Move over Tobey, there’s a new webslinger in town. Andrew Garfield’s Spider-man portrayal is good…really good…but I just wish Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-man” had come before the Raimi films. As great as this film’s take is, it’s difficult to completely forget those other Spider-man films and not draw some comparisons.
Yes, this is another origin story and while the new film really focuses more on the origin and the development of the Peter Parker character, there are some deja vu moments. There’s still a school bully, a love interest, the fragile yet brave aunt and the science smarts. Of course, Spider-man would not be Spider-man without the crucial turning point of the death of Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), so viewers have to relive that moment as well. Yet, this film does do a good job separating itself from the Raimi films and it’s in these separations and differences that this film really shines. “The Amazing Spider-man” even takes a slight dig at itself rebooting the series so soon when a teacher talks about how there really is only one story in fiction that gets told over and over: who am I?
This film really works because of Garfield. The way he portrays Spider-man really brought me back to the Spidey I remember growing up on in my youth; the quick-witted hero, but also a hero that’s very much a teenager. Spider-man was always the most relatable comic book hero not because his origin story made it seem like the spider bite could happen to anyone, but because Peter Parker really was just anyone. Yeah, he has powers, but he is also struggling with school work, teenage hormones, still developing as a mature person, learning about responsibility, etc. Batman gets a lot of comparisons to Spider-man since both have similar origin stories, but Batman has the advantage of already being an adult when he first starts crime fighting. He has already been running a billion dollar business and has developed as a man. Parker struggles to understand if his responsibility lies in fighting crime or remembering to bring home the eggs. This film really captures that. Crime fighting isn’t a natural, easy as pie thing as some of the other heroes make it out to be. I loved that this film really took the time to dwell on Parker just struggling with the powers and dealing with life. It’s great how cocky he is after he first takes revenge on the school bully, but then how swiftly becomes crestfallen and guilty after Uncle Ben points out that he’s acting like a dick. That is exactly how I’d expect super powers in a teen would go.
My favorite change was the use of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). True to the comics, she was Parker’s first love and I loved how this story used her. I’m so used to female protagonists making it through these types of films in one of two ways: big boobs and a special weapon (usually a bow and arrow) or big boobs and pulling the ‘damsel in distress/save me’ act. Gwen was a breath of fresh air – she’s simply a smart, determined girl. Her outfits are fairly modest for a high school girl, she’s even smart enough to challenge the wit of our hero, and when her father or Parker try to make her the damsel, she fights back. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing strong women like Katniss from the Hunger Games, but Gwen Stacy really broke a lot of stereotypes that I expected. Even her family dynamics broke stereotypes – a comic book character with two loving parents?! Denis Leary as Captain Stacy was fantastic, but I fear to say too much about his character without getting spoilery. Stone does a great job playing her with a charm, but also a slight air of sadness. For comic book fans familiar with what happens to Stacy, there is a bit of foreshadowing at the end of the film that help tease what could easily be an even better sequel.
As for the villain (Rhys Ifans), the Lizard hit similar Jekyll/Hyde tones that Green Goblin hit in the Raimi films, so while some of the Lizard monologue scenes were the hardest for me to shake the deja vu from, I still appreciated the loyalty that this film showed to the comic book portrayal of the Lizard. I really appreciated that the Lizard wasn’t a complete villain stereotype (much like how I loved that Gwen wasn’t a love interest stereotype). It’s very murky in this film whether he’s really evil or not. So when it comes time for the predictable scene where the hero defeats the villain (this is not a spoiler, you knew Spidey would win), it isn’t a clear and predictable victory. There’s a bit of a twist. Speaking of villain twists – there is a scene in the credits possibly setting up the next villain, so stick around.
The use of people in this film was extraordinary. They really become crucial to the story, which is great because at the end of the day, it’s not just about the super heroes obligation to the people, but the people’s obligation to the hero. Without saying too much at risk of spoilers, why make a film where it is about just one hero with powers and everyone else is the victims? Why not make a film that shows that anyone could be hero, no matter who they are or what they do.
I will say that while I really loved the dialogue and the character building of this story, it did seem a little lighter on the action. In retrospect, there are plenty of fight scenes, but when you’re in it, it definitely feels a bit lighter than something like the Avengers. The 3D was nicely used – I often forgot I was watching in 3D (which is how it should be) until all of a sudden I found myself moving back because I thought a crane was going to hit me (again, how 3D should be – subtly in your face in a non gimmicky way).
Give “The Amazing Spider-man” a fighting chance. Yes, it’s a bit early for a reboot, but it is worth it.
P.S. Best Stan Lee cameo to date.