In what hopefully will be the final word on this flick for a while, the guy who likes to yell “SCIENCE!” gives his thoughts on our most current Big screen Spidey showing, and tries to get to the bottom of the war between the original trilogy and ASM. Warning: LONG READ.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
Starring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy
Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curtis Connors/The Lizard
Denis Leary as Captain George Stacy
With Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben Parker
And Sally Field as Aunt May Parker
Screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Seargent and Steve Kloves
Directed by Marc Webb
By the way…SPOILERS!!!
THE PLOT: While attending a demonstration by Gwendolyn Stacy on cross-species genetics under a false name, science geek Peter Parker was bitten by a mutated spider after sneaking into a back room whilst following a sinister Indian fellow who worked for Norman Osborn. That night, Peter realized he had been gifted with amazing agility, reflexes 15 times faster than the average person’s, superhuman strength, the ability to crawl on walls, and a sixth sense “spider-sense” cognizance that alerted him of his nearby surroundings and danger. Peter uses this new found power to help Doctor Curt Connors continue his research on genetically engineered animals, a subject Pete’s late father Richard was a part of before he and his wife Mary mysteriously vanished, then died in a plane crash. When his discoveries clash with his personal responsibilities towards his family consisting of his Aunt and Uncle, Peter ends up failing to use his powers responsibly resulting in the tragic death of his Uncle Ben. Swearing vengeance, Peter hunts after Ben’s killer and gradually decides to use his powers for the good of mankind as a means of acting responsibly as his Uncle and father would want him to. Developing customized web-shooters, a costume and mask, Peter dubs himself “Spider-Man” and quickly becomes a thorn in the side of police Captain George Stacy, who coincidentally is the father of Peter’s would-be girlfriend Gwen.
LONG STORY SHORT: With Peter’s help and Osborn’s henchman’s insistence to begin human testing, Dr. Connors tests the serum on himself in an effort to regrow his arm. The formula works, but has a nasty side effect as he transforms into the Lizard, an evil mutant reptile bent on turning all humans into lizards. Spider-Man intervenes to stop the Lizard, who learns that the masked crusader is really Peter Parker, and after a battle at Midtown High, the two clash on top of a New York skyscraper where the Lizard attempted to shoot his lizard serum into the atmosphere. With help from George and Gwen Stacy, Peter manages to defeat the Lizard and Connors is put into custody. Unfortunately Capt. Stacy dies as a result of the battle, but not before having Peter promise to keep Gwen out of his life as Spider-Man. Peter obliges and breaks up with Gwen, who ascertains on her own what her father’s dying wish was. Now as the Amazing Spider-Man, Peter is determined to live out his life by his father philosophy to use his gifts for the benefit of mankind.
MY THOUGHTS: At the time of this writing, it’s been two weeks since “The Amazing Spider-Man” hit mainstream theaters, and the overall reaction has been generally positive. What was once feared to be an obnoxious and unnecessary reboot pandering to a crowd that may or may not exist has been called to be the first “real” showing of Peter Parker/Spider-Man brought to the big screen. Critics tend to adjudicate that the film is a sweet showing of young love in the life of a boy superhero and praise the film’s two leads for putting forth superb performances. Comic fans have been more mixed, with reservations on the origin and how appropriate or not the changes may have been. Naysayers have mostly just not seen the film. With all that being said, my opinion agrees with the general consensus in that this is a very successful if flawed portrayal of Peter Parker and his webbed alter ego.
Starting with the cast, the first and truest positive that really makes this film is the casting of Andrew Garfield. He brings such an honest and welcome enthusiasm into a role that he very well could have sleepwalked through. Spider-Man created the concept of the nerd-turned-hero fifty years ago, so by this time in our modern history, the character of Peter Parker in conception isn’t really all that special. What makes his resonate is his honest nature to do good while making mistakes along the way. I’ve said before that what Peter Parker consists of isn’t his nerdiness or his failures, but his attempts to be a hero and the difficulties he faces in trying so. Garfield and the script understands that in a way that current Marvel Comics (except maybe Dan Slott) truly don’t. We’re introduced to Peter in a similar fashion as we were in Sam Raimi’s 2002 film by showing how much of a social outcast he is. In contrast however, where Tobey Maguire’s Peter was overtly more geeky and aligning much closer to a stereotypical dork, this Peter is more withdrawn than nerdy. He genuinely is a science geek, but his introverted nature stems from abandonment issues and unresolved angst from his parents leaving him at a young age and never coming back. When reading such a description, I can expect people who’ve not seen the movie to assume that Peter Parker is closer to a goth or an emo kid rather than just a nerd and be turned off. However Garfield plays the pre-bitten Peter with both humor and honesty that doesn’t deprecate itself as much as Maguire’s Peter did, which in my opinion brings him closer to the original Stan Lee character. Thinking back to the Steve Ditko and John Romita eras of the Stan Lee run, Peter was only as outcasted as Flash Thompson (who has a slightly larger presence here than in the Raimi films) made him. Sure, the popular crowd ousted Peter as a loser, but Peter had no problem fitting in with his teachers and later on the workforce with Betty Brant. Garfield’s Parker is more believable in that he doesn’t bring attention to himself yet doesn’t betray the kind of person he is either. In the first act he defends an underclassman from Flash’s wrath by at first demanding Flash to lay off while at the same time speaking soft and not really making his presence known. Even after he’s rather brutally beaten by Thompson (which is a criticism of mine. While I like Flash a lot in this film he was never a straight-up bully as he was a tool who teased Peter a lot. He never beat people up, but it’s an unsubtle character trait that tells people his role towards Peter in the beginning.) Peter still refuses to do what he’s told and just suffers alone. This Peter contrasts with Maguire’s Peter who A) had a friend in Harry and B) was awkward around certain people even after he left high school. Think back to his introduction to Betty Brant and you see a sweet yet somewhat unworldly young man who came off as more for observation rather than sympathy in that respect.
Once Peter is bitten by the spider, the usual tropes come and go-establishing Peter’s scientific mind and his thirst for revenge against Flash as a misguided way to use his abilities. In one of the best stretches of the movie, from the yelling scene between Peter, May and Ben to the hunt for Ben’s killer, we’re shown Peter’s ever present feeling of isolation. It’s not presented in a “WOE IS ME I’M SO ALONE” manner as it is a sense that he almost has to be alone to do what he wants and what he feels he has to. He can’t talk to Flash or Gwen or May about what he feels once Ben’s gone and he figures it out for himself which is a definite aspect of the comics. Not to say that the Raimi flick’s didn’t do this as well, but with Garfield there’s a stronger sense that you’re following his thought process as each scene goes by. Until actual origin of how he becomes Spider-Man, but we’ll get to that later.
Finally as Spider-Man, Garfield’s persona becomes complete. He quips and banters as the wall crawler, tearing down perps and the Lizard whenever the situation sees fit. His sense of humor comes from himself as Peter Parker. A lot of people say that Spidey quips to annoy the bad guys or to hide his fear, and that isn’t untrue. But the character of Peter Parker definitely has a sense of humor which Garfield illustrates perfectly. Scenes when he’s injured and goes to Gwen’s house, alerting her by knocking his head against the window and mocking her for wanting a chocolate house, to when he calls Gwen a “mother hubbard” in frustration once she refuses to save herself and try to stop the Lizard, to the line at the end when he appears to Aunt May bloodied and slashed with the line “Rough night” show that the character maintains a self-deprecating nature in the face of moments of shock and horror. It’s reminiscent of the Spectacular Spider-Man in how well it gets inside Peter’s head and reacts towards different situations. Much of that is owed to the script, but Garfield brings a sense of accuracy and legitimacy to it. He’s not just spouting quips because he’s Spider-Man and he has to, he does it because it’s in his character to do so. At the same time he brings the pathos when he needs to. You can see the seething teenage rage flourish when he sics his powers on hapless street lowlifes in an attempt to find Uncle Ben’s killer. It’s a sin of youth to go about it so stupidly, but it’s still something Peter Parker at that stage of his life would do. Achieving both youthful ignorance and comic book character precision, Garfield’s Peter Parker really comes alive in this movie.
And the way his powers are displayed are a lot closer to the comics in this film as well. The Spider-Sense is much more consistently displayed as going off whenever there’s danger, even if he’s too late to stop it. His super strength is at first too much for him to handle, and although we don’t see how he gets a grip (bad-dum DISH) on his powers we’re lead to believe he learns how to control it one way or another during the 60 second skateboard montage. The way Spider-Man fights is much more accurate as well, going back to the Todd Macfarlene days. He utilizes his webbing all the time, using it to dodge, move and stop his opponents. He never does what you may expect him to do, which is exactly how Spider-Man should be portrayed in battle. His skills are so far beyond our comprehension that he has to be on a different level. While I love the fights between Doc Ock and Spidey in Spider-Man 2, it always did slightly bug me when Spider-Man would just stand in front of Ock and punch him. This Spider-Man uses everything he’s got to battle the Lizard, and it is awesome to watch.
With Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, you get several aspects of different versions of the character at once. There’s very telling elements of the Ultimate Mary Jane character, dashed with a mix of brainy Gwen from the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon, with a small hint of what I think is Gwen from the comics. This Gwen is almost a new character, composited from different shades of Peter’s better half in the source material that fans can pick out and find should they choose to do so. She’s good hearted, attractive, a bit shy, courageous and intelligent. None of these would matter however if Emma Stone did not bring them to life with such affectionate likability. As a love interest, ASM’s Gwen may rank among the very best in a short list of love interests that don’t annoy or are flat out written badly. Comparing to Kristen Dunst’s Mary Jane, Gwen is easier to take as she’s not made to be the center of attention for every male in the cast, which would call on her to come off as immensely desirable to a point where she may not have been able to do. The Gwen from the comics was a bit closer to Dunst’s MJ in that every young male character in the script wanted her but she only wanted Peter. This Gwen is written more towards’ the Ultimate Mary Jane role where she’s cute and attractive in her own right but not the prize to be won (to borrow the phrase from Disney’s Aladdin). She’s in Peter’s class who happens to be Connors’ lab intern and the police chief’s daughter. All three are big enough coincidences that should have the script fawn over her, but it’s almost poetry in motion that Gwen doesn’t come off as majorly involved with all three. She’s most integral to Peter’s world, whereas Connors only really addresses her twice in the movie (once as Connors and once as the Lizard) and Capt. Stacy gives off the natural contribution of the relationship as her father. She feels less needed in the script but shines because Stone’s performance is so real. She’s smart, which informs her own sense of humor and keeps her from being cartoonishly brain like the Spec Spidey Gwen. The best part about her intelligence is that it is somewhat underplayed in the movie. She’s a science major by title, and does do science at the end but only for plot reasons. It eases the thought that she’s scientifically minded at all, because I’ll say this once: GWEN STACY WAS NEVER A SCIENTIST. She never cared about science, she never majored in science,(EDIT: yes she was) and the only times you saw her in the comics doing science was when she was in the same class as Flash and Harry. (Okay maybe one other time with Peter in Spectacular Spider-Man Special but who’s counting) It’s not a fervent attribute to who she was, and one could almost say it’s an ascribed quality to further competition between her and Mary Jane; a competition which goes back to the Romita days.
In any case, Gwen in this movie is a great match for Peter. Her knowing the secret fairly early on was never a big deal as it was a poorly kept spoiler in the lead up to the movie, and it gave her character a lot more to do. Her shock and simultaneous arousal at Peter being Spider-Man was a great angle not really given much attention in the first trilogy. Yet it was her hesitance at getting closer to Peter later on in the film that really made me like her, as she wasn’t stupid. It was also logical in connecting to her father’s job that she didn’t want to be a would-be wife waiting in the wings. I think that if Gwen had either lived or was written better in the comics, this would be how she would react to Peter’s secret.
Some have said that it didn’t make much sense for Gwen to fall for Peter as quickly as she did, and I did have that same complaint after my first viewing. Through subsequent sit-throughs I saw that Gwen was more of a regular teenage girl than the glamazon who could have any man she wanted in the comics. I could she her falling for Peter after the first time they meet. His withdrawn nature coupled with his misguided attempts at heroism could be seen as mysterious and attractive in her eyes. Then again I’m no FEMALE, so who knows…
The Lizard is one of the consistent criticisms of the movie, and I can’t wholly disagree. He’s not a bad villain, but in the face of Dafoe, Molina, Church and even to a lesser extent Grace, Rhys Ifans’ Curt Connors/Lizard doesn’t really hold much of a candle in comparison. It’s a shame because after three viewings I genuinely think he did a fine job. His Curt Connors was nice if a little mad at times. I went in really not wanting to like him as all the commercials made him out to the mustache twirling Connors from the MTV show. Ifans’ Connors is a legitimately nice, well-meaning fellow who channels the aspirations of the original character from the comic to the big screen. There isn’t much of a point to compare him to Dylan Baker’s Connors of the last two Raimi movies, as they gave him nothing to do and seemingly never intended to use him properly. This Curt Connors has his pathos, but not only from his missing arm. He resents what happened to Richard Parker and misguidedly blamed him for his business failings which the character admits was misplaced anger. He goes a bit crazy once he becomes the Lizard, but surprisingly at the end he not only survives the movie but realizes the error of his ways. I was very pleased to see him save Peter and show concern for Capt. Stacy, as it’s natural growth form the experience being shown as opposed to cliche’d villainous one-track points of view. As the Lizard, I liked him because it was a lot more comic booky than I was expecting. He spoke, wanted to replace humans with lizards, and used Connors’ science for his own twisted goals. It’s straight-up silver age and almost clashes with the down-to-earth nature of the film. I think it barely squeaks by and gets away with it, but some might not be so generous and I can’t blame them for it.
As for the remaining characters, Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben and Sally Field’s Aunt May were absolutely fantastic. The Ben and May from the Raimi films were closer to the 60s comics, especially Rosemary Harris’ Aunt May without diving into parody like the comic character does. However these versions of May and Ben feel like they exist in the real world. I’m really not trying to come off retroactively hating on the Raimi films because I don’t want to. At the same time, much of what informs the believability of Peter Parker in this film is his relationship with May and Ben. As you’ll hear Crazy Chris say in an upcoming podcast, a lot of the same tropes from the 2002 movie are played up here. Ben feels insecure towards his status as the father figure towards Peter. The final scene between the two before Ben dies has Peter shout at Uncle Ben, which was first done in Ultimate Spider-Man. That scene is recreated here almost word-for-word and works better for it. People have said that they wished the phrase “With great power must also come great responsibility” was explicitly said here, and I don’t think it would have hurt if it were. But the message is still there and the point is put across. During the scene, Martin Sheen’s Ben is frustrated with Peter and tries to get him to realize how he needs to use his gifts and abilities for others, quoting what his father always thought. Peter reacts harshly due to angst about his father and storms out. This may be my favorite scene in the movie because the acting is so well done. Sheen’s Ben is not above yelling in Peter’s ear how dissapointed he is in him, but not a second goes by where you don’t believe that he loves Peter with all his heart. Field’s May is played a bit older than she actually looks, especially with earrings on, but still played well. These are Peter’s de-facto parents and they come off as such as opposed to his grandparents that he needs to feel bad about. The Ben/May/Peter relationship has always been a tricky one in the comics because in the 60s the context was very weird. The two took care of Peter, but by the time we’re introduced to them you almost think that Peter was running an old folks home and taking care of them. Ultimate Spider-Man had it right where even if Ben and May were significantly old enough to be Peter’s grandparents, they were strong enough to care for him without the threat of death looming over Peter’s head. When Ben tells Peter to get inside and apologize to May like a man, it reminded me of how my Dad treated me whenever I screwed up. When May comments on how Peter is good at the end of the film, it’s reminiscent of how every mother sees their son in relation towards the rest of the world. When Peter first comes home looking like he’s fought a war and won’t tell May what he’s been doing, the scene is played so real you wonder why we haven’t seen it before. The trope in the comics is that May is so stupid, senile and old that any BS lie will result in her telling Peter to not hang around roughneck boys and play touch football. It’s a different world now, and it astonishes me that the current regime at Marvel still finds that a more plentiful well for stories than her knowing the secret. Andrew Garfield and Sally Field both act as though they love each other with all their hearts, even though in most of their scenes they’re screaming at each other. This is what we never saw in the first three movies, and it’s a palpable vein for the cinematic storytelling of Spider-Man to grasp.
Finally, Denis Leary’s Captain Stacy was the one character who was completely different from any other incarnation previously shown in any medium. He’s a tough cop to be sure, but for the majority of the film he cannot reconcile with the idea of Spider-Man until the very end when he witnesses Peter saving the city. It’s such a different character that I find it hard to really compare with any other George Stacy. On its own, the character was solid. He was strong with a sense of humor, allied with a strong sense of justice that didn’t betray his convictions once he learned who Spider-Man was. The most important scene was when he dies, telling Peter to stay away from Gwen. It’s an honest request that inverts itself from the scene in Amazing Spider-Man #90. One could take it along the same lines with Stacy in the comics begging Peter to protect Gwen (which he failed to do spectacularly) but it’s done in a different way to make more sense for the character and to give Peter more stress about his dual life.
So the cast was awesome. No problems there.
I didn’t mind the lack of Jameson because I think Ultimate Spider-Man proved that Jameson really doesn’t make the character of Spider-Man whole. Bertone disagrees with me however.
The cons are few and far in between which truly do not affect my enjoyment of the movie. The CGI’s not so hot in places like the car scene and when Lizard first attacks Osborn’s lackey. It’s obvious to everyone that this had a lesser budget, but the film makes good use of that by having Andrew Garfield do more of the stunts when he’s using his powers. Something a bit more substantial is that there’s definite meddling in the final production of the film. The Indian man dissapears without a trace when he was clearly meant to have more scenes. Similarly, several scenes from the trailer are gone with no comment in the movie, such as Connors saying to Spider-Man “If you want answers Peter come and get it!” or the football coach asking Peter to try out for the team after he belts the ball into the goalpost. Finally and notoriously, the traditional New Yorker scene in the movie makes an unexpected and puzzling return where a guy who’s son Peter saves earlier in the film gathers different crane operators from all over the city to help out Spider-Man when he needs him the most. It’s a frankly ludicrous scene, but doesn’t get me too upset.
The one thing that really does gnaw at my enjoyment of the film is the transition of Peter to Spider-Man, or lacktherof. In this film, Peter refuses to stop a guy who robs the convenience store he was previous at after the cashier was rude to him. Uncle Ben runs into the robber and is predictably shot. Peter sees this and mourns, and the next night looks for the robber. In terms of Spider-Man’s origin, we get that fact that it’s more or less Peter’s fault he didn’t stop the guy when he could have. My question is whether or not Peter gets it.
Consider the fact that his hunt for the robber is shown to be out of vengeance for the longest time, at no point is it explicitly shown whether or not Peter recognizes that had he stopped the robber in the first place, Uncle Ben would have lived. I’ve gone back and forth on this several times and can’t come up with a specific feeling on how I feel. There is the sense that Peter does become Spider-Man by the end out of a sense of responsibility, but that’s never shown to be as a result of any feelings of guilt. Does Peter need a sense of guilt to drive him to be Spider-Man? It’s the one major gripe I have with the film, and I don’t know how exactly to resolve it.
At the end of the day, I really enjoyed this movie. So much so in fact, that it’s my personal favorite Spider-Man film. In the wake of that, there has been a lot of discussion as to whether this really shows up the Raimi films or not. The Raimi trilogy has taken a lot of flak ever since footage of this movie came out, and it’s caused some discussion which I do think is worth having.
Personally for me, I’ve always liked the Raimi trilogy, even Spider-Man 3 to some extent. I enjoyed the fight scenes, the drama, the humor and the overall sense of adventure. I thought the cast generally did a fine job and the stories for the most part were well told. With “Amazing Spider-Man” however, I was shown that there could be more done with the character, and it’s made me see things I’ve either not seen or didn’t think about before. Specifically in certain areas.
TOBEY VS. ANDREW
I think Andrew Garfield mops the floor with his portrayal of Peter Parker/Spider-Man against Tobey Maguire. Not to say that Tobey did a bad job, as he did a great job. As I said before, Tobey’s Parker was much more of an inherent nerd. The Parker from the comics and Garfield’s Parker isn’t as much, and I like that better. Also, Tobey does have lighter voice which did kind of annoy me whenever he was hit. That’s not his fault, but there was a tendency to connect his grunts of pain to a small girl’s reaction to being pushed. What little banter there was, Tobey was also inconsistent with. He did great in the wrestling arena, and in the scene when he confronts the Goblin at the Daily Bugle in the 2002 movie. He had one good quip in Spider-Man 2 where he tells Doc Ock he has a knack for getting on people’s nerves. Very much like Spider-Man. In fact I think most of whatever problems people may have with Tobey’s Spider-Man comes down to the writing. He was written to be nerdy, he was written to not quip as much, and he was written to cry as much as he did. I never had a problem with the crying, as it made sense for the scenes. Maguire did look undignified while doing it, but that’s neither here nor there.
To be honest, the writing is really the main reason why I like ASM better. The Raimi films felt very silver age. Jameson was Silver Age, Aunt May was Silver Age, even New York was Silver Age in how clean and nice it looked. ASM is much more like Ultimate Spider-Man/JMS era where things feel more…realistic. I hate using that word because ever since Batman Begins not a single person on the internet seems to know what it actually means. But ASM’s characters and settings are places I can believe in more, and that’s why I like Spider-Man as a whole. He’s a character people can believe in, because he behaves in a manner that is believable. He finds himself in situations that are believable because his story is the story of a person who has to deal with the consequences of a double life. More so than any other super hero, his life takes the center stage as opposed to his powers. I felt that ASM achieved that in a more successful way than the Raimi films did, but again I still like those films a great deal. I have the entire trilogy on dvd and I pop them out every now and again for fun. At the end of the day, it’s all still Spider-Man.
This movie is by no means perfect. If I thought harder on it, I’m sure it falls apart. But what matters is the enjoyment I get out of it, and after seeing the movie three times, I’m satisfied with what we got this year for the character’s 50th anniversary.