The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is swinging into Australian theaters today, so here’s an early review of The Amazing Spider-Man! (We’re saving the Tobey McGuire Spidey films for the letter “S,” since they’re a separate franchise.)
I’ll admit it, when I heard that the Spider-Man franchise was being rebooted a mere four years after the Sam Raimi/Tobey McGuire trilogy concluded I performed a massive eye roll. This was clearly cash grabbing at its finest, and/or a ploy to insure the rights to Spidey did not revert back to Marvel. Then I watched The Amazing Spider-Man. No offense to Tobey McGuire, but you are no longer Spider-Man.
Not that McGuire’s performance as our friendly neighborhood geek-turned-superhero wasn’t good, I just feel that Andrew Garfield’s is more in line with today’s culture. Sure, the Peter Parker of the original comics was a stereotypical nerd, as is McGuire’s portrayal, but this stereotype has lost a lot of the stigma that once came with it. Nerds are kind of cool now. Big glasses and an interest in STEM fields don’t necessarily resign a kid to being relentlessly picked on in school as it once did. McGuire’s Parker was brought to screen just at the cusp of the hipster appropriation of thick rimmed glasses. His troubles at school resonated with someone like me, who was picked on at school simply for being smart, but I think this take on the character is becoming less relevant.
Enter director Marc Webb (how apropos is that last name?) and a new take on Peter Parker. This Parker, portrayed to perfection by Andrew Garfield, is still interested in science and wears thick rimmed glasses, but he’s not the bullied nerd that the character once was. He’s an outsider by choice. He’s content to photograph high school from the sidelines, no doubt counting down the days until graduation. The only reason he gets on the school bully’s radar is because he stands up to him for bullying other students. Parker’s defining characteristic this time around is that he is an orphan searching for his own identity, not that he’s terminally uncool in his daily life.
My only real complaint about this movie is that the villain is a bit weak. I was really excited to see the Dr. Curt Conners/Lizard brought to the screen. I liked the idea of Spidey fighting his own mentor rather than his friend’s dad/best friend/random stranger. The concept is reminiscent of Doctor Octopus storyline in Spider-Man 2, which is one of my favorite comic book movies. But unfortunately the Lizard himself is underwhelming in the looks department, and his ultimate evil plan is a little blah. I did love the backstory for Dr. Conners and how it relates to the death of Parker’s parents, it’s just a shame his villainous persona wasn’t given a better evil plan.
The biggest complaint about this superhero reboot was that it came so soon after the last Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man 3. These complaints are not wrong, it doesn’t mean that this new interpretation of Spidey can’t still be really good. I usually try not too compare reboots with their original series, but because this reboot was made such a short time after the last Raimi film, it’s really hard not to compare them to each other. This updated version is superior to Raimi’s movies in a lot of ways and has somehow managed to make a story that had been told onscreen less than a decade earlier still feel fresh.
The story has been told before, but differently. Parker is an unpopular teenager who has lived with his aunt (Sally Field) and uncle (Martin Sheen) since his scientist parents disappeared when he was a child. Parker is investigating his father’s research at a company called Oscorp when he is bitten by a genetically engineered spider and he begins to develop spider like abilities. When his uncle Ben is killed during a mugging, he uses these powers to hunt down the killer, becoming Spider-Man. He must now balance his new superhero life with that of a high school student and also deal with his developing relationship with resident hottie, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).
I really like Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker. I feel like he better suits the character than Tobey Maguire. He is picked on at school, but still a very sarcastic teenager. One of Spider-Man’s trademarks is his brash nature and witty comebacks, and Garfield portrays this part of Peter better than Tobey Maguire ever did. I also enjoyed the way they added a subplot about Peter’s parents. In Raimi’s films, his parents’ disappearance is largely ignored. I really liked the idea that they disappeared for a reason, and it indirectly leads to Parker becoming a superhero. I also loved the introduction of Spidey’s webslingers. In the comics Parker invents his webbing devices, it is not manufactured naturally as it is in Tobey Maguire’s Spidey films. It was really cool to see the inventing process and also how his costume was designed. This whole sequence is underdeveloped in Raimi’s films, and it was cool to see how he got the costume. The best thing about this film though, is the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. They play the young lovers really well and there is such a spark whenever they are onscreen together.
Perhaps the only way this film does not live up to the original series is the villains. The strength of the Raimi Spider-Man films was the way he portrayed Spidey’s villains. Wilem Dafoe as Green Goblin and Alfred Molina as Dr Octopus were great villains, and even Thomas Haden Church as Sandman in the terrible Spider-Man 3 had an intriguing backstory. Rhys Ifans as Curt Connors/The Lizard is not as enthralling as those villains. I didn’t like the look of the Lizard, he looked like a large green man, I’d have preferred it if they had kept the large snout that he has had in the comics. His story was interesting though. He is an amputee that uses lizard DNA to attempt to grow back his missing limb. Unfortunately, one of the side effects is that he turns into a giant green lizard. You can identify with his plight and do have some sympathy for the character.
This film is a good addition to the comic book movie genre. I enjoyed this film more than the recently made Raimi films. Garfield is a superior Peter Parker and has much better chemistry with his leading lady. The villains could be better, but they are not bad enough to ruin this solid reboot of your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.