In 2002 Sam Raimi launched the first Spiderman movie which along with 2000’s X-men pioneered the modern superhero genre. It has been 10 years since then and 5 years since the mostly disappointing Spiderman 3 hit theaters in 2007. In the years since 2007 The Dark Knight was released and Marvel launched a fleshed out multi-film universe; both of which have greatly influenced what is do-able in the genre. Sony is now rebooting the franchise by bringing in a new cast and director Marc Webb to put his own spin on the origin story of Peter Parker as Spiderman. Can this new take on Spiderman bring enough new things to the table to leave an impact or is this movie simply going through the motions?
The Amazing Spiderman may have the typical orgin’s premise, but this movie actually opens with something different than we’ve seen before. When Peter is very young his father fears that his family is in danger so his wife and he leave Peter with his Aunt May(Sally Field) and Uncle Ben(Martin Sheen). After this brief opening we fast forward to see Peter(Andrew Garfield) in high school. He seems to be a bit of a social outcast despite the fact that we quickly see that he is both caring to others and intelligent. The plot is really set into motion when Peter finds his dad’s old brief case that has some of his father’s possessions inside as well as a newspaper picture that ties his father to a scientist named Curt Conners(Rhys Ifans). Peter begins to ask questions and investigate Conners, and his investigation eventually leads him to Oscorp where Conners has a lab. After finding out this his crush Gwen(Emma Stone) works there, Peter takes it upon himself to snoop around the Oscorp labs, and eventually he stumbles onto experiments with spiders that his father was somehow tied to. An accident occurs and we see him get bit by the spider(again) that would eventually give him the powers to turn into Spiderman. After this set up the movie goes through the origin story we’re all familiar with; Peter gets sick, plays with his powers, gets in a fight with Uncle Ben, Ben is killed because Peter chooses not to stop a criminal, Peter embraces powers and begins to fight crime, ect, ect. Eventually Conners injects himself with a serum in hopes that his arm will regrow, but it instead turns him into the Lizard. The story may hit many similar beats, but The Amazing Spiderman actually adds a few subplots that add a new spin on what we’ve seen before. I particularly liked the subplot involving the police manhunt for Spiderman which is lead by Gwen’s father Captain Stacy(Denis Leary).
The story in this movie does have many similarities with Raimi’s 2002 film, however The Amazing Spiderman does bring its own spin on the story that I believe separates itself enough to be a worthy reboot. I really liked the fact that this film kept the setting in high school which means we really get to see Peter in a place where he is vulnerable as a teenager. Is it angsty? Maybe, but I thought the edgier take on the character was far more relatable and realistic. The story certainly feels more realistic because of the more modern setting and edgier tone. Despite the fact that this film is more realistic, the movie certainly has a sense of humor that avoids being campy like the original trilogy. This retelling of the origin story certainly clicked much better with me because of the acting, edgier take, and overall different interpretation of the character and the setting of the movie. The first half of the movie deals with the origin while the second half deals with The Lizard and the police manhunt for Spiderman, and I do have to say that the character interaction in the first half of the film is just as(if not more) interesting as any of the fight scenes you’ll see in the second half. I think the story does feel a little uneven at times with the first half being far more interesting and the second half being more exciting, but less substantive. If there is a major weakness in the plot of this movie it would have to be The Lizard. This certainly falls in the line of character as well, but I never felt like the Lizard was a legit threat as his plan was very typical of comic book movies. While he delivered a couple of decent fights, I think its safe to say that film incarnation of the Lizard won’t go down as anything remotely special.
What really makes this film stand out over its predecessor is the characterization of Peter/Spiderman. Peter doesn’t have a father, and his father figure dies early in the movie which leads Peter having this void in his heart. This is very obvious(and natural) as he latches onto Conners and even Captain Stacy to some degree in an attempt to have that relationship he consciously and/or subconsciously longs for. Peter is also portrayed as a teenager which I really liked as I felt that dimension of the character was never really fleshed out in the original Spiderman. We get to see that Peter really is a science nerd; we don’t have other characters telling us this, but we actually get to see it which is far more believable. As a teenager we also see that despite Peter’s good heart and good intentions; he still makes really stupid decisions and mistakes like most teenagers do. We get to see a new side to Peter as Spiderman in this movie when we see him arrogantly dropping wisecracks and one-liners to the baddies in the film which I found to be really funny. The tone of the movie allows for far more depth than what was present in previous films. I was also glad to see that this movie ditched Mary Jane in favor of Peter’s first love Gwen Stacy who is very well played by Emma Stone. Gwen is very smart, likable, and overall useful. She doesn’t exist merely to get captured, but actually provides Peter with some real help. Peter and Gwen seem very believable and likable as a couple which I attribute to both Marc Webb’s direction and the great chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. The biggest problem with this movie as a whole is the Lizard. While I thought Rhys Ifans did a pretty solid job as Conners; once he went Lizard his character radically changed from a well intentioned scientist into a stereotypical comic book villain. The Lizard is certainly enough of a physical threat for Spiderman, but he really lacks that connection or dimension that drives the hero/villain relationship. His plot to turn the whole city into lizards was about as cliche as things could get, and unfortunately there is no real emotional payoff for Conner’s transformation into the film’s villain. What makes it worse is that the entire good intentioned scientist transformed into a psychopath by a serum was already done in a very similar manner in the original Spiderman. There are a few other things to note such as the death of Uncle Ben(which I actually felt had a bigger impact than the original despite its minimized emphasis), Denis Leary’s commendable job as Captain Stacey, and the somewhat bittersweet ending of the movie that all add to this movie. Characterization is the key in separating this film from previous entrees to the series, and overall I’d say The Amazing Spiderman succeeds in giving a very different(an in my personal opinion more accurate) interpretation of the characters.
Marc Webb stepped into this big budget blockbuster after only directing one major release; 500 Days of Summer. It is very evident that Webb understands how to handle realistic relationships in film as this movie nails its human connections. Peter and Gwen is the obvious relationship to point out, but the same can be said about the dynamic between Peter and a number of people including Uncle Ben, Curt Conners, Aunt May, and Captain Stacy. Webb not only delivers on character work, but also delivers a movie that looks really good. This is not one of those occasions in which the director obviously hasn’t directed a big budget, special effects heavy movie as Webb pulls off a movie of this magnitude well. The movie looks great, the cinematography is solid(although I’m not sure how well the first person shots would turn out in 2D), and for the most part the film flows well. Although this is not a criticism specifically for Webb; I did find that the musical score for this film was not nearly as memorable as Danny Elfman’s sweeping and fitting theme of the original trilogy.
Overall while treading familiar territory, The Amazing Spiderman manages to bring a fresh and more rounded take on the origin story of Spiderman by delivering deeper characterization and a more realistic take on Peter Parker and the other classic Spiderman characters. The movie has a familiar story that is executed very differently, and the character work is a step up. This movie may not break ground like the original, and it may never pass the heights of Spiderman 2, but it does give us many things that have up to this point been missing from the Spidey franchise.
The Amazing Spiderman does a great job at retelling the origin story by giving it more depth and a realist edge. Unfortunately this movie does hit several of the same beats as the former incarnation of the story which doesn’t give this much creativity as it could have had. The second half of the movie falls short to some degree as the villain the Lizard’s plan is about as cliche as they come.
Andrew Garfield is excellent as Peter Parker and Spiderman as we get a more realistic take on a teenager who has lost his father(s) and is bitten by a radioactive spider. The chemistry between Andrew Garfield as Peter and Emma Stone as Gwen is a big selling point in this movie and the two are easily able to convince that they are teens who like each other. Denis Leary also turns in a serviceable performance as Captain Stacey and Rhys Ifans plays a decent Curt Conners, but is left a cliche part as the Lizard.
Marc Webb is able to bring a tone and edge to this movie that makes it much more believable than past incarnations. He has proven again that he understands how to make human relationships work as nearly every connection in this movie feels realistic, believable, and organic. The movie looks great with solid special effects and cinematography.
Overall Effectiveness of the Movie: 7.0
Unfortunately this Spiderman doesn’t break any new ground which means that it is no different than most standard comic book movies. In its defense, the bar for comic book movies has been significantly raised since Spiderman 3 with movies like The Dark Knight and The Avengers pushing the boundaries of what comic book movies can do. This is still a solid superhero movie, and there is a lot to like here; just not a lot that is new. While it is debatable as to whether this film is necessary or not; I believe that this incarnation of the character and the origin story is deeper, more realistic, and overall more true to the Spiderman I’ve read and seen throughout the years.
Overall Score: 8.0