Directed by Marc Webb. Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans
Up front, I should tell you I was prepared to dislike this movie. I’m a big fan of the Raimi movies, even though SPIDER-MAN 3 was mostly subpar. Going back to the origin story seemed like a waste of time. The dramatically reduced budget made it seem like this movie would be a rush job so Sony could keep the rights. After seeing the movie, I am impressed at what Webb was able to accomplish. The special effects are incredible. This Spider-Man moves more fluidly and dynamically than Raimi’s ever did. The cast didn’t just play their parts, they immersed themselves in them. As much as Denis Leary plays Denis Leary as.., his interaction as Captain Stacy with Stone and Garfield feels natural. Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Ben and May Parker act as if they have been together for years. Andrew Garfield for the most part is more of a Spider-Man that I’m familiar with. Having Spider-Man so jokey and irritating was like the best thing about this movie. And Emma Stone, oh Emma Stone. Her Gwen Stacy kind of blows Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane out of the water. Making her an intellectual equal (even if it’s just to set up the climactic final fight scene) and having her so heroic in her own right beats out being a damsel in distress for three movies.
Which brings us to one of my problems with this movie. Building up Gwen as this relentlessly compatible love interest is really weird when we all know what’s going to happen to her. When she is inevitably killed, are they going to make Mary Jane into a professional crime scene photographer who’s studying forensics? How do you follow up a character made to have so much in common with Spider-Man? But that’s a future instance problem, much like the credits scene. Spoiler alert: I have no idea who shadowy prison prowler is supposed to be. It can’t be Norman Osborn, the employer of Rhys Ifans’ Dr. Curt Connors, the geneticist who becomes the Lizard. Osborn is so close to death, he has to have an underling make veiled threats and allude to previous crimes. The special scene the end of IRON MAN worked because fans know who Nick Fury is and what his mentioning the Avengers Initiative was going to lead to. Shadow ghost Deep Throat? I got nothing. Speaking of the Lizard, maybe a scientist accidentally turning himself into a super-villain isn’t the best approach to rebooting a property when the best of the previous well-received movies were about exactly that. I know it’s a fairly common occurrence in comics, but there are many other Spider-Man villains who aren’t scientists that knew Peter from before they went insane.
One of my major gripes with this movie is how diluted Webb makes the importance of Ben Parker’s death. Ben is no longer Peter’s father figure, just his uncle who took him in. Ben doesn’t even get to have credit for teaching Peter that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Mainly becomes the line is nowhere in the movie (despite being a famous quote most non comics people don’t realize was created by Stan Lee when he wrote Spidey’s first appearance) and also because the reworked moral lesson is now Richard Parker’s life creed. Ben just relates it during an argument with Peter, minutes before he gets killed by a convenience store robber Peter doesn’t try to stop. Ben’s death and Peter’s culpability in it isn’t even the catalyst for Peter choosing to become a hero. Peter finds out almost immediately that the robber is the guy who killed Ben, but just goes out hunting down blonde small time crooks so he can beat down the guy who killed his uncle. It’s only when Captain Stacy points out that randomly attacking crooks who look alike seems like revenge that Peter realizes his mistake. A mistake Ben had already pointed out when Peter uses his power to embarrass the bully Flash Thompson. What once was a role reserved for one person has been unnecessarily divided among three: Ben, Richard, and Captain Stacy.
Also been done a disservice is Mary Parker, Peter’s mother who is apparently of little consequence to her son’s life. Despite losing both parent’s in a plane crash, only Peter’s relationship with his father is being mourned. When Richard and Mary have to leave Peter with Ben and May, Mary is shown in tears telling Ben and May what Peter likes. She has to be almost dragged away by Richard. This is a woman who clearly loved and cared for her boy yet even Ben says “I know it’s been difficult for you without your father.” If you’re going to bring up Peter’s parents as a secret component of Spider-Man, why is Mary Parker not important?
The movie also drops an appeal of Spider-Man many feel draws them to the character. Peter Parker was a shy, bullied nerd who gains this incredible power by a freak accident and it changes his life. In the movie, it kind of isn’t a freak accident. It plays out like Peter is destined to become Spider-Man. The spider whose bite gives Peter his power was bio-engineered using Richard Parker’s work. Peter is bitten while trying to gain clues about his father’s research instead of being one of many random students in a tour group. Even his status as a nerd is lessened. He gets slightly teased by Flash and takes a beating only when Peter stands up for another kid. With his old camera, multiple shirts and skateboard, he’s more of a hipster and since it’s set in New York, I don’t see how that makes him an outcast. Just making his parents absence so important further takes him away from that classic appeal. How many can relate to having their parents killed because of a scientific discovery that a dangerous industrialist needed to save his own life?
To sum up, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is a movie that does a fantastic job bringing Spider-Man to the screen, but goes way off track trying to make an old story new.
(One last thing: why the hell was Flash Thompson enrolled in Midtown Science High School?)