The Amazing Spider-Man Movie Review

It’s “Amazing,” so I’m reviewing it. Turns out it’s amazingly good — despite coming into the theater a skeptic, I left a convert. I never thought I’d say it, but this is overall a stronger Spider-Man origin movie than the first of the Raimi trilogy. It’s not without its flaws, but I recommend it with no hesitation to anyone who loves the character — the people who made this movie clearly get who he is and what he’s about.

The Amazing Spider-Man had a lot working against it. The Raimi trilogy was bigger in budget, actors, and arguably director. The first two films were widely liked and the third, while often vilified, certainly gave rise to an awful lot of popular image macros. Everyone thought it was too soon for a reboot, which, really, it probably was. And Marc Webb, despite his eerily convenient name, was known almost exclusively for (500) Days of Summer, a Zooey Deschanel’s eyes-vehicle of all things. The notion that he could make a better Spider-Man film than Sam Raimi, cult icon and self-avowed Spidey fan, seemed totally absurd. So while stranger things have happened in cinematic history, you might be able to imagine how grudgingly it was I realized halfway through the film that pretty much everything about this was superior to its predecessor.

Early concerns that the movie would make Peter an “emo” character, or generally be excessively dark turned out to be unfounded. Andrew Garfield makes a surprisingly convincing teenage Peter, and I say that both in reference to the difficulty of forgetting his real age and his apparent grasp of the character. He’s more well-rounded than Maguire’s Peter was, catching the fundamental awkwardness but at the same time instilling him with the piercing and daring intellect that he ought to have. Much has been made of his skateboard and glasses, the implication being that this character isn’t enough of a geek or loser, but I think such claims are fundamentally misguided — Ditko’s skinny, pathetic looking Peter, important though it may have been, was really a short-lived version of him and is hardly the incarnation most readily associated with Spider-Man. Allowing him to appear a bit more grown up and slightly less clueless doesn’t hurt the movie in any way, and it’s vastly preferable to the opposite take that ended up characterizing Maguire’s Peter after the first movie — that he never really grew out of being a clueless dork at all.

Webb and his cast nailed the supporting characters as well. Emma Stone makes a terrific Gwen; she’s smart, and she’s lovely but doesn’t look like a super model. That she falls for Peter is totally believable, and she handles the process well. Her character here is similar to the way she was portrayed in the Spectacular TV series in that she’s a bright science student like Peter, but the movie retains a degree of the unfamiliarity around their meeting similar to the comics. Uncle Ben and Aunt May are given their proper importance despite concerns that Peter’s parents would be given undue focus over them. Ben’s death is a slightly altered version of the classic story but is essentially the same and feels very powerful, although I would have preferred that the power and responsibility line were kept in there even if it has become played out. There’s a reason, after all, that it’s so famous Miller Lite started using it for their “drink responsibly” disclaimers. It’s also a bit disappointing that the movie lacked Jonah, but it was probably best for them to leave more space for the essential characters. The solution was to have Denis Leary as Captain Stacy initially cover the role of vilifying Spidey to the public, a divergence from his comic portrayal that I feel was totally justified. Meanwhile there is plenty of time to get J.K. Simmons on board as Jonah for the sequel. (Come on! If there’s one thing that needs to be kept from the Raimi films, we know what it is…)

The Lizard, on the other hand, is one of the movie’s weaker character links. Rhys Ifans does a fine job, but he just doesn’t have a particularly interesting role to play in the first place. His transformation and characterization once he changes are quite similar to his original comic incarnation, which is nice as yet another demonstration that the crew did their homework, but the Lizard has never been one of the more compelling Spidey villains. But that’s not necessarily a slight on the movie for choosing him, either. Because Connors and his alter ego required little setup and explanation, it freed the movie up to focus on what it did best, which was developing Peter and his supporting cast. This worked especially well given that in this version of the story, Connors’s transformation is directly linked to the same research that turns Peter into Spidey, which lends a nice sense of coherence to the whole thing.

In fact, I find myself surprisingly pleased with the alterations made to the origin story. Initially, I really didn’t want to see the origin story again, and to an extent I still feel the movie could have been better if they’d skipped it, but the approach taken here was definitely successful. Like J. Michael Straczynski’s controversial contribution of a mystic background to Peter’s transformation, The Amazing Spider-Man tries to make the whole thing seem a little less like some kind of ridiculous happenstance. In doing so it avoids the pitfalls of stretching belief when multiple costumed and mutated weirdos all start popping up at once. But this alternate take really ought to be much less controversial than JMS’s, because all it does is link Peter’s family history to semi-believable scientific research into mixing human and animal DNA, so that there’s a reason why he’s snooping around when he gets bitten by a “super-spider.” And yes, he does get his powers by being bitten still, despite the misleading teaser that suggested otherwise for a while.

The Amazing Spider-Man has some important things to remind us of. No, not that responsibility comes with power — we all know that already, though perhaps a few folks in positions of creative power within the comic industry could… well, you know. The point this movie makes is that at his core, Spider-Man is not his age or his appearance, not the nature of his web shooters or what combination of chance and design led to his powers. This is a story about a young man devoting himself to his principles, no matter the cost, and the way that it affects the people he loves. It’s about the proper use and abuse of power, and it pulls that off while managing to be hilarious, touching and exciting in equal measure. It’s a startling and commendable achievement from a cast and crew who didn’t get into this because they were already Spider-Man fans, but proved that anyone can grasp what makes him great.

Oh, sure, the execution may not be perfect. There are too many scenes where Peter’s powers become obvious when he’s outside of the suit, and the fact that nobody catches on breaks the immersion a bit; there are also too many scenes where he takes his mask off, just like in the Raimi trilogy, but that’s something we’re just going to have to live with if we want big budget Spidey films. None of that stuff is really the point. The point is that fifty years ago, Spidey took off because something about him resonated with people on an emotional level that super heroes didn’t normally reach. It’s encouraging to see that the impact of his story hasn’t dulled one bit after all that time.

Pros: Peter and his supporting cast are portrayed amazingly well, and the film really gets what’s essential to the story and treats it very respectfully. It’s well-rounded between action, drama, and comedy, which is exactly how Spidey’s supposed to be. When it’s serious it is very powerful, and when it’s lighthearted it’s extremely amusing.

Cons: They probably still could have skipped the origin itself, but this is only a minor complaint because it was done very well even if it was unnecessary. The Lizard is not a strong villain, but again this barely matters because he was the least important part of what the film was trying to accomplish.

Grade: A

(26) Comments

  1. hornacek

    Spider-Man 2 is the best of the 3 Raimi movies. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but I just can't understand anyone saying they liked SM1 or SM3 better than SM2

  2. Aziz

    This movie left me sort of empty, didn't really get the "AWESOME" feeling it should give, but at least it's good, it's easily better than Spider-Man 2, and that one is my least favorite of the previous trilogy

  3. jack brooks

    I just saw it last night. Garfield and Stone are excellent actors (really, there isn't a bad performance in the movie; I even liked Denis Leary). But, on the down side, they are obviously far too old for the roles. The human-dynamics drama was very good. Loved the way they humanized Flash -- gave him a streak of decency. Garfield's physique is right for the part, though he's rather tall. Garfield is tremendously emotional in his acting, MacGuire was more of a "blank-faced stare into the headlights" style. This movie improves on Gwen Stacey from the comic, where the first movie trilogy blundered badly on MJ. Movie Curt Connors and Otto Octavius are awfully similar in certain ways. I thought they weakened Connors by him not having any family. I only had one "goose-bump" moment, when the cranes were all lining up into place. Not because the visual was so fab, but why it happened and who was doing it was emotional. I gave it a B+. The relationship-dramatics were stronger than SM1-3, but the action was just above-average OK.

  4. derp

    first half of the movie - spidey gets powers - spidey joins tv show - spidey learns his lesson. second half of movie - spidey saves a shuttle mission and tangles with the chameleon. oh no wait - they didnt do that - fail. i am not being sarcastic btw.

  5. jdp13

    Excellnt review. Your experience and feeling were very similar to mine. Funny, I agree the "With Great Power....." line has been played to death, but it needed to be in there. Eventhough I knew it wasn't going to be said, I kept waiting for it and it felt like something was missing. Maybe they could of had it in the voicemail or something.

  6. Scarletspiderfan I don't know if anyone saw this, but there were plot points in the commercials and trailer that seem to have been cut from the finished film. I thought keeping these things in would've made for a more complete story.

  7. Sir Jig-A-Lot

    Amazing Spider-Man is the Batman Forever of the webhead's franchise. The main character and the way he moves/fights are great, Every other element of the movie is pure hit or miss. Emphasis on the miss. The should have labelled this outing after that new book Avenging Spider-Man for obvious reasons.

  8. Sir Jig-A-Lot

    At the end of the day you gotta remember this movie was made so Fony could hold on to the character rights, otherwise they would have reverted to Marvel Studios towards the end of last year.

  9. Iron Patriot

    Apparently, one of the actors(Kelsey Chow, I believe) went on an interview and said that she played Sally Avril. She wasn't named in the movie though.

  10. Jon

    @14 Brian Bradley No report, more speculative. Cut out scenes from the trailer, the re-shoots five months after principal photagraphy ended, certain edits in the film, other rumors. I think Sony blinked at the eleventh hour with their new origin and 'corrected' it near the end. Plus Webb saying he's uncertain about returning...I'm just guessing really, reading between the lines. I hope I'm wrong. He did a great job and now that the origin is out of the way they can let loose.

  11. Regless

    I agree completely. Had a couple flaws. The backboard thing, the football. Some stuff could've been executed better. Like the Peter trying to listen to the message Uncle Ben left him after he was killed and not being able to get through it the first time. That was a great idea, but it was kinda sidelined by other goings on. Having him try to listen to it more than once and still not be able to make it through would've been a nice way to keep Parker's motivations close to the viewer. Another touch I liked was Captain Stacey pointing out that spiderman was just on a revenge quest at first. He wasn't really trying to help people, cause Peter to take another look at himself. Flash's role was great too. He was a bully, he was kind of a jerk. But he wasn't inhuman. Little things like that is probably why I enjoyed the movie so.

  12. Brian Bradley

    @13 Jon... where did you see this report of studio meddling? Missy Kallenback, if that was her name, was cute and a nice addition... although her little accusation that Flash knocked the paint can over on purpose seemed a little offbase unless something was happening before that scene that we saw.

  13. Jon

    I agree with the review. Not a perfect film, but certainly better then anything Raimi served up. More emotional, better acted, directed and thankfully less B-movie stylings. I don't think Webb will be returning unfortunately because of apparent studio meddling. So we will probably be starting again. Sucks for Spidey. Marvel clearly have no clue what to do with him and Sony keeps messing (it appears) with their creative talent.

  14. Scathus

    #10 - Nope, that was a new character made specifically for the movie - if I remember correctly, her name's Missy Kallenback.

  15. tickbite

    Spot-on review! I feel exactly the same way about the movie, watching it as a sceptic, but that grin on my face when the end credits started gave away that I was utterly converted. The movie has its flaws, but it hit my emotional core (whatever that is) in a way that Raimi's version did not. The movie simply felt ... real ... to me. And that's saying something considering that it contains a huge man-lizard and holograms you can pass along to one another. Now, if only they had cut out that goofy football throw we already saw in the trailer ...

  16. Sarcasmic

    Between this and the tie in game, I really like the focus on cross-species genetics and what that could mean for the Amazing Movie Universe and where it could go. It seems like Peter is more Spider than Man while in the costume, could be an interesting route to take. I also hope they bring back Connors particularly, because Peter and him have an interesting relationship. The game addresses his family and adds more dimension to his relationships with both Peter and Gwen. Anybody else think the cute girl who Peter defends against Flash could of been someone important like Betty or Liz?

  17. Scathus

    Also, I agree with Parabolee in that the movie has problems with keeping its themes consistent. My take on it is that they simply tried to pack too much into one movie. As it is, the movie's got ominous foreshadowing about the parents and how their absence impacts Peter's life, the origin story with the spider-bite, the burglar and uncle Ben's death, the quest for revenge and the lesson about responsibility, Connors' story, the romance between Peter and Gwen, the relationship between Spidey and Capt. Stacy, foreshadowing with Norman Osborn through Dr Ratha and Flash's character arc (I may or may not be forgetting even more things). Having so many subplots running at once leaves less time for each one. IMO, the whole parents storyline should've been saved for the next movie - in the end, it just didn't add much, at least for me, and it took away a lot of time that could've been used developing Ben and May, and maybe even Peter himself.

  18. Scathus

    It was nice to see Flash as being more than a stereotypical jock/bully character, but I still think his character arc was lacking. Specifically, there should've been another scene between the one where he tries to comfort Peter and the one at the end. As it is, it feels like he becomes friends with Peter for no reason, kind of like Gwen isn't given a good reason for getting interested in Peter and Connors isn't given a good reason to share his lizard genes with the city.

  19. Iron Patriot

    Yeah, I like Flash's arc. I hope when they introduce more characters from the comics, they'd do more with them. I mean, the Raimi films had Betty Brant, Flash Thompson and Gwen Stacy, but contributed almost nothing. And yes, Parabolee, I think this is the better origin movie, and the best Spider-Man movie in general. Of course, this was the first Spidey movie that I saw in the theaters,(I hated cinemas as a kid) so seeing my favorite character on the big screen at an age where I can fully appreciate him, and seeing him be so gloriously Spider-Man, I'm probably not thinking clear.

  20. Parabolee

    Could not disagree more that it's a stronger origin movie than the original. As good as ASM is, being an origin movie is its weakest point. It is not as faithful to the comics as the original and it does not do as good a job infusing the story with the lesson Peter learns in the process of becoming Spider-Man. As much as I loved ASM, the original is a better movie in almost every way. I think you just have a newness bias :) The one way ASM is better is Spider-Man himself (minus the costume) is closer to his comic book counterpart. Oh and Stan Lee's cameo is better. Not putting this movie down, I loved the hell out of it and am going to see it for a third time on Saturday. But for me the original movie was a better told origin story which was more thematically consistant, and overall just a better movie. ASM clearly lost it's way at some point in production and it's plot had to be realigned, luckily it still survives in tact as a solid story. But one that has problems with thematic consistency. While the original SM was a powerful story around the theme of responsibility, ASM get's a bit lost on what it's about. It's most consistant theme is grief, losing Peter's parents, losing Uncle Ben, losing Captain Stacy. But there is no real resolution to that theme, no real development. But the thematic inconsistency does not make it a bad film. As I said I loved it, it's got a lot going for it in other area's but it's just is not as cohesive as SM. My 3 biggest issue's with the movie are - The skateboard (not in character for Peter at all), the parents tied to the origin and the costume. At least we are unlikely to see the skateboard in ASM2, the costume can be improved and hopefully the parents thing will just turn out to be that Osborn killed them for holding the research back from him rather than the previously suggestion that Peter was somehow genetically different and that related to his parents work (which is an awful idea and thankfully removed from the final movie). My favourite things with ASM are - Spidey's quips, Andrews lovable awkward nerd portrayal of Peter, the fights with the Lizard and all the nods to the comics. I was especially happy to see a great mini arc with Flash Thompson, especially when Flash had the Spider-Man shirt on at the end. It's interesting to note that at the end of the original SM Peter display's how he has learnt the lesson of power and responsibility by denying himself that which he want's most because it would be irresponsible of him to put MJ's life at risk. Where as in ASM Peter decides to go back on his promise with Captain Stacy to keep Gwen out of it even though he knows it may put her life at risk. Not stating that as a criticism against ASM, just an interesting note. It will be very interesting to see if Peter learns this lesson the hard way in ASM2 with Gwen meeting her fate at the hands of Norman Osborn. I really hope they tell that story (as much as I hate to see Emma Stone killed on screen). Oh and I think you are incorrect about it having a smaller budget too. I know it was reported early on that it would have a smaller budget but that was proven to be inaccurate a long time ago. According to Box Office Mojo (a pretty reliable source on these things) ASM had a production budget of $230 million while the original Spider-Man movie only had $139 million. Even taking inflation into account that gives ASM a much bigger budget. I believe the reason this get's repeatedly inaccurately reported is because ASM has a slightly smaller budget than SM3, which had a production budget of $258 million.

  21. Spec Spider Fan

    Have to agree with Mike 13...there is a solid move (not necessarily here) to disparage the originals in lieu of this "proactive, ultimatesque" variant..lots was good about this flick, but a bus load of bad as well....including Peter Parker, surly, angsty variant..No real investment with Uncle Ben or Aunt May...undeniable chemistry between Peter/Gwen.....and Lizard was brought to screen beautifully....but George Stacy's death was equally real investment...this might be due to the fact that a lot of stuff gets recounted with the "retelling" of an origin story...while I did love the movement of Spidey when he fought, kudos to Garfield's gymnastic background, .....I also found his Spidey to be brash bordering on obnoxious. I will nonetheless be eagerly awaiting the sequel to the see the next step.

  22. Brian Bradley

    Nice review, Erik. I was a bit hung up on some of the flaws and changes at first but warmed up to them after a second viewing. I agree with Mike 13, though, that the Spidey/Lizard fight scenes were some of the best scenes in the film. That fight in the school where Spidey webs Lizard up was awesome.

  23. Enigma_2099

    "It’s not without its flaws, but I recommend it with no hesitation to anyone who loves the character — the people who made this movie clearly get who he is and what he’s about." Hence all the changes they made, right?

  24. Mike 13

    In my opinion, the only good scenes in the movie were the Spidey/Lizard fight scenes... I love how Spidey moves in this movie... but everything else was just ... ugh.

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