12 Rounds: The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Spider-Man Trilogy
One new movie better than all the old ones? Let's examine!
Better than the old movies. That seems to be the overwhelming response to Marc Webb's The Amazing Spiderman. It's okay to like the movie, I thought it was fine, too- but the current continued trend of dogging on old movies just because something new has arrived is started to get out of control. To say people are overstating ASM as the "better" Spider-Man iteration is an understatement. I wanted to wait for more movies before making the comparisons, but my hand has been forced, and so I bring back 12 Rounds!
Last time, it was Nolan's two movies against Burton's. This time, since the consensus seems to be The Amazing Spider-Man is better than the others, it will be Webb's ONE movie against Raimi's THREE. Let's put this outrageous claim to the test!
As usual, one point is awarded for each round, with 12 total. However this time, overall we’ll be looking at 3 sections, each with sub-categories: Origins, The Superhero, and Personal Life. These are the most definitive aspects of Spider-Man to me. We’ll be strictly looking at comic accuracy, so “filmic’ material like cinematography, fight/action scenes, and even music (Elfman vs Horner?) won’t count. Unless we get a draw, in which case, these will be considered tie-breaking bonus categories. Maybe.
Oh, It's on! and btw, SPOILERS!!!
PART I, Origins
ROUND 1: Raised by Uncle Ben and Aunt May.
The genesis of Spider-man’s tale comes from an orphaned young Peter Parker left to the care of his eldrly aunt and uncle. There is a reason they are supposed to be old enough to be his grandparents, and that’s because Peter feels he has to take care of them. Its a tender relationship that is supposed to evoke how one feels about their grandparents. It’s why he strives to be a perfect student in school. This doesn’t quite come across in ASM, as Ben and May are aged down significantly, and seem very capable and self-dependent. Thankfully, this doesn’t really hurt the movie, but for accuracy, the first point goes to Raimi.
ROUND 2: Bitten by the radioactive Spider.
It’s all in the details. It’s pretty specific that Peter is bitten on the hand, and it’s been in every iteration of the origin, so I don’t know why they didn’t keep that. In Amazing, Parker stumbles upon some hard-working arachnids. (What were they doing anyway? It was like a spider sweat shop, lol) when he’s chomped on the neck. What does it matter, right? A bite’s a bite. Well it’s change for change’s sake and that’s a personal pet peeve of mine. Point to Raimi.
ROUND 3: Donning the costume and stardom.
One of the most believable and down-to-earth things about Spider-Man is that he was originally conceived to make a quick buck. Peter does the most realistic thing anyone would do once they got superpowers- he’d try to make some money! This conceit is a highlight of Raimi’s movies, as he brainstorms ideas and designs, and eventually makes his way into a wrestling ring, a crazy and natural fit for a concept like a “spider-man!” All of that? Omitted from ASM. Peter becomes Spiderman almost instantly after getting his powers, and we don't see the steps that get him there. Points obviously to Raimi.
ROUND 4: Death of Uncle Ben.
Now this varies quite a bit in both versions, but what they have in common is an abridged version that conveniently puts all the characters in the same place for necessity of moving the plot along. In fact, from the comics, Ben is killed at home when a burglar tries to rob the house. Aunt May feels guilty because she argued with Ben not long before the events. In the films, Peter gets to argue with Ben, but the biggest difference is in Raimi’s movie Ben bestows the knowledge of “with great power comes great responsibility” to Peter. Of course, Pete later comes to this understands the epiphany after he confronts Ben’s killer and the man dies.
Since they decided to save that for the sequel of Amazing Spiderman, Peter’s arc never completes in the film. Setting up for sequels is no excuse to not resolve narrative threads in the story you’re telling. It also doesn't help that Ben's death was clumsily handled.Points to Raimi.
PART II, THE SPIDER-MAN
ROUND 5: The Suit.
There was a hell of a hoopla about the outfit change, but honestly, I never understood the uproar. Style flourishes with the gloves and boots, and a different (more bad ass) Spider design don’t change what effectively looks like the same damn thing onscreen. What I did notice was how the suit was used. It is clear this is a more tangible Spider-Man, and Garfield himself spends a great deal of time in the actual suit- a complaint I always had with Maguire, who might have only been in there maybe 20% of the time. The drawback however, is that Andrew does look scrawny in the costume- more like one of us geeks cosplaying at comic con. It is noticeably obvious when they use CG to ‘fill him out’ during some of the action. Secondly, people applaud Garfield for being a Spider-Man that bleeds and bruises, but Maguire got his fair share of battle damage throughout all 3 movies too. This decision is a draw
ROUND 6: Powers and Abilities.
Abilities are basically the same. Wall-crawling and web-slinging are used effectively in both movies, with some creative touches, including playing a bit with visual spider motifs. His increased strength is also notable. The “proportionate strength of a spider” might be taken more to heart in Amazing Spiderman, as I don’t think this version of Spider-Man seems strong enough to stop a speeding train, but the point still comes across. And I liked the discovery of powers in both films. Particularly spider-sense, though I think Raimi gets a little more visual mileage out of the effect. It’s a bit more inconsistent in Amazing; There’s a particular scene in the sewers when The Lizard gets the jump on Spiderman and I wondered why his sense didn’t alert him then- since he was being so “in tune” to his surroundings.
But this all comes down to one specific difference. In ASM, Parker develops the web shooters. Yes this is a big deal. Remember the details? It goes both ways. Shooting webs was never supposed to be one of his powers. This subtle touch goes a long way to continue to highlight Peter’s scientific know-how. Mechanical web shooters might have just been lip service, since running out of webbing never becomes a plot issue (maybe in the sequel?) But at least now it will make sense when it does happen. And it doesn’t look like some organic spunk on his wrists. Webb wins.
ROUND 7: NEW YORK/CITY.
With Batman, he faces a never-ending war on crime, while choosing never to become like the killers he battles. Superman bears the burden of being looked to to protect the entire planet. One could argue the “great power/responsibility” slogan applies even more to him than old Web-Head. But the entire plight of Spider-Man as a whole is two-fold: unlike those other superheroes, he is a hero who actively has to juggle his dual lives, while also being misunderstood and persecuted by the very public that he's trying to protect. Raimi nails this. It is the essence of Spider-Man and it doesn’t quite come across in ASM. Peter never really has to deal with the stress of a secret identity. Outside of one instance, it’s not really having a negative impact on his day-to-day.
There is some vigilantism in the movie with Cpt. Stacy wanting to bring him in, but this subplot never really gets rolling because everything is more focused on The Lizard. And the absence of J. Jonah Jameson leave’s Spidey’s image in the city basically positive. There isn’t a sense of public menace with the people. Only the police captain. This is where it is clear to me Raimi simply has a better understanding of what makes Spider-Man work. From being late to important events (Mary Jane’s show, Thanksgiving, etc) to a conflict of interest at work, this is the heartbeat of the property; This is the character that acknowledges realistically, that being a superhero is a pain in the ass. Raimi wins.
ROUND 8: Villains.
This one probably won’t be fair, but let’s face it- people are declaring this single movie better than the whole of Raimi’s 3 films, so if that’s where we want to go, then we have to put Lizard up against all the badguys we’ve seen from the trilogy. A commonality with some of Spiderman’s rogues is their role of mentor before they turn into monsters/villains. This tends to make things personal for Peter as he battles them, and what’s more personal that fighting a man that is your only connection to your late father? While scenes with Peter and Dr. Connors are pretty great, the scenes with Spiderman vs Lizard are decidedly less so. Even people who like the movie confess the CGI-fest between these two at the end is probably the weakest aspect. Here, Lizard is something of a chatty terrorist, and they straight up rip-off the schizo-duality used in Spider-Man 1 with the Green Goblin.
Comparatively, even to Spider-Man 3, He’s not as sympathetic as Sandman, and not as dangerous as Venom, and what is with all the little lizards running around?
There needed to be more of a sense of Dr Connors coping with the freak he had become. Once he turns into the Lizard, he accepts it immediately, and begins plotting to use gas on the city (Didn’t we see this in Batman Begins?) to make others exactly like him for no reason. Even if it is from the comics, the motivation comes out of nowhere.
But villains has been where Raimi has had trouble, too. I hated the look of Green Goblin, retconning Sandman to kill Uncle Ben is a fail, and Venom was miscast and underused. All he really has is Otto Octavius. Webb would take this category, but Dr. Octopus > The Lizard, so Raimi barely gets by here.
PART III, Personal Life
ROUND 9: Household Responsibilities.
Because of the fragility of her age, Peter Parker’s top priority is taking care of Aunt May. Often her troubles stemmed from falling behind on bills, and Pete would do whatever he could to pitch in. This isn’t really shown in ASM, with the extent of May’s helplessness being that she had to walk home from work. Outside from that, she has NOTHING to do in this movie. Raimi’s films were always good about showing Peter giving up a hard-earned check to help with household debts. It should also be noted May had pretty strong opinions about Spider-Man, and this regularly gave Peter conflicted feelings when he came home. None of this is in ASM. Point Winner: Raimi!
ROUND 10: Taunted by peers.
A fundamental aspect of Peter’s personal life is how he’s treated at school. Which is to say he was taunted by his peers. This is one of the first aspects that comes across well in both movies. There is no shortage of bullying from star athlete Flash Thompson. Where Amazing finally gets an advantage is the establishment that Peter and Flash have known each other since they were kids. Also done well is Flash’s condolences when Ben dies and his Spidey enthusiasm by the end of the movie. This implies that he isn’t just a one-dimensional stereotype, but a person with more to him. I did miss Harry Osborne because it’s weird to see Peter without his best friend, but this is something they are saving for the sequel that is actually a good idea. Points to Webb.
ROUND 11: Love Interests.
One of the great things about Spider-Man compared to other heroes are the many women that have come through his life. But it basically comes down to two: Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy. Thusly, this argument boils down to Kirsten Dunst vs. Emma Stone. I think Raimi made two-times the mistake in his movies by setting up Mary Jane right off the bat, and casting Kirsten Dunst in the role. He’s stated he thinks she is beautiful enough to fit the role, but I think most would agree, by traditional standards, she was never hot enough to be MJ. Put on top of that, an actress who seemed to be increasingly disinterested as the films went on, and you have the recipe for a really bad relationship with the fans you make these movies for. And I won’t even get started on all the rescues!
The great thing about Emma Stone is she could have just as easily played Mary Jane Watson (she’s known to most viewers for her red hair, though she is naturally blonde). Stone brought a warmth to Gwen Stacy, though, and the chemistry between her and Garfield is Amazing Spiderman’s biggest strength. Gwen is brainy, but assured, and actually useful in the 3rd act! She’s the cool every-girl that appeals to most of the target audience. On top of that, Raimi brought in a Gwen Stacy of his own in Bryce Dallas Howard (A choice I couldn’t stand- I don’t like her creepy eyes) and still failed to do anything significant with her.
If I can give Sam credit anywhere, it’s that he offered a few more ladies to think about in Betty Brandt (Elizabeth Banks) and the mousey daughter of Parker’s landlord in Spider-Man 2. Even those two had more of a spark than Pete and MJ! The challenge in future movies will be Webb topping Gwen with his version of Mary Jane. But so far, yes, this relationship is better than the whole of the previous trilogy. Webb wins this one.
ROUND 12: Peter Parker.
The personalities of the two film Peter Parkers is probably the greatest difference between the two movies. First, just looking at the traditional core of the character, Peter Parker is marked with a slight inferiority complex, and a fear of women. He has an identity problem, and is racked with what psychologists would call 'Oedipal guilt.' Before his powers, he had considerably less than average strength, was uncoordinated and clumsy, had no athletic ability, poor eyesight, and a fear of heights- even getting a book from the top shelf gave him severe vertigo. Because of his overall awkwardness and status as an outcast, Peter was also characterized as bit of a day-dreamer, often wishing he was someone else or could be someplace else. This pretty much sounds like what Tobey Maguire played to a T.
People are waxing poetic about Andrew Garfield being the better Peter Parker, but clearly Tobey was the more convincing geek. Garfield, skateboards, showcasing early athletic prowess. He’s more confrontational, arguing a lot with adults, and straight out confronts bullies. By normal standards he’s even a good-looking guy. He’s basically kind of a cool guy- not a Peter Parker I’m familiar with at all. But perhaps if people keep saying this version is more like the Ultimate Spider-Man Parker, they will convince themselves eventually. Arguments usually lay on Maguire’s “emo” turn in Spiderman 3 as the major proof that he sucks, but in ASM, Garfield runs around in his hoodie, and after Ben dies, instead of showing guilt or acknowledging that this all might be his fault, he shuts everyone out and wraps himself up in a vengeance quest (which, again, isn’t resolved).
It’s a tricky case to argue, but this nuance is the difference in lamenting “Why me?” and whining “Poor me”. By definition, this is more emo than some dumb hairstyle in Spidey 3!
Something everyone wanted to see that is a big characteristic of Peter Parker, are the sarcastic quips he makes as Spiderman. Once he dons the costume, Peter can use his crime fighting as an outlet to basically be a smart-ass, since he has to hold his tongue during his normal daily life. An ‘edgier’ Parker leads you to believe this transformation, so I’ll give Webb credit here. It’s always hard to imagine Maguire being tough (even when we see it, lol). Now, personally, Spider-Man’s long-awaited jokey side wasn’t even funny for me, and actually kind of made me cringe, but props for trying.
But while people are clamoring for more jokes, many forget another huge aspect of Spider-Man: The Inner monologue. People underestimate how affective this is in understanding what Peter feels. Most versions of Spiderman I’ve seen and read, from the 90s cartoon and Spectacular Spiderman, to many comics, has had this. This introspective narration is unique to Spidey compared to most other superheroes, and I kind of missed it. This is a tough one. Tobey Maguire made one hell of a pathetic sad-sack. But Andrew Garfield actually brought the scientific genius to life. I’m calling it a draw.
So there it is. After 12 rounds of deliberating the defining aspects of a Spider-Man story, Raimi walks away with 9/12 while Marc Webb leaves with 5/12. Draws notwithstanding, SAM RAIMI WINS 7-3!!!. And I didn't even get into story issues like the Indian villain who disappears half-way through, or the much-touted "untold" backstory, that isn't even really touched upon in the film. It was kind of one-sided, but putting this article together helped to remind me, for all the camp Raimi injects in his movies, there is a clear love for the character; there is a heart that Amazing Spider-Man sort of lacks. It’s a shame, because I was championing a more Batman Begins approach, and I also thought the trailer looked, well...amazing. But the biggest shame is that people have been so dismissive of the first trilogy. It gets a lot more “right” than ASM does, but hey, all fans cared about was no more cheesiness, right?
“Property of Peter Parker”
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