I just saw The Amazing Spider-Man, and I’m going to split the review into two parts. First, I’ll look at some of the choices Director Marc Webb and Writer James Vanderbilt made regarding their incorporation of the source material: the comic books they adapted, as well as the original Raimi/ Maguire trilogy. And then I’ll go with a general review of the film. Though if you just want to know whether it’s worth seeing, I would highly recommend it.
An initial concern was that the movie would just be a remake of a fairly recent blockbuster. While both this and the 2002 Spider-Man feature the wall-crawler’s origin, there are enough differences in The Amazing Spider-Man to ensure that it doesn’t feel repetitive. There’s enough new material that it feels as if we got a sequel that went in a slightly different direction, rather than any kind of redux.
There’s generally a new aesthetic sensibility, so even the stuff we’ve seen before feels different. But for the most, it’s a whole new ball game. This Peter Parker doesn’t graduate high school yet, and he’s guided by the mystery of what happened to his parents more than anything else. There’s no Harry Osborn, although he does have more interactions with Flash Thompson, who actually grows a bit over the course of the film. They’re not friends at the end, but it’s certainly a possibility in the future.
Despite this being another version of the story in which the geek falls in love with the hottest girl in his High School, Peter’s relationship with Gwen Stacy in this movie is a shift from his romance with Mary Jane in earlier films. They’re different women, and their roles in the stories diverge. Gwen is smarter, so she’s more of an obvious match for Peter. She’s capable of helping against the Lizard, and puts herself in harm’s way on two different occasions. Her access to Oscorp is a plot point.
Gwen quickly learns that Peter is Spider-Man. Before that, she didn’t really think much about Spidey. There isn’t any romantic triangle this time around, as the male lead and female lead quickly fall for one another. The biggest obstacle is her father, taking over J Jonah Jameson’s role as chief Spider-Man critic. That complication is new to the films, although Peter did have a much worse relationship with Harry Osborn’s father.
Gwen and Captain Stacy appeared in Spider-Man 3, where she was mainly object of Eddie Brock’s affections, and a spoiler in Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane. Gwen was smart in the comics, but that was rarely relevant to the story. She was mostly known for her death, although she often found herself in danger because of Spider-Man’s enemies. While Mary Jane was the damsel in distress in the Raimi films, that was Gwen Stacy’s role in the comics. She never learned his identity, which led to the classic superhero problem with Gwen Stacy loving the secret identity, while blaming the alter ego for the death of her father. That’s something that won’t happen in this movie series.
I suspect Gwen’s passive role in earlier iterations of the story was largely a product of the times for a character introduced in 1965 and killed off in 1973. It seems unfair to consider that a knock against the character. The new film shows how the character could have been used instead.
Gwen’s knowledge of Spider-Man’s identity is going to be a weird set-up to the future films. If they kill off a Gwen Stacy who knew what she was getting into, Peter’s going to have even more problems heading into his next relationship, as the next girl would be making the same exact decision. Considering Gwen Stacy’s willingness to fight the Lizard, there’s no indication that the next girl would do better.
This Peter Parker isn’t the wallflower from the first page of Amazing Fantasy #15. While he has an interest in photography, he doesn’t go for a job at the Daily Bugle, which is just as well as this film doesn’t feature any financial problems for the Parkers. Spider-Man also doesn’t try to become a celebrity, and there’s no wrestling sequence. This Spider-Man uses mechanical webshooters, so even his power set has changed. He also seems to be more clever in how he uses the webbing. I can’t recall the character having a spider sense in this film. It results in subtly different action sequences.
The circumstance in which this version of Peter Parker is bitten by the spider is novel. The old Peter Parker would not have stolen an intern’s ID to get into Oscorp, but he didn’t have as good a reason to try. In this version, the emotional trauma of the loss of his parents is what drives him, more so than a love of science, although the kid is clearly quite bright.
With the mystery of his parents, and his willingness to sneak into Oscorp to find clues about that, you could imagine the Andrew Garfield Peter Parker as the lead of an action film, even if he never gained super-powers. That’s a difference from the timid teenager in Amazing Fantasy #15.
The costume’s fine, an improvement over the raised webbing in the Raimi films. At times, it looks like a Joe Jusko painting come to life.
One of the most disappointing things about this adaptation is how they handle Uncle Ben’s death. Its effect on the story is rather minimal. he main thing that happens is that the best actor in the cast (no disrespect intended, but The West Wing and Apocalypse Now trump the best work of the other actors) suddenly disappears from the movie. Uncle Ben’s death is no longer the central point of his maturation as a superhero, taking third billing to the mystery of what happened to his parents, as well as Captain Stacy’s arc.
Uncle Ben’s death leads Peter to hunt down the killer, a man with a star tattoo, but it doesn’t seem to affect him or his relationship with Aunt May much. He didn’t seem to learn anything from Uncle Ben’s death, which is an unusual take on the character to say the least. The lessons about responsibility came later, as he started to realize how he had sometimes screwed up by taking justice into his own hands.
I can understand why they went with a different approach. There’s a strong argument that there’s no need to show anything the audience has already seen. Why harp on about Uncle Ben’s death or Peter’s feelings of guilt when the audience has a pretty good idea about that stuff? Most of the audience will have seen Spider-Man, so they’ll have a vague impression of how Uncle Ben’s death affected Peter, and they can just figure that the character is internalizing his feelings about that. They’ll also just assume that there’s stuff going on that isn’t shown on-camera. But with this part of the mythos, I think Webb and company went too far in the interests of making sure that this film covers different territory than the 2002 Spider-Man.
The Lizard isn’t exactly like he is in the comics, although this iteration makes for an effective supervillain. His motivation is altruistic, and his decision to inject himself with a potentially dangerous and untested substance makes a lot of sense, especially considering the alternative. When he goes off the deep end, he does so in an interesting way. This Lizard knows that he’s Connors, which is a departure. He seems himself as the first of a new species, and his goal is to make others similar to him.
There’s no hint of a wife or children, although it’s vague enough that it could always be revealed in a sequel that Martha and Billy were just out of town. He’s a tragic villain, who screws up badly and tries to do the right thing in the end. As the Lizard, he kills Captain Stacy. As Connors, he saves Spider-Man’s life and tried to help the Captain.
Despite the differences, there are a handful of odd scenes that seem to cover the same territory as the Raimi saga. This includes a fight between Peter Parker and Uncle Ben, as well as a conversation Curt Connors had with his other half, which is similar to Norman Osborn’s Psycho-esque conversations with the Green Goblin. After September 11, Raimi tacked on a scene in the 2002 Spider-Man which a bunch of New Yorkers interfere in a battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. There’s a similar sequence to the 2012 Amazing Spider-Man, but for a variety of reasons, it feels earned as a particular blue-collar group of New Yorkers come to Spidey’s aide in a clever way, because one guy really does owe him.
Webb and company uses the audience’s knowledge of the characters in interesting ways. With Peter and Gwen at the end of the film, the writers are playing off of how different versions of Spider-Man’s story have gone. The idea that Peter Parker may sacrifice his relationship with Gwen Stacy echoes the ending of the first Spider-Man movie. But there’s also the specter of how the real relationship ended, and how Captain Stacy’s final words may come back to haunt Peter.
Norman Osborn wouldn’t be as effective as a mostly off-screen presence, if he weren’t so familiar to the viewers. But it works pretty well, keeping the focus on the Lizard while seeding the larger conspiracy. It also means that Sony didn’t have to make a decision about casting the villain in the sequel currently slated for 2014 while they were shooting the current film.