BIGBMH's Amazing Spider-man Review
Is this the change we never knew we needed or the reboot that never should have happened?
The Amazing Spider-man has faced quite a bit of opposition ever since it was announced that Spider-man 4 was being scrapped and the franchise was getting rebooted. Although Spider-man 3 was hated by many, fans had enough love for Raimi's first two movies to mostly forgive the mistakes of the third and support a continuation of the series in hopes that it would be a return to its former glory. The Spider-man 4 was moving forward with the original cast set to return, but things fell apart and the studio decided to hit the reset button. As more was revealed about this new direction for the franchise, fans grew skeptical. Peter Parker was going back to high school and we were going to see the origin told once again. Was Sony just rushing to make another Spider-man movie so they could hold onto the rights to the character? Could this reboot justify its existence or would it just turn out to be a pointless, uninspired rehash of what we've already seen? At long last, The Amazing Spider-man has been released. So did Sony make the right move?
Let's get started with the cast. Andrew Garfield gives a great performance in the movie's lead role. His portrayal of Peter Parker feels like a new variation of the familiar character. He's brilliant, but he's not really the classic nerd stereotype. The movie puts a focus on his abandonment issues that come from the loss of his parents as a child. As a result, Peter is a loner and an outcast with more of a rebellious streak than is usually associated with the character. Garfield's Spider-man feels like a purer adaptation of that side of the Peter's identity. This is finally the fun, wise-cracking Spider-man that we only got hints of in Raimi's trilogy. Andrew Garfield has stated on many occasions that he's been a fan of the character for most of his life and I can believe that. His ability to really capture the essence of Spider-man is a testament to the love he has for this character.
Emma Stone is enjoyable to watch as Gwen Stacy. She brings her usual witty charm to the character, who is written as more than just a helpless damsel in distress. Gwen has brains and spunk, making her feel like a good match for Peter. This might be minor spoiler, but I'm pleased to say that for the first time, we have a Spider-man movie with a climax that's not driven by the villain kidnapping the hero's love interest (seriously, they did it in every one of the last three movies).
Martin Sheen manages to convey the warmth associated with the character of Uncle Ben while adding some humor to the role and tough love to his relationship with Peter. Sally Field does a nice job as more youthful, yet still caring and protective Aunt May. I believe Aunt May was a little underused in the film, but I think they've laid the ground work to expand on her relationship with her Peter in the sequels. I've always found it interesting that Peter and Aunt May are both closer to Uncle Ben than they are to each other. After his death, these two people, who aren't even blood relatives, are the only real family each other has, which brings them much closer together.
Rhys Ifans succeeds in balancing the light and dark elements of Curt Connors. Throughout the character's history, Dr. Connors has pretty much always been a good person, afflicted by this condition that he struggles to control, somewhat like Bruce Banner. I think a lot of us fans had some concerns that this movie would depict Curt Connors as more of an evil, mad scientist type, but Ifans depicts a man with good intentions who desperately longs to make himself whole. There are definitely some elements Curt Connors has in common with Sam Raimi's versions of Norman Osborn and Otto Octavius, but I believe they've managed make Dr. Connors unique enough to do the character justice.
Some people have been pretty critical of the movie's story, but I think while not quite amazing, it was pretty strong. Everything fits together very well in a way that doesn't feel forced. This isn't like in Spider-man 3 where Sandman was retconned into Peter's origin story killer or Tim Burton's Batman which made the Joker the criminal who murdered Bruce Wayne's parents. Things aren't exactly like how they are in any of the comics, but the changes they have made help to give the film a sense of cohesion without feeling like a drastic departure. ( a little more on this in the spoiler section). This cohesion contributes to the movie's very natural flow. Peter's story progresses very gradually, giving the audience time to get to know this character before we're thrown into the full-on superhero action.
While this movie doesn't attempt to go dark and gritty, the world does have a more grounded feel. Probably the only real drawback to this very natural presentation is the dialog. It's definitely not bad and I'd say it's less cheesy then some of what was found in Raimi's movies. However, it lacks the fun and comedic flare of movies like Iron Man or The Avengers. By no means am I suggesting that this movie should have been written in the same style as The Avengers, but 8 years ago, how many of us would have guessed that an Avengers movie would be significantly funnier than a Spider-man movie? The movie has its funny moments and I'm very appreciative of the fact that Spider-man is now telling jokes, but I would challenge them to work on improving the overall quality of the comedy without sacrificing the drama as they move forward.
Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy's love story is given an adequate amount of attention without taking over the movie. Their relationship is also a source of conflict because of Gwen's father's feelings toward Spider-man. Captain Stacy views Spider-man as an out of control vigilante who needs to be stopped. Being with Gwen puts Peter right under the nose of the man who is gunning for him more than anyone else in the city. Gwen is somewhat torn between her loyalty to her father and her affection for Peter. It might have been interesting to play up both Gwen's internal struggle and Peter's attempt to gain Captain Stacy's respect and approval more throughout the film, but the presence of these elements helps this relationship to feel like a little more than an obligatory, cookie-cutter romance plot. It's also interesting that Peter chooses to reveal his secret to Gwen quite early on in the series. This is quite different from the last trilogy in which Peter guarded his secret very closely for quite some time, choosing to carry his burden alone.
For the most part the effects are great. Spider-man looks better than ever swinging around the city. However, the Lizard wasn't quite up to the standard of other blockbuster CGI characters such as the Hulk in The Avengers. There's an interesting contrast between the way most of the scenes involving Peter Parker's everyday life are presented and the very colorful somewhat stylized look that sets off certain scenes like the bridge rescue and the final rooftop battle. The fight scenes aren't mind-blowing, but Spider-man moves the way he should, making him fun to watch in action.
(SPOILERS from this point on)
Now, I feel like my review wouldn't be complete if I didn't answer the question that pretty much every Spider-man fan has an opinion on: was it a good decision to do the origin again?
I've been against that decision ever since I found out that they were going this route, and I must say that as much as I enjoyed the movie, it wasn't able to change my mind. As I watched the movie, I enjoyed the new tone and feel that Marc Webb brought to the world of Spider-man and I was impressed at how different from Sam Raimi's first Spider-man movie they were able to make it. However, this wasn't them giving us the best new Spider-man story they could. This was them doing their best to give us a story that felt new after unnecessarily tying one arm behind their back by deciding to retread plot elements that audiences saw only 10 years ago.
The story of the Curt Connors, Peter's relationship with Gwen, the legacy of Richard Parker and the overarching, mysterious subplot involving Norman Osborn are all interesting new things that didn't really need to be tied to the story of Peter becoming Spider-man. Movies like Tim Burton's Batman and The Incredible Hulk prove that it's possible to start off a franchise without putting the hero's origin story at the center of the first movie's plot. If you want a Spider-man franchise with longevity, it makes sense to start with a teenage Peter Parker that we can see grow throughout the series. For this reboot, I would have taken the same approach as the animated series, The Spectacular Spider-man, which begins when Peter has been Spider-man for a few months, but is still in the process of learning how to be a superhero. We've seen a movie with Peter feeling powerless at school. We've seen him excitedly exploring his new powers. We've seen Uncle Ben die after Peter lets the burglar go. I could go on, but you get the point. By choosing to adapt the same story for part of this movie's plot, they held a significant portion of the movie down in "been there, done that" territory. I can almost guarantee that if Sam Raimi's Spider-man never existed, The Amazing Spider-man would have significantly better critical reception, but the reality of the situation is that context matters. You can't expect the story of a film to have as much impact as it should when a large percentage of the audience has seen it brought to life before.
I believe the makers of The Amazing Spider-man foresaw this problem and sought to address it by making certain changes with the specific goal of differentiating the movie from Sam Raimi's. In some ways, this helped the movie to feel like something new, but in other ways it held the movie back from being the best possible version of the Spider-man origin story. The one thing that sticks out the most to me is the way the movie handled Uncle Ben's killer. Peter wasn't in a position from which he clearly could have stopped the man from robbing the store with ease which takes away some of the strength of the lesson about choices and responsibility. The movie also sacrificed the powerful and iconic moment of Peter confronting the killer and realizing that he had the power to stop this man, but chose not to, in effect making him directly responsible for his uncle's death.
Instead the Amazing Spider-man makes the killer into the one that got away, a plot devise that leads Peter to start hunting down criminals that match the man's description before realizing that Spider-man should serve a greater purpose. At first this might seem like a simple creative decision that ultimately has the same result as the classic version, but upon further examination this change has some significant ramifications. In Sam Raimi's Spider-man movie and most retellings of Amazing Fantasy #15, the confrontation between Peter and the burglar marks the shift from Peter looking for something external on which to target his anger to Peter directing the blame inward and feeling the guilt that he never fully lets go of. This guilt is the force that drives Peter by serving as an emotional scar the reminds him of what happened when he didn't live up to his responsibility to do the right thing. The Amazing Spider-man implies that Peter may realize that the convenient store burglar is the man who killed Uncle Ben, but there's never a definitive shift from outward anger to guilt.
This article isn't about comparing The Amazing Spider-man to the original Spider-man movie just for the sake of pitting them against each other. The point I'm trying to make is that if you watch both films, you'll realize that both have their strengths and that if The Amazing Spider-man wasn't in a position where it was pretty much necessary to throw out some of the great elements of the original, it could have been a near-perfect retelling of the Spider-man origin. To sum up my criticism of this particular aspect of the movie, The Amazing Spider-man is held back by two conflicting goals: telling the origin story and making a fresh new movie. They weren't able to tell the origin to its full potential due to the necessity of discarding some of the things that Sam Raimi's movie did very well only 10 years ago. They weren't able to make a movie that felt completely new because in choosing to retell the origin, they locked themselves into retracing some of the obligatory plot elements done by the earlier movie.
I don't want to give the wrong impression by ending this review on such a critical note. I really did enjoy the Amazing Spider-man and I think this is the beginning of a very promising franchise that will probably give us what fans will unanimously consider the greatest Spider-man movie ever made. However, The Amazing Spider-man isn't quite good enough for me to give it that distinction without feeling a great deal of uncertainty. While retelling Spider-man's origin story when it was done so recently probably held this movie back from reaching its full potential, The Amazing Spider-man does a solid job of executing its chosen story.
Check out the video version of this review here! Mostly the same content, but more pretty pictures, and let's be honest. Us comic book fans love our pretty pictures!
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