Looks like Andrew Garfield is going to have some new duds for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the next chapter of the ongoing adventures of our favourite webslinger.
I really, really liked last year’s reboot of the Spider-Man story The Amazing Spider-Man.
This is a special guest review from long-time friend of Xavierpop and uber-comic nerd Jon Crowley. Enjoy.
When I mentioned to a few coworkers that I was seeing Marc Webb‘s The Amazing Spider-Man starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary and Rhys Ifan, the first thing I ending up having to do was spend twenty minutes explaining the comics-history behind every scene that appeared in the trailer. Apparently there are still a lot of folks that don’t know that Gwen Stacy was a very big deal in Spidey’s history, or have a very strong opinion about whether or not web shooters should be mechanical or a mutation.
(If you haven’t figured out yet, I’m going to be giving you the comic geek’s take on the film, rather than just a strict review).
Spider-Man has possibly the greatest back-story in the Marvel universe, for one simple reason – his powers and how he gets them is the least of it. Going into filming this reboot, it is paramount that whomever is the director understand that the most important thing about iconic comic characters is that they need to be completely defined by their origin story. Thankfully Webb not only grasps this, he successfully executes it on the big screen.
The story of Spider-Man is about, unsurprisingly, responsibility. The idea that every person owes a debt to society, simply by being a part of it, that they can only repay by actively trying to make the world a better place. In contrast to the other great comic origin based on the loss of caregivers, Bruce Wayne / Batman is motivated by both justice and vengeance whereas Peter Parker outgrows vengeance pretty early on (about 40 minutes into the film) and instead turns from guilt to altruism. Bruce Wayne is Batman because he wants to bring justice to a world that doesn’t have enough of it. Peter Parker is Spider-Man because he wants to help people, in a way that would have made his Uncle Ben proud.
Back to the film, Peter Parker (Garfield) is a teenage kid trying to figure out who his parents were before they died. Having lived with his Aunt May (Field) and Uncle Ben (Sheen) since he was small, he’s a good kid who isn’t popular, but isn’t an outcast. His quest for answers takes him to massive conglomerate OsCorp, searching for Dr. Curtis Connors (Ifans), his father’s old research partner. Sneaking in to the OsCorp lab environment, Peter stumbles upon and ends up chasing a detail he recalls from his father’s notes. This pursuit, through a series of obstacles, results in Peter receiving the iconic spider bite.
What follows is the telling of the story that is now of legend : fantastic powers, life changing tragedy, vigilantism, perspective, heroism, loss and resilience. I’m not going to tell you the whole story, but I am going to focus on two key aspects of the Peter Parker character which were better dealt with in The Amazing Spider-Man than I think have been in any adaptation (especially Raimi’s). The result being the creation of a more nuanced and complex main character.
The death of Uncle Ben is the single most important thing in Spider-Man’s history. Every action, every decision, is to an extent an attempt to undo what happened that day. While previous adaptations have made a point of Peter Parker slowly slipping into a set of selfish behavior that led to him losing his father figure, Webb takes a different approach. Garfield’s Peter makes a choice about a situation and experiences the extreme consequences of that decision. There’s no absurdity or massive build up here. This laser focus on demonstrating the importance of doing the right thing, rather than simply not doing the wrong thing, gives the character’s guilt a much more believable edge.
This isn’t a scene about Peter Parker becoming a hero; it’s a scene about Peter Parker becoming an adult. It is a slight and subtle difference, however it results in a greater hero for the audience to connect to. While we haven’t all become a super-strong spider-person, we have all realized at one point that being an adult means taking responsibility for what our actions lead to.
The second thing worth mentioning, because it was such a point of contention in the Raimi films, is the web-shooters. While the previous Spider-Man trilogy decided they complicated the story too much, and made webs an organic part of Peter’s powers, Webb’s take perfectly splits the difference between having the web being created from science while illustrating how much of a brilliant kid Peter Parker is. Having Peter create the mechanism, but ‘borrow’ the incredibly valuable spider silk webbing from OsCorp, you get an answer that doesn’t break the fourth wall, and an added bonus of watching a suddenly powerful teenage boy bend the truth when he claims he ‘invented it himself’. This tweak to the story again gave us a more relatable teen, while still demonstrating the intellect that made Peter Parker a meaningful character out of the costume, as well.
What these two elements do is anchor a re-focus and re-humanization of the Peter Parker character. This allows us to really find out who Spider-Man is while giving the opportunity to those being introduced to the character for the first time a true glimpse why he is not only the most important of the Marvel Universe superheroes, but also the most beloved.
In contrast with the most famous alter-ego in comics, Clark Kent, Peter Parker isn’t a diminutive part of Spider-Man. He’s a genius teen who probably would’ve been a much more traditional success if he hadn’t ended up with a larger set of responsibilities that drove him to another path – this is the quintessential Marvel story, in many ways, and you can see elements of it with Tony Stark/Iron Man or Bruce Banner/The Hulk, the idea that a great mind and an impossible circumstance is what builds a hero, not necessarily a pile of money, or being born able to fly.
By removing elements of the story that got less relevant over the last 50 years, and creating a Peter Parker that comes off as more of a believable teenager than a perfect moral specimen, the latest reboot of the Spider-Man franchise is a better movie, and a better depiction of the character, than any of Sam Raimi’s three massively successful outings, and many of the recent comic releases.
This is certainly shaping up to be a great year for summer movies – at least financially. Just when you thought Marvel characters had shown all of their cards, a reboot of their most successful film adaptation (Pre-Avengers) is coming to the big screen before The Dark Knight Rises is finally released.
I’m aware that many were groaning from the outset with this remake. It’s only been 10 years since the last time this origin story was told and only 5 years since that film trilogy concluded. Oh, but what a difference a few years can make.
Sam Raimi’s iteration of the character felt out of time in some ways. The choices in script and direction were a callback to the Spider-Man of the 1960s – likely the Spider-Man Raimi grew up reading – but those films left much to be desired and have not aged gracefully. This time the relatively inexperienced director that is best known for his breakout hit 500 Days of Summer (as well as a long resume of music videos), Marc Webb, is given the opportunity (and task) of make the franchise relevant and fresh, once again. The result is a Spider-Man story that is both more modern and truer to the spirit of the character.
It’s almost a disservice to the filmmakers that the origin story of Spider-Man is so iconic because audiences expect the familiar beats. Fortunately, this film does a good job at making the well-known story fresh again by adding interesting cinematography and elements of the story that appear later in the canon, but certainly add to the allure and mystery of the Parker family. The origin story is told with better economy, is more visually appealing and sets itself up for a larger payoff that will, no doubt, pay dividends in future Spider-man films.
But, beyond the basic origin story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), the film does a few things that separate itself from the other trilogy of films and thus, creating a more complex story. This story introduces Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) to the Spider-man movie universe first, which is an interesting choice because Mary Jane Watson is so well-known, however, purists will be quick to remind you that Gwen was actually, in fact, Peter Parker’s original love interest. This outgoing blonde’s father is the chief of police (Dennis Leary) that, in this film version, has a vendetta against Spider-man.
These things add layers of complexity to the iconic theme “with great power comes great responsibility.” While the Spider-Man story will always be about this theme, there is more to this iteration of the character. Peter is a smart kid, but he’s not as organized or as responsible as other versions of the character – he’s more realistic and relatable – more resourceful than genius, perhaps. All the better when it comes to the predicaments he finds himself in, especially with the physically superior villain, The Lizard.
While Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) tries to invent a biological fountain of youth, he is forced to test the product on himself and the results are devastating to himself and to New York City. The resulting action sequences play out with exhilarating set pieces that need to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated.
In terms of cinematography, the compositions are more unique and telling, the camera is more kinetic and the color palette is generally darker to give a more realistic feel to the story. There is simply a wider variety of cinematic brilliance in this film than in the previous Spider-Man films. The CGI is leaps and bounds above those other Spider-man films. It seems time has improved this aspect of the films the most, as it’s far more believable and far more satisfying to see this new Spider-Man sling through the streets and rooftops.
This is not to say that The Amazing Spider-Man is without its cheesiness. Sure, the creative team has successfully created a believable Spider-Man but, some of the audience members will groan “oh, brother” a handful of times throughout the film. I suppose it’s unavoidable when creating a somewhat light-hearted superhero. But, these can all be forgiven when looking at the larger picture of the film.
What more can be said about The Amazing Spider-Man? This is a modern revamp of a Spider-Man movie that was slightly behind. This is the Spider-Man movie that should have been made in the first place (Here’s to hoping Garfield won’t be doing any dance moves to humiliate Gwen Stacy in a jazz bar.)
This movie pays fan services in subtle ways (web-slingers over spinnerets!) and rewards audiences for their patience: another great Marvel superhero film.
The Amazing Spider-Man is everything a great superhero movie can be, and one of the best origin stories rendered to film since Superman in 1978, when superheroes got sexy again at the movies. Only 5 years after the conclusion of Sam Raimi‘s Spidey trilogy, the series gets a reboot from director Marc Webb and he transcends the action-adventure genre just as he did with romantic dramas with the wonderful 500 Days of Summer.
Spider-Man is back, he’s got ‘tude and his movie is filled with rich characters, perceptive human moments, real romance, excellent adventure and some of the best displays of special effects I can remember seeing at the movies.
I go into every movie hoping it’ll be a good one, but as I sat there in the packed house before the preview screening started, I could hear many of my inner thoughts being voiced aloud by the movie lovers seated around me. After three Spidey pics in the last decade, where can the series possibly go from there? Have our appetites for Spider-Man been satiated as a result? Is this new series even necessary?
Arriving so soon after the Sam Raimi three, those questions are unavoidable, our collective sense of hope tempered this time with undercurrents of concern and subtle prejudice.
And then the lights go down and the tinted coating of cynicism covering the audience melts away as The Amazing Spider-Man (TASM) equals everything that is great about the previous set, and then improves upon those things. It starts with the patience that Webb has for fleshing out characters who we become emotionally invested in. And it helps when the leads so uncannily embody their roles that we don’t think of them as actors in a Hollywood production.
In a brief prologue, we see Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) as a boy being whisked away to live with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) after his father, Dr. Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) is embroiled in secretive scientific work that sees him and his wife having to go on the run. Flash-forward to Peter Parker as a senior in high school. He’s a social outcast, science nerd and skater boy, and he’s not afraid to stand up to the chiseled school bully even if he does get his clock cleaned every time. That earns him the sympathy and respect of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) the girl in class he likes the best but is too afraid to approach.
At home, Uncle Ben and Aunt May have brought Peter up as their own and issues involving parental abandonment surface in him once more after one of his father’s old briefcases is salvaged from a basement flood. It reveals a photograph of Peter’s father as well as another man, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), who we learn were partners in the study of cross-species DNA. Later, in a hidden compartment of the briefcase, Peter discovers a complicated set of scientific equations that fuel his urgency to find Dr. Connors.
The set-up most familiar to audiences is that Peter gets bitten by a radio-active spider while on a class trip, but in TASM the set-piece is more deftly handled as Peter makes his way to the magnificent OsCorp Tower (with Norman Osborn unseen as its proprietor) on his own terms and not through a class trip. He fakes his way in as a newly hired intern where he and Gwen meet-cute as Peter discovers that she works there. The sequence involving Peter and the spiders is tense, claustrophobic and wonderfully cinematic and we get the added bonus of seeing Gwen and Peter as intellectual rivals in a subtle duel that sees Gwen pulling the plug on whatever it was that Peter was doing in the building in the first place.
Undeterred, Peter makes his way to Dr. Connors’ house where the doc is surprised to find that Peter is as much a genius (or so he thinks) as his father was. Impressed with the boy, Connors invites Peter to hang with him at OsCorp after school where Peter’s formula helps crack a difficult DNA code that could eventually allow human cells, crossed with animals, to grow limbs for the limbless such as Connors, whose right arm stops at his elbow.
Enough with plot details. TASM is a spectacular achievement in part because it owes a lot to how Richard Donner handled the first Superman, taking the time to involve us in rich human drama for the first half before it evolves into a first-rate action-adventure flick in the second half.
Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) and Emma Stone (Easy A, The Help) recall the wonderful chemistry shared between Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. The flaw in Sam Raimi’s trilogy was that it made Peter Parker socially retarded to the point that he was impotent. In this story, the young couple is given moments that make them seem like real, hormonal teenagers entering adulthood. Consider that scene Peter and Gwen share in the school hallway as they begin their tentative flirtation after Uncle Ben has had to pick Peter up from detention for seeking vengeance on the school bully. “He has you on his computer”, Ben says in order to embarrass Peter in front of the girl. “Hi, I’m Peter’s parole officer!”, he says as he slips off to let Peter and Gwen stew in their teenage awkwardness.
What a perfect scene.
In the Sam Raimi three, the peripheral characters were an obstacle that we had to overcome in order to get to the action sequences. In TASM, however, we actually enjoy our time with Sally Field and especially Martin Sheen, who lends the movie gravitas in the first half in how he’s used as a moral compass. Those two, along with Denis Leary as Gwen’s father Captain Stacy are as American as apple pie and ice cream and they’re given full screen time and real humanity.
Rhys Ifans is terrific here as an atypical villain. As Dr. Connors, we see him as a good man who’s urgency for scientific discovery evolves into a zealotry that gets the best of him.
And then there are those special effects. What a magnificent achievement. At times in the Raimi series, Spidey looked too computery. When he whipped around the skies of New York he appeared more like Mighty Mouse than Spider-Man. Amazing, what 10 years will do in terms of CGI development. The effects are put to such good use here that it all looks so seamless and real. The sequence showing the changes in Peter are funny and awesome, and when he finally dawns the tight-fitting leotard and sling-shots through the air, we’re convinced that’s Andrew Garfield in that suit, a real human with weight and dimension flinging around downtown Manhattan.
The action sequences are vivid and alive because they are borne out of real human moments of conflict. The Williamsburg Bridge set-piece in Brooklyn with Spidey trying to save a youngster from a dangling mini-van had my heart racing.
The whole breakthrough with Spider-Man was that creator Stan Lee (in what is his best cameo ever?) gave us a hero unlike the godly figures who came before. Peter Parker is awkward and infallible, a character audiences could relate to on a pure humanistic level and in The Amazing Spider-Man, what we have here is a movie generous in feeling that evokes the humanity of its characters about as well as any superhero movie you’ll see.
In one word. Amazing.
The Amazing Spider-Man **** (out of 4)