst-ridden teenager, Peter Parker, the noble but physically weak loner who is the whipping-boy of schoolyard bullies. In this updated origin, his parents die in a mysterious car accident when he is still a young child and he is then raised by his Aunt May & Uncle Ben.
Peter loves and misses his parents and longs for his lost father; and when he finds his Dad’s old attaché case and a file of secret documents within, it leads him to the giant technology corporation of Oscorp in search of information about his father.
Oscorp is owned by Norman Osborn, who you might remember as the Green Goblin from the first Spider-Man film, but who is only spoken of as a shadowy off-screen entity in this new movie. After sneaking into the corporate building with a tour group, Peter wanders off and into a secure area where Oscorp is developing a new high tensile strength fiber material crafted from genetically enhanced spiders. Peter is bitten by one of the creatures and as we know, gains the proportionate strength of a spider and the ability to cling to walls.
The villain in this new movie is the Lizard, AKA Dr. Curt Connors, played by Rhys Ifans, who has taken the place of actor Dylan Baker from the other Spider-Films. In this new story Dr. Connors works for Oscorp and was once a partner with Peter Parker’s father, Richard Parker, who he performed inter-species genetic research with. Connors motive behind this work is to be able to regenerate his missing right arm, the way that a lizard can regenerate its tail when it is lost.
In ASM, Peter Parker has inherited his father’s intellect, and I was thrilled to see the character played in this way. The comic book Peter Parker is a genius and capable of creating his own mechanical web-shooters, which he does in this film. He also completes a formula that his father and Connors had been working on that will create a serum capable of regenerating the Doctor’s lost arm. Unfortunately, Connors uses the serum before the research and testing are complete and he ends up transforming into a large man-like lizard-beast with a very bad attitude.
The Lizard character was teased in the other Spider-Films, and many thought we would see him in Spider-Man 3, but the producers of that movie unwisely went another direction that in many ways is probably responsible for this reboot. The creators of ASM though have done a wonderful job of bringing this monstrous but tragic super-villain to life and I loved his sewer lab/lair that lures other lizards from across the city to be by his side. Some may say this is too corny – I call it classic comic-book coolness.
Garfield brings a whole new level of nuanced neurosis to the character of Peter Parker and an undisciplined recklessness to the Spider-Man persona that perfectly portrays the witty comic book hero in a way that generations of fans know and love. As much as I admire Tobey Maguire and feel he was a perfect Peter Parker, after seeing Andrew Garfield’s performance the difference between the two, in regards to the passion brought to the role, is obvious.
Tobey Maguire is reported to have never read a Spider-Man comic in his life, prior to taking on the role of Peter Parker, whereas Andrew Garfield has been an ardent life-long fan and his affection for the character rings true throughout this new film.
As mentioned, Mary-Jane Watson is out as the romantic interest in this movie, and the creators have instead focused on Peter’s relationship with his first love, Gwen Stacy, played magnificently by Emma Stone, who replaces Bryce Dallas Howard in the Gwen role from Spider-Man 3. Mary-Jane is great, but I never fully bought into the party girl’s relationship with Peter Parker – it just never felt right. But Stone’s Stacy has great chemistry with Garfield and bravo to the ASM costume designers who did a perfect job of dressing Gwen in her iconic short-skirts and knee-high boots.
I had some serious reservations regarding the casting of wise-guy Denis Leary as Gwen Stacy’s father, police Captain George Stacy, but Leary does a decent job in this role and his dinner table debate with Peter over the effectiveness of the police department is priceless. I still think my preference would have been to have an older/wiser actor in this part, but this is a minor complaint. Sally Field as Aunt May was another questionable casting choice for me, but Ms. Field delivers a solid and credible performance as Peter’s doting Aunt.
Martin Sheen does a great job as Peter’s Uncle Ben, and although it is not Sheen’s fault, the writers of ASM foolishly replaced Uncle Ben’s famous “With great power comes great responsibility” line with some sort of gibberish that means the same thing, but left me screaming in my head, “Just say it!” This is my biggest and only real serious complaint with this film. Taking away that line is like having Superman say, “I am going fly up into the sky in a method that resembles a bird, but without flapping my arms,” instead of just saying, “Up, up and away!”
The special effects and acrobatic stunts in ASM are top-notch and in particular the web-swinging and wall-crawling was incredible. I’m still amazed at seeing the comic-book heroes I love come to life so seamlessly on the big-screen, and Spidey’s moves in this movie are spot-on.
Realistically, you can imagine that getting from point-A to point-B, by merely swinging on lines of high-tensile web, would be fraught with inaccuracies and no small amount of awkwardness; and the wizards behind this film have taken this into account and made Spider-Man’s web-spinning appear as dangerous and difficult as it would be in real life, even without a giant lizard-man trying to pound you down.
I’m not a big fan of movies in 3D, but there are a handful of action sequences in ASM that make it worthwhile seeing in that format. In particular the point-of-view shots of Spidey swinging through the city are in fact ‘amazing’ and put you in the web-spinner’s shoes in a way that you could never really experience without killing yourself.
As fantastic as the action and effects are in The Amazing Spider-Man, its moments of honest humanity are what makes it a great and engaging film. There are sincere dramatic scenes that will tug on your heart strings and believable pain, both emotional and physical – the ingredients that make the Spider-Man comics great as well. My favorite moment of this movie is a scene where two school pals are walking into class while debating the physics behind the wall-crawler’s super abilities; and it’s that kind of detail that gives this film its heart.
Another aspect of Spider-Man that is pleasantly portrayed in this new screen-version of the hero is his sense of humor. He is played perfectly as the wise-cracking teenager who throws caution to the wind and can’t understand why the police are after him for doing their job for them. Spider-Man is popular because he has always been so easy to relate to, he doesn’t have the pretentiousness of Batman or the invulnerability of Superman. When asked in the movie, “Who are you?” He simply shrugs his shoulders and answers innocently, “I’m Spider-Man.”