My first conscious memory of Spider-Man was a commercial for the ’90s animated series on Fox Kids (remember that rad theme song? RAD. “SPIDER-MAN. SPIDER-MAN. SPIDER BLOOD SPIDER BLOOD RADIOACTIVE SPIDER-BLOOOD!“) I was around 7 or 8 and had mostly stayed away from superhero comics up until that point; I’m not really sure why–it might’ve had something to do with the fact that anybody who read superhero comics in the early ’90s was a HUGE NERD who should be avoided.
(THAR BE SPOILERS AHEAD, MATEY!)
Then the cartoon came along, and I was hooked. (with the awesome “Night of the Lizard” episode. Go figure!) Granted, looking back, that series wasn’t very good (I mean, Morbius the vampire didn’t suck blood [too risque for kids, I guess], but sucked some sort of life-force “plasma” out of you via his hands. What the what?), but it introduced me to the world or superheroes. Soon, I was hunting down Spidey action figures (even making my dad pick up a few from work a couple of times–thanks, Pop!), reading Spidey comics, finding any Spider-Man-related merchandise I could find (and in the early ’90s, superhero paraphernalia was hard to come by, actually)…
My life was fundamentally changed by my introduction to Spider-Man. Who would I be without my obsession with comics?
You wouldn’t believe my excitement when the 2002 Spider-Man film came out. I remember the Friday the movie opened, I was in a Model UN session all day; the other kids were chatting about how showings were starting to sell out during the weekend. I HAD TO GO!!!
…and I did. Five times, the most I’ve ever seen a single movie in the theatre (previous record-holder? The Lion King, with 3). It wasn’t a perfect film by a long shot (that’s a whole essay in and of itself), but director Sam Raimi really did capture the 1960s, whiz-bang, golly-gee approach to Spider-Man and Peter Parker. It was electric and colorful and had a handful of scenes that will go down as iconic and riffed upon for a long time.
The 2002 Spider-Man also opened up the world to superheroes. Granted, the comics were still sort of shunned to the side, but suddenly those characters were at the center of pop culture. As somebody who had previously hid his superhero love, it was an awesome turn of events.
So then Spider-Man 3 came around and ruined all that goodwill toward Spidey. Man, that one sucked, and sort of retroactively tainted my biased love of the first two, shining a new light on the terrible lead casting (Tobey and Kirsten; the villains are all alright), the goofy plots, the stoic, non-quippy hero, etc. etc…
And in between Spider-Man 3 and the newest Spider-Man reincarnation, times have changed yet again: Iron Man and the Avengers are the golden children of Marvel…and all superhero movies, really. The Marvel Universe movies have elevated the bar on big-budget superhero flicks; their quality feels more organic (probably because Robert Downey, Jr. is just so natural as Tony Stark) and not as by-committee as the previous Spider-Man films did.
It was a lot for a new Spidey to live up to. The game had changed.
I think it was for this reason that I wasn’t terribly excited about this new Spider-Man film. After being burned on Spider-Man 3, and with a whole new crop of characters zooming right by the quality of the original Spidey film series, did this one even stand a chance? It felt like Sony was just rushing a new Spider-Man film out to serve as the studio’s ATM.
Well, thankfully, The Amazing Spider-Man is a step in the right direction. It’s not stratospherically great by any means, but it’s has solid execution with some wonderful acting that saves it from its patchy script.
First, it should be noted that this is a much different film tonally than the 2002 version. It’s not dark (a lot of the press as this film was in production said that Sony was trying for a Dark Knight vibe, which is way off-mark), but it’s definitely a 2012 interpretation of Spider-Man as opposed to taking the 1960s Spider-Man comics and bringing them to life. It’s more Ultimate Spider-Man as opposed to classic Spider-Man, if you will. The change in tone helps set the film apart from its predecessor and mostly succeeds in justifying the existence of this new Spidey so soon after the last series ended.
Casting Andrew Garfield as The Amazing Spider-Man was a stroke of genius (though, can we talk about his super-long neck?). He is a better Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire was, by a factor of googleplex (I really dislike Tobey’s Peter Parker). He plays it in much more of a twitchy, geeky kind of way with a more natural style than Tobey’s general goofiness and his dumb face.
Emma Stone doesn’t disappoint as Gwen Stacy, and is in her first five minutes more captivating that Kirsten Dunst was in the entire original series; though it helps that Emma Stone isn’t a bland piece of cardboard like Dunst, this is actually mostly due to the script giving Gwen more to do (spoiler: she’s never put in “a damsel in distress, save me hero!” situation. She’s takes charge in crucial moments, without it appearing as a shoehorned, inorganic “empowerment” moment; that’s just who she is. Thank goodness!).
In fact, the cast in The Amazing Spider-Man is outstanding. Who doesn’t love Martin Sheen or Sally Field? (I mean, you really, really like her, right?) Rhys Ifans is also surprisingly (and gratefully) subdued as Dr. Curt Connors/the Lizard, not playing into the more hammy aspects of villainhood as Willem Dafoe or Thomas Haden Church did.
Where the film demonstrates weakness is in the script: Uncle Ben’s (spoiler, if you’ve been living under a rock since 1962) death and Peter’s subsequent vengeance ride is anticlimatic; it seems like in an effort to steer clear of nearly every aspect of the 2002 origin, Ben just dies, without imparting any sort of final guidance for Peter. Peter, going after his uncle’s killer, just sort of gives up halfway through the film, the plotline just dropped without mention.
Then there’s the whole “Peter’s parents have a secret!” plot, which is purposefully left open (bolded, italicized, and underlined with a fairly corny mid-credits scene) to be addressed in a future movie. Hey, I’m all about intentionality in movie series, laying seeds in one to address in another, but Peter’s parents were such a huge part of the first half of the film, particularly in how Peter reacts to things and how Peter finds his way to Oscorp and Dr. Connors, that to just leave that plot unresolved without any sort of forward movement (and with a lazy, “Peter can’t find out the secret!” cliffhanger) felt a little half-assed.
It’s hard to avoid comparing the 2002 version and its origin story to this film, though The Amazing Spider-Man sort of begs for it. There’s such an effort to change (and SO MUCH time spend on) how Spidey’s origin is executed that you can’t help but feel like this film is trying to be the other side of 2002’s coin. Not only that, but The Amazing Spider-Man requires that you have a passing knowledge of the first film series (or at least the comics) to understand why Oscorp and Norman Osborn as such a big deal; the suspense of keeping Norman in the shadows only means something to you if you are familiar with the character.
The film also suffers, and this is probably more my issue than an issue with the quality of the film itself, in that it just doesn’t have that “gee whiz!” excitement of the first film, both internally and with the reaction I had to it. The 2002 Spidey film was electric, huge, a sensation; as a geek, to see a legitimate Spider-Man on screen for the first time was so gratifying, that I’m not sure this film (Spidey being old-hat now) could have ever lived up to that sort of first-time excitement. That, and the film really doesn’t have any sort of truly memorable moment or scene. Where’s my rain-kiss, Marc Webb??
Still, even though it struggles to come together plotwise in as satisfying of a manner as Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, The Amazing Spider-Man‘s pieces are greater than its whole. It has a great cast and a solid enough foundation to build a new world out of. It’s not a great film, but it has the potential to be a really solid series.
Obviously, I love Spidey, and I went into this film cautiously, really hoping that this film would be good.
Garfield is a great Peter Parker.
And I feel much more excited for Spider-Man again.