Forget Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). This time around, Spider-man’s true nemesis is the shadow of Sam Raimi, which he must desperately find a way to escape from.
Raimi gave Spider-man fans what they had always wanted – their favorite superhero on the big screen. And though his films weren’t always perfect (especially Spider-man 3), he got right more than he got wrong. Most of all, he captured the dark edge of the character – the gray cloud constantly floating over Peter Parker’s head – the joy of webslinging and the levity interjected through one-liners and ridiculous circumstances.
As much as I would have liked to have gone into this film with a blank slate (and as much as the makers of this film would love me to as well), it was difficult not to constantly compare this film to that franchise. The last Sam Raimi-directed film came out just five years ago. It’s still fresh in all our minds.
It’s a tough line for the filmmakers to walk. Rebooting an old franchise is easier because you are able to modernize it. Or if you are rebooting a movie that didn’t quite work the first time around or strayed far from the source material, you are able to give it another take fixing the flaws of the original. Director Marc Webb doesn’t have that luxury with this franchise.
To their credit, Webb and the writers have done all they can to make this film stand apart. Many of their choices seem like they purposely did the opposite of Raimi just to be different. The film features Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) as the love interest instead of the more iconic Mary Jane Watson. Curt Connors is the bad guy, while Norman Osbourne is simply an unseen force. The homemade webslingers are back instead of the organic webs Raimi’s Spider-man spun. The costume has been subtly tweaked.
The film’s version of Peter Parker is a bit odd as well. He dresses in hoodies with thumb holes cut out of the sleeves and carries around a skateboard at all times. Most times, he wears contacts instead of glasses. He comes across more as some middle-aged guy’s idea of what a high school outcast would dress as than an actual high school outcast.
The film also retells the origin story, this time injecting Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) parents into the mix. His mom and dad disappear under mysterious circumstances, leaving him with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). This development had the most potential to make the film stand apart and it was what the previews seemed to focus on most heavily. However, this storyline never really develops. Instead, it is simply the catalyst for Parker to seek out Connors, who used to work with his dad at Oscorp. Once he meets Connors, the investigation into his parents is completely dropped and Connors’ transformation to Spider-man villain The Lizard becomes the focus.
The film’s other big problem is that it waste a lot of time retreading through Spider-man’s origin story. It’s fairly safe to assume that most people seeing this film know that Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, giving him his powers. They also know that Uncle Ben was killed by a mugger, which teaches him to use his powers for good, thanks to Ben’s motto: “With great power comes great responsibility.” The film rehashes both of these moments, though not in a particularly new or interesting way. Worst of all, in an effort to be different, Ben never says his trademark line and instead simply mutters something vaguely similar that isn’t nearly as memorable.
Still, with all of that working against it, The Amazing Spider-man is still a perfectly fine film. Though Andrew Garfield is a bit too twitchy in the role, he proves to be a very good Peter Parker/Spider-man. The always charismatic and entertaining Emma Stone is great as Gwen Stacy. Rhys Ifans works as Curt Connors, though there unfortunately isn’t a great deal of subtlety in his role. Denis Leary is also wisely cast as Gwen’s dad, Captain Stacy, who doesn’t like Peter Parker, the high school kid hanging around his daughter, or Spider-man, the rogue vigilante he sees as a threat to law and order.
The best moments are the action sequences where Spidey squares off against The Lizard as Connors lays waste to large sections of New York and the scenes where Parker interacts with Captain Stacy. The CGI in the action sequences is quite good, particularly in the moments where Spider-man is swinging from rooftop to rooftop. And since the film lacks J. Jonah Jameson, Leary is able to step in as a great foil for Spider-man in the quieter scenes.
Overall, it’s not a bad movie. It’s unfortunately not a particularly memorable one either. It does just enough to distinguish itself from Raimi’s franchise, but not enough to make it stand on its own as the next great Spider-man film. If you are a fan of the character or if you are simply jonesing for another Spider-man fix, it’s a perfectly serviceable summer blockbuster. But casual fans may be better served by simply revisiting Raimi’s first two films.
- Murphy’s Law – A SFW review of Spider-man XXX
- Murphy’s Law – 10 ways to improve the Spider-man franchise
- Positive Cynicism – With great power comes weak movies
- Positive Cynicism – The implications of web shooters
- One on One with Bruce Campbell