Sleek, energetic and earnest, The Amazing Spider-Man blends the old with the new to give Marvel Studios its second thoroughly entertaining summer blockbuster. (7/10)
It’s never easy rebooting a franchise as universally popular as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. The expectations are high, the audience already knows the framing story and the comparisons between the cast are inevitable. However, despite all that, Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man is able to sufficiently distinguish itself from its predecessors by bringing in a cast of fresher faces, reworking the storyline and bringing a sleeker look and darker tone to the series. This is an excellent movie but that’s not why you’re reading this – the question everyone is asking is ‘Is this better than the original?’ and the short answer is no, it is not. However, it isn’t too far either – it’s got more energy and feels more genuine than Raimi’s version but it definitely lacks the latter’s sense of novelty.
Webb clearly realized that the audience was familiar with Spider-Man’s tragic origin story and thus began tweaking and remodeling it to retain its core elements but little else. The focus changes from Spider-Man acquiring his powers and navigating the learning curve to Peter Parker himself and his own emotional trials and tribulations. Tellingly, Peter reveals himself several times throughout this film himself, telling the audience this movie isn’t truly about Spider-Man but rather about the character behind the mask. The changes don’t stop there of course; Gwen Stacy replaces MJ Watson as Peter’s love interest, which along with several other changes, indicates that Webb is sticking closer to the comics than the Raimi did. Whether he will have the courage to eventually kill off Stacy remains to be seen, but the change is welcome for now. Other changes include minor details that would concern rabid fans more than the mainstream – the return of the web shooters and the set-up for Parker’s parents’ eventual return. While all these signs are promising, Webb could have done better with this film itself. The choice of the Lizard for the villain was disappointing since Connors is one of the more bland Spider-Man villains though perhaps better than the forgettable likes of Shocker and Rhino. I do sympathize with Webb though – all the iconic Spider-Man villains were taken up by Raimi’s series and reintroducing them would only have attracted further comparison. To his credit, Webb was able to showcase the Lizard’s menace excellently, highlighting both the physical and intellectual natures of the threat he poses. I was also surprised that Norman Osborn did not make an appearance, given what a perfect sequel hook that would have made.
The cast seemed competent enough but there was very little star power on display in this film. I don’t think Andrew Garfield makes for the best leading man; while he is attractive and likable enough, he largely lacks the force of character and the on-screen presence of traditional leading men. Literally everyone in the cast seemed to overshadow him from Denis Leary with his gruff, no-nonsense portrayal of Captain Stacy to Martin Sheen’s kind, grandfatherly Ben Parker. Even co-star Emma Stone, no leading lady herself, seems more charismatic than Garfield. Garfield has a certain charm to him of course; he is adorable both with and without the mask but mildly put, he is less than badass. His interpretation of Peter Parker is drawn more from the comics than from Tobey Maguire – as Spider-Man, he is markedly braver and more confident and understands, perhaps better than Maguire ever did, that Spider-Man is just an emotionally scarred adolescent who resorts to the quips and the sarcasm to mask the terror of being in whatever situation he is currently wrapped up in. I was less impressed by his performance as Peter Parker; my sentiments were perfectly articulated in Tropic Thunder – “You Never Go Full Retard”. There is a difference between Hollywood’s version of the socially awkward ‘nerd’ and the socially impotent ‘nerd’ that resides in reality; audiences pay to see the former while the latter is not only mundane but also frustrating and uncomfortable for the audience. Garfield’s interpretation of Parker as a pathologically shy teen is extreme and too often Garfield spends too much time nodding and mouthing out imaginary words. It’s not entertaining to watch and just slows everything down. Stone’s portrayal of Stacy is rather bland as well – yes, she does demonstrate some bravery and intelligence but frankly at this point there is almost nothing to differentiate Gwen from Mary Jane. As a love interest, Stone would never have had much to do but she plays her part competently, screams and smiles and all the right times but never threatens to show any personality beyond that. In general though, the rest of the cast performs well enough but none of them do enough to be truly memorable, possibly due to a lack of screen time but more likely because of the one-dimensional nature of their characters.
Where this movie really shines however, is in the special effects. This Spider-Man is sleeker, looks more agile and visually, resembles the comics’ Spider-Man much more than Maguire did. The suit looks better, not too bright but seasoned and faded enough to look like it wasn’t made specifically for a movie. The action scenes weren’t ground-breaking but they were entertaining enough and I greatly enjoyed the liberal use of Spidey’s webbing. At some point though, I did wonder if they went overboard with the amount of punishment that Spider-Man could take and still survive but it’s a blasphemous question to ask in a super-hero movie. The one thing that this movie did better was to keep a sense of realism going – there are constant mentions of videos of Spider-Man on Youtube and there are several scenes that show people with iPhones taking pictures or Spider-Man crashing through restaurants or running into traffic. These small details give the movie a new dimension and makes familiar story elements feel different. The one detail I missed was Ben’s line of ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’. It was very clearly intentionally left out, perhaps because Webb felt that it was a cheesy line but I can’t help but feel no Spider-Man origin story can ever be properly told with that line repeated verbatim.
This movie will probably not be able to match the original series in terms of box-office performance and I feel that the primary reason is that it’s just too soon. Even though the last Spider-Man movie degenerated into emo-haircuts and jazz dancing, the overall impression of the series is still largely positive and the first movie was almost flawless in its execution. No matter how good this movie was or could have, those are still enormous shoes to fill, especially after such a short period of time. On its own merits however, this is an excellent movie and one that really establishes Peter Parker as a full character in and of his own. Previously, Parker was just Spider-Man without a costume, but here Spider-Man is Parker: he’s capable of setting up an elaborate alarm system to warn him of the Lizard’s movements but is just as capable of slacking off after that and playing with his phone. It’s not inconsistent – Parker is an incredibly intelligent teenager but he is a teenager nonetheless. The Amazing Spider-Man has great entertainment value and is definitely worth watching but only time (and its sequels) will tell how it stands up to Raimi’s series.
Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker/Spider-Man)
Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy)
Rhys Ifans (Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard)
Denis Leary (Captain Stacy)
Campbell Scott (Dr. Richard Parker)
Irrfan Khan (Rajit Ratha)
Martin Sheen (Ben Parker)
Sally Field (May Parker)
Chris Zylka (Flash Thompson)
Rotten Tomatoes – 74% Fresh
Metacritic – 66/100