Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man
Director: Mark Webb
Producer: Marvel Studios, Columbia Pictures
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field
People are always uneasy about franchises being rebooted, we saw that happen with Star Trek. Batman got a much-deserved do-over that has proven to be a success, the Hulk also got one too. It’s a touchy subject in cinema to reboot an established franchise even if it ran itself into the ground. “Spider-Man” was a series in need of a reboot so that the new generation of film-goers have more to look at than the cheesy shlock that Sam Raimi left us. Okay, maybe that was a bit harsh on Raimi but one cannot deny that his interpretation of Spider-Man was far too over-the-top, colorful, and at times embarrassingly cheesy. When we saw Toby Maguire reenacting “Saturday Night Fever” in the streets of New York we knew the game was up, it was time for a do-over.
To me, Raimi’s work represents how audiences used to like their superhero films and while it is nostalgic to look at now there’s no getting around it’s considerable flaws.
Still, audiences are reactionary and don’t like certain franchises changing hands and changing direction. The common argument has been – “Really? Why? Did we really need a reboot of Spider-Man?”.
Yes, we did. If you were opposed to the idea of a reboot odds are you probably didn’t know any better. Marvel just needed a good template to work with, to better tell a more mature and realistic story – thanks Christopher Nolan!
The film starts out with a young Peter Parker going into his father’s office to find it ransacked. Richard Parker walks in, gets spooked and flees the family home with his wife and son. Peter’s parents leave him in the care of his aunt and uncle May & Ben Parker (Sally Field and Martin Sheen) and he never sees his parents again. We are then introduced to Peter’s life as an adolescent: Peter (Andrew Garfield) has been raised by and lives with his relatives and attends Midtown Science High School where he is an exceptional but withdrawn student. After the brief but necessary introduction to Peter’s less-than-stellar social life he finds some of his father’s research notes, bearing an OSCORP logo, hidden in a briefcase in Uncle Ben’s basement. These notes point him to get in contact with Dr. Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans), a biologist working for OSCORP who was apparently his father’s closest friend and colleague. While sneaking around Connors’ lab in the OSCORP tower Peter is bitten by a strange-looking spider and quickly finds himself developing incredible abilities: Super-human strength, speed, agility, and a unique sixth-sense that warns him of incoming danger. This and an encounter with Dr. Connors sets in motion a chain of events that lead to Peter Parker taking up the superhero identity of “Spider-Man” and sends Dr. Connors down the path to becoming the fearsome “Lizard”.
The film really gets a lot right with regards to the character of Peter Parker. I think I’d best put the fears of a full-blown ‘Emo’ Peter Parker to rest, he is not overly emotional – he’s just a 17 year old guy with unresolved issues when we first meet him. Peter has abandonment issues and has problems conveying his feelings but he genuinely cares about those close to him. However he comes across as distant from anyone who has not overcome his emotional barriers. These barriers begin to break as his relationship with Gwen Stacey flourishes; a relationship in a superhero film that is actually believable and rather heart-warming. Emma Stone plays the ‘Nerdy’ genius Gwen Stacey exceptionally well, she is leaps and bounds more likeable than Kirsten Dunst ever was as Mary Jane Watson. Gwen and Peter play off each other really well and it feels as that two were really made for each other.
I always felt that the relationship portrayed in Sam Raimi’s films was too forced and found it really hard to believe that Peter still liked Mary-Jane after all she put him through. Here everything feels more realistic as at first Gwen and Peter barely know each other apart from being on their school’s debating team. However, as Peter’s confidence grows from his second life as Spider-Man the chemistry between himself and Gwen starts to bubble. This love story takes time to develop and that makes it feel more credible than the story previously told by Sam Raimi. Suffice to say it never gets to the sappy level of “Twilight” but it’s still heart warming seeing the couple interact.
Actually, the relationships Peter establishes in the movie becomes it’s driving force which is a real feat for this genre. Cpt. George Stacey (Denis Leary), Gwen’s father and head of the NYPD is uneasy about Peter dating his daughter as most fathers probably feel about their daughter’s boyfriends’ at some point. This is not made any easier by the fact Peter, whom George does not overly like, is really the “Vigilante” Spider-Man that the NYPD is hunting. Peter’s home life with aunt May is also interesting, May and Peter understandably become protective of each other as the story unravels. It is hinted at that Aunt May knows what Peter is doing every other night and why he comes home bruised and exhausted but still alongside Gwen she serves as a crucial anchor for him.
Still more interesting is the bond that forms between Peter and Dr. Connors. Connors eventually becomes a surrogate father figure to Peter, but this only makes what happens to him all the more tragic. Peter in a stroke of genius finishes his fathers notes and hands them to Connors, who is able to complete his cross-species serum capable of regrowing his amputated arm. The serum has horrific effects on Connors body and psyche, while the serum is successful in regrowing his lost limb it also turns him into a giant bipedal lizard and steadily saps his sanity. I will not spoil it but the first time Connors transforms he genuinely has good intentions but his cumbersome form ends up causing mayhem. I can understand if people do not understand the development Connors goes through and why his remaining hand is forced to do what he does but I completely bought it. To me Connors personifies the theme of the film: Physically or emotionally, everyone has a piece of themselves missing.
Whoever directed the action coreography did an amazing job as the action scenes involving Spider-Man are riveting to watch – fast paced and frantic. With Sam Raimi’s films the action was weak with the exception of “Spider-Man 2” but here it is all up-close-and-personal. Peter does not get the whole ‘Spider-Fu’ package when he is bitten, he still has to learn to fight and in the first few fight scenes he really looks like an amateur, which totally makes sense. The more he fights the better he gets, going from barely holding off three thugs to effortlessly taking down SWAT officers armed with assault rifles, but still he is not invincible. Peter picks up scars/bruises/lacerations/gunshot wounds and really looks like hell by the end of the story, he is an amateur hero and the film got that across well. The Lizard is pulled off well too, I really do not understand the gripes people have had with the way he looks. He MIGHT have looked a little better if he had a snout like he is normally portrayed as having but still, minor nitpick.
To wrap this up I’ll close on a few comments and observations. “The Amazing Spider-Man” will almost certainly divide audiences between those that enjoyed the Sam Raimi trilogy and those that hated it but superhero films have changed since 2002, the genre has undergone a renaissance. Audiences now expect films of this genre to look and feel more mature otherwise they end up looking like childs-fare, which is why this particular character needed a reboot. “The Amazing Spider-Man” does feel like it borrows a few footnotes from Christopher Nolan’s notepad but it never directly rips him off. It is not just the genre that has changed, society has changed as well. This is reflected in the way Andrew Garfield portrays Peter Parker: Society’s perception of “Geeks” and “Nerds” has changed drastically in the past decade thanks to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. How they ‘Updated’ Peter Parker for this generation this is if you ask me is one of the best things about this film. If you watched “The Amazing Spider-Man” without even knowing about the Sam Raimi films you would totally believe that this is the first time this character has been done.
My final score: 9/10 (10/10 if you never saw the original and are unfamiliar with the characters involved)
+Excellent acting across the board, Andrew Garfield in particular. +Interesting and mature plot. +Intense action scenes. +Enjoyable love-story on the side. +Complete lack of ‘Cheese’.
-Hit-and-miss CGI on The Lizard. -Feels like some scenes have been removed to save time. -Occasional sense of “Deja Vu”
It might not sit well with fans of the original Sam Raimi films but even then, they’ll eventually have to accept that society has left them behind. This is a faithful and modern retelling of Peter Parker’s story and gives Mark Webb space to take this rebooted series in new directions.