When I first heard that they were rebooting Spiderman, my immediate reaction was “Already?” It’s only been five years since Spiderman 3 basically ruined the franchise with its foolishness. I still don’t think I’ve fully recovered from that mess; I am still having nightmares about that dance scene and Tobey Maguire’s hair.
But that’s the world we’re living in – franchises don’t end, they are just endlessly rebooted and the time in between restarts is getting shorter and shorter. I actually heard a rumor that they were considering rebooting Twilight and that franchise hasn’t even ended yet. In Hollywood terms, five years is an eternity.
And really, Spiderman is too good (profitable) of a character to sack the entire franchise because everyone involved in it briefly lost their mind. If they were going to undo what Raimi and Sony did, they really had to start over. So even though I thought it was way too soon to be doing it, I understand that it eventually had to happen. And honestly, I was kind of curious as to what the changes would be. How close would they be to the previous versions of Spiderman?
The answer is pretty close. There are just enough changes to not make the film feel like a complete retread, but I spent most of the movie with a slight feeling of déjà vu. By choosing to retell the Spiderman origin story, The Amazing Spiderman had to recover territory which is already fresh in most people’s minds, so the repeat factor was substantially higher than if they had chosen a later point in the mythology to jump in.
Andrew Garfield does a good job as the new man behind the spandex. I wasn’t particularly familiar with Garfield’s work before he was cast as Spiderman and his selection caused some hullabaloo on the internet since the actor is British (apparently fanboys have never heard of a dialect coach). There was no need for concern; Garfield takes to the role quite nicely and there is no hint of his “Britishness” in his delivery. I enjoyed Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Spiderman quite a bit (at least in the first two films) and while Garfield doesn’t surpass Maguire in my estimation, he is still a worthy successor. His Peter Parker is still a smart alecky science guy, but Garfield has enough of a screen presence that you almost don’t mind sitting through a lot of the same plot points as the earlier movies. At almost 30, however, Garfield does look a little too old to be roaming the halls of a high school.
Some of the changes made in The Amazing Spiderman are great improvements. The love interest in this film is Gwen Stacy, rather than Mary Jane Watson, which is closer to the original comic books than the previous series. As the new lead actress in the franchise, Emma Stone really knocks it out of the park. Whenever Gwen is on the screen, the movie just becomes a lot more interesting and she has real chemistry with Garfield, which is unsurprising as they are a real life couple. Emma Stone always trumps Kirsten Dunst. I don’t care if it is a Kirsten Dunst look-a-like contest; go with Stone. She’s one of my favorite young actresses.
Peter Parker’s backstory also has some added depth; while in the previous films it was just accepted that Parker lived with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, The Amazing Spiderman examines how this arrangement came to be. While only a brief scene, this added information adds a lot to the plot and the absence of Parker’s parents, especially his father, hovers over much of the story line and alludes to some things that may be planned for our hero.
However, where superhero movies live or die are with the choice of villain. The main reason that The Dark Knight is such an amazing film is because of Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, not because of anything Batman does. Choose the wrong foil for your hero and the movie just isn’t going to be as good. One of the areas that I believe The Amazing Spiderman falls down on the job is in its selection of the “big bad” for Spiderman to square off against. I just never took to the character and thought that the villain’s motivations were vague and inconsistent. They just don’t make a solid enough case as to why this person suddenly becomes a super villain, when earlier in the film they clearly show that he had some humanity and concerns for others. Even the climactic fight scene was a little bit of a disappointment. I’m not familiar enough with the other choices that they had for villain – they already used the only ones I knew in the earlier movies – but this one just didn’t work for me. Perhaps it was because I went to college with this guy (don’t click the link if you don’t want a clue as to who the villain is; I’m being vague on purpose), so seeing a movie transformation is less impressive when you’ve seen it happen in real life.
The plot developments also left a few things to be desired. When Peter first has his spidey abilities, he sticks to everything he touches. This leads to some fun comedic moments, but this condition suddenly and mysteriously disappears without explanation.
Some other thoughts:
- I know it is her natural hair color, but I will just never get over Emma Stone as a blonde. She should be contractually obligated to always be a redhead – I think it suits her.
- Aunt May and Uncle Ben are a lot younger in this film than they have previously been depicted. It was almost jarring to see these roles played by Sally Field and Martin Sheen, but I guess to younger audience members, they are considered old. That’s depressing.
- It’s always nice to see Denis Leary in anything. I have a weird thing for him, which is one of the only reasons I made it through all 7 seasons of Rescue Me. That show got ridiculous the last few seasons.
- I go to see movies with the dumbest people imaginable – someone actually brought a baby into the theater, who then proceeded to fuss through the film. Seriously? A baby? It’s a free movie – use the cash you saved to get a sitter.
- The family sitting next to me also should have gotten a sitter as their 9 year old daughter had absolutely no interest in the film and she proceeded to play on her cell phone through the whole movie, which was pretty distracting as the phone was pretty bright and shining in my peripheral vision. Considering there were people who couldn’t get into the screening, it seemed a waste to have her taking up a seat.
- I’ve got to hand it to them – the 3-D technology certainly did add a lot to the film. I think it would still be enjoyable in 2D, but this might be one worth splurging for the technological upgrade.
- The Stan Lee cameo in this one isn’t particularly subtle; he’s getting more screen time in his old age.
- This Spiderman cannot keep a secret. Way too many people know about his secret identity and even more know that something is up with Peter Parker. This guy does not know the meaning of the word subtle.
- The high school that Peter and Gwen attend must have a very liberal truancy policy.
- The only thing that bugged me about Stone’s Gwen Stacy is the fact that they kept her in knee high stockings and boots regardless of her location, including while she was at her internship in the labs of Oscorp. My interns would never be allowed to dress that way.
- Stay after the credits for a bonus scene, which I found intriguing. I heard a lot of discussion as I was leaving the theater about what that scene meant and who the next villain was going to be.
- I enjoyed the original Spiderman a lot, but my first love of Spiderman came from the Spiderman shorts that they did on The Electric Company. So incredibly cheesy in retrospect, but that pretty much sums up the 70s:
Overall, The Amazing Spiderman is a fun, but not very original summer movie. My enjoyment of it suffered mostly from the sense that I had seen this all before. I many not have been particularly enamored with the villain, but Garfield and Stone make this movie immensely watchable. If there is a sequel – and I expect that there will be unless this movie completely bombs – I look forward to seeing how the cast and director do with story lines that are not so familiar. The Amazing Spiderman has the unfortunate luck to be opening the same summer as The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, and will suffer in comparison to those two superior franchises. It pales a bit in comparison to the original Tobey Maguire franchise, though there are also some obvious improvements and upgrades. The Amazing Spiderman is not reinventing the wheel, but it is mostly entertaining. There would be more truth in advertising if the film was renamed The Perfectly Adequate Though Unoriginal Spiderman.
The Amazing Spiderman opens nationwide today.