Let’s go ahead and clear the air here. I didn’t like the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies. That’s not to say he isn’t a great director–I still love the Evil Dead trilogy. I just didn’t care for his interpretation of Spider-Man.
I couldn’t buy Tobey Maguire as the type of guy who cracks wise in the face of death (and his Peter Parker/Spider-Man really didn’t do much of that at all), Kirsten Dunst never struck me as a supermodel/soap star, and the interpretations of the villains were more-cheesy-than-menacing. His first Green Goblin looked like a Power Ranger (and suffered from the lack of the infamous plot thread from Amazing Spider-Man #121) and the second was a sky-surfing paintball ninja. I can’t even make it through any of the films in that trilogy anymore without cringing and turning them off.
At the time, I just sucked it up and moved along–reboots weren’t en vogue until a few years later with Christopher Nolan’s masterful Batman Begins–trying to find contentment in the fact that a Spider-Man film franchise even existed.
And then Marc Webb came along.
Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t just a good movie, it’s better than all of the installments in the previous trilogy combined. Sure, the origin story is rehashed a bit here, but it feels more natural, more 21st Century. The comics have always featured a perfect balance of lighthearted humor, the drama between Peter and his supporting cast, and intense moments of suspense, and Webb brings all of that to the table.
Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is more in line with the nerdy outcast of today. There aren’t that many “poindexter” types left, and Pete became much “hipper” early on in the comics anyways. Plus, this Peter Parker displays the genius and smart ass nature of his comic counterpart. This is a guy capable of building devices that shoot synthetic webbing from his wrists, and the previous films, with all of their organic webbing, didn’t point that out enough.
I’ve said in many a geek conversation that if the Spider-Man franchise was ever rebooted a la Batman Begins, they should focus on building up the tragic story of Gwen Stacy in the first two or three films. Emma Stone really makes Gwen grow on you throughout the film, and the ending sets up her story in the most logical way. Webb uses a different villain to get there than I would have expected, though, and in better ways than I ever could have imagined. Rhys Ifans brings the Lizard to life in the most menacing portrayal of any Spider-Man villain yet while still allowing the humanity of Curt Connors to show through when it counts most. Plus, you never feel like he’s going to cheesily demand that other characters say a prayer.
The film’s core plot line focuses more on the history of Peter Parker’s parents–something that was taken care of in the first few years of the comic. Spider-Man has one of the most well-known origin stories in comics, so there’s no much you can change there, but Webb’s film ties Peter’s parents to Oscorp. Richard Parker was a scientist who worked with Dr. Curt Connors on biological experiments meant to use cross-species genetics to help a variety of patients self-heal their medical ailments. Connors, for example, was focused on using reptilian DNA to regrow his missing arm. Somewhere along the line, some issue arose with Parker’s research (it’s never fully revealed here what it was) and Richard and Mary leave young Peter with his aunt (Sally Field) and uncle (Martin Sheen), never to be heard from again because they die soon after in a mysterious plane crash.
Years later, Peter uncovers his dad’s old briefcase, discovering some of his lost research and a photo of his father and Connors. Looking for answers, he seeks out Connors and later helps him fill in the missing pieces of the research. During this time, Peter is bitten by a genetically-engineered spider (developed by his dad, no less) and Irfan Khan’s Dr. Ratha pressures Connors to complete his research, as it isn’t just important to the public but to Norman Osborn, who is apparently dying. This last bit of subplot is surely a teaser for the new franchise’s Green Goblin origin. Connors eventually resorts to testing his serum on himself and becomes the Lizard before attempting to weaponize it as a gas that would transform all of New York into lizard people.
It’s a cool twist on several classic bits of Spider-Man lore, but there are still little things with The Amazing Spider-Man that bug me. (See what I did there, even though spiders are arachnids and not bugs?) First and foremost, as many times as Peter removes his mask in full public view or displays his powers out of costume, it’s a wonder nobody catches an image or video of him–especially if modern New York City is as full of photo-happy hipsters as I’ve been led to believe–or puts two and two together. He just seems a bit too identity-reveal-happy in general. Additionally, this film is noticeably lacking in the J. Jonah Jameson department (J.K. Simmons was by far the best casting choice of the previous trilogy and it would not bother me at all to see him reprise his role in this series). To Webb’s credit, The Daily Bugle does get a cameo and Pete’s photographic ingenuity is displayed during a sewer fight with the Lizard. Here’s hoping we see jolly Jonah in the next installment.
Aside from those minor details, The Amazing Spider-Man is the film that should have been made a decade ago. Despite my two minor complaints and some minor changes to some of the supporting characters and story, the film is a fitting adaptation that gets it right where it counts. Here’s hoping they avoid giving the sequels boring numbers and instead name them after the various Spider-Man series that have existed over the years.