When it comes to stand alone Superhero’s, both Batman and Spider-Man have always stood out to me in semi-personal ways. Batman is the superhero of my adult-hood, he’s the one who makes me feel grown up, mature and smarter. Spider-Man by contrast is the superhero of my child-hood, he’s the hero who makes me feel young again, and he’s the optimistic fun loving, cool guy I always dreamed of being at a young age. The very first animated super-hero TV series I ever grew up with was the classic 90’s Spider-Man cartoon, which still holds up for nostalgic viewings. Also, I absolutely loved “The Spectacular Spider-Man” series that aired back in 2008, which in my opinion is still one of the greatest things to ever come out under the web-heads name. As for the three original classic “Spider-Man” movies that came out between 2002 and 2007, I only loved “Spider-Man 2” from 2004. While I didn’t hate the other two, they only came off as “average good” or “derivatively entertaining”. Then in 2012, we got the very first reboot movie titled “The Amazing Spider-Man”, and after coming off the “high” that was “The Avengers”, I was pumped out of my mind for a new Spider-Man movie. This was the first in a short lived series of movies, and with “Spider-Man: Homecoming” premiering this summer, I wanted to look back at this little series to see how much of it really holds up.
I distinctly remember back in 2012, I declared this film as superior to the original classic from 2002 by a mile, but that was years ago and the film honestly hasn’t aged that well. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but it’s very “okay”. To be honest, I don’t think it’s that much better or worse than the original 2002 “Spider-Man”. Both have their own strengths, their own weaknesses, and both come across to me as perfectly good, but not great. I actually love reviewing movies of this sort, because it’s fun to cover the different peaks and valleys, the highs and lows, and it just makes it more fun to discus. One minor grape is that we no longer have opening credit sequences, and that was a charm I loved from the older films. This film at least has a good title card, which is so rare these days, I hate that movies don’t have title cards anymore. Anyway, this movie was marketed heavily as “the untold story of Spider-Man”, which got me very excited to see something new with this character. The movie begins with Peter Parker’s parents abandoning him at a young age and then disappearing under mysterious circumstances. This set the stage for potentially interesting new plot lines never explored before. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for this film to take the path of “the familiar”. Just like the original 2002 movie we have Peter getting bitten by a mutated spider, he tests his new powers, a relationship ensues with the hottest girl in school, his uncle tragically gets gunned down, he learns a lesson that with great power comes great responsibility, and he has to stop an evil green skinned villain from threatening the city. Now inside this rehashed and familiar plot are the crenels of some original ideas, and some highly improved story details that I really loved.
First of all, looking back at the original, it was just a random accident that turned Peter into a hero and anyone could have been bit by that same Spider. In this version, the mutated spider’s were created by Peters father specifically, and encoded with his genetics. When looking for clues in his father’s abandoned lab Peter get’s bitten, and sense he shares the same DNA as his father, the mutated properties of the spider passed on to him. This makes it feel more like destiny being fulfilled, no one else could become Spider-Man, it was meant for Peter Parker alone. This makes his origin feel all the more special, and it helps give this reboot some value. Things actually get better from there because this film actually gives our hero a character arch. When he first gets his powers, he becomes something of a jerk, instigates fights with bullies that previously did him wrong and just acts very irresponsibly. This gives that classic line of “with great power comes great responsibility” more substance because Peter is in fact learning a lesson on how to use his gifts wisely. Even after the tragic death of his uncle, he still doesn’t become a hero right away, in fact he’s just a rouge vigilante trying to find his uncles killer. While doing this he’s subsequently cleaning the streets of crime, and slowly he becomes a crime fighter through the process. Then we come to my favorite part of the whole movie (actually one of my favorite moments from any superhero film) in which he rescues a little boy from falling off a bridge, and reunites him with his dad. This is the moment in which he becomes a hero, when the words of his uncle sink in, when he decides to take full responsibility of this great power he’s been blessed with. Watching this movies portrayal of Spider-Man go from show-off, to rouge vigilante, to crime fighting, to hero was a real treat, and it just made me care for him more than his previous film incarnations. I’ll admit, Andrew Garfield in the title role gave me the exact opposite feelings of Tobey Maguire from the original. I thought Tobey Maguire was a perfect Peter Parker, but an average Spider-Man. Andrew Garfield by contrast was an average Peter Parker, but a perfect Spider-Man. He just infuses the hero with so much charisma and a real charm that was all his own.
Here’s another little detail I liked, back in the original movie it seemed all too coincidental that a super villain was born at the exact same time as Spider-Man. In this movie, Peter is directly responsible for the creation of The Lizard monster that terrorizes the city. That’s great, because all other villains just come to life out of the blue, and it makes our hero’s responsibility to take him down all the more personal. Unfortunately, while the origin The Lizard is really good, the villain himself, well ... sucks! This has got to be one of the most boring and forgettable foes from Spider-Man’s theatrical rouges gallery. His design isn’t that cool, he doesn’t have any quotable lines and his evil plan to mutate all the people of New York into Lizard monsters is downright silly. Heck, for as stupid as The Green Goblin was in the original, he was at least fun to watch, and had a decent rivalry with our hero. I feel nothing between Spider-Man and The Lizard, which makes their confrontations underwhelming. Rhys Ifans is at least very credible in the role of the Lizards human from, but his efforts just feel wasted. Actually, the whole character is wasted potential. In both the TV show and the comics, this guy was kind of like The Wolf Man, in other words a good person with an uncontrollable and mindless monster living inside him. This could have been a tragic villain, one that we felt sympathy for. I suppose there’s a pinch of humanity to the character, but he still comes off as just a generic villain of the week.
As for the cast in general, I think there all very good, and most of them superior to their predecessors. Granted both Sally Field and Martin Sheen look nothing like the traditional Uncle Ben or Aunt May, but they’re both very dignified in the roles, and it just felt like they did more in the film then previous incarnations. I really liked the addition of Denis Leary as Police Captain Stacy who is determined to put a stop to Spider-Mans actions. We’ve never seen someone from the law get into a conflict with our web-swinging hero before, and their arch had a very satisfying conclusion. One little detail I love is Peters relationship with the school bully flash. Naturally they didn't get along at first, and Peter tries to get his payback by showing him up. Then after his uncles death, flash actually tries to be sympathetic and supportive for Peter. Finally at the end of the movie, they become close friends, and flash becomes Spider-Mans biggest fan. It's such a small detail, but I really love this arch between the two, and it's great to have a bully character that feels more down to earth. The big ace up this films sleeve is Emma Stone in the role of Peter’s new girl friend Gwen Stacy. While I personally didn’t buy the relationship at first, things get really good once Peter revealed his superhero identity to her. This was awesome, I loved that Peter had someone close he could share his secrets with, I liked that Spider-Man had someone to go to after a brutal fight, and their conversations do get really good as the film progresses. I especially love how involved this character gets, as she aids Spider-Man with developing ways to take out the bad guys, she fights back when threatened, and Emma Stone is just so naturally lovable in the role. I only wish the build-up to Peter’s revealed secret identity to her could have been stronger. Before this revelation, Gwen Stacy had zero interaction with Spider-Man, so I just couldn’t feel the same satisfaction as I did when Mary Jane learned of Peters identity back in “Spider-Man 2”. Despite that, Peter and Gwen’s relationship is still a huge improvement over the previous films, and one of the big highlights of this new series.
Naturally the most exciting aspect of any Spider-Man film is the action, but this once again is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, there really aren’t any big action highlights, and by that I mean there aren’t any battles that I really look forward to watching. About the most we get are an attack in the sewer or a battle in a school, neither which are that memorable. Even when at its worst the original Spider-Man trilogy always had its action highlights that I looked forward to. Whereas those films featured our hero fighting in the skyline, or big open spaces, this film focuses more on close quarter fighting. With that said, the actual fighting choreography, and movement of Spider-Man during the fights is the absolute best captured on film thus far. Spider-Man moves like a ninja with cat like reflexes, and there’s this perfect blend of fast acrobatics with special effects. It’s all very slick and we see him do things we’d never seen before. For example, this is the first time we see Spider-Man fighting on the ceiling, and I love this one moment in which he uses his webbing to trap his enemy in a cocoon, that was a cool touch. Also, when this Spider-Man swings through the city, it looks and feels like he’s really there swinging.
So there are definitely things in this reboot that make me love it more than the original, but unfortunately the devil is in the details. For as much as found the classic 2002 “Spider-Man” to be just an okay flick, it is most definitely a self contained movie with an organized beginning middle and end. “The Amazing Spider-Man” on the other hand seems to favor set-up over a coherent story. Let me put it this way, we have Peter investigating the mysteries of his parents, which never gets any closure. Spider-Man hunting down his uncles killer, who’s never found. We have this completely random agent guy who pesters our villain the create anti-bodies for some mysterious experiment, which is never explained further. Also, this agent guy is played by the very talented Irrfan Khan, but he has nothing to contribute and the character just disappears from the film all together. There’s an after credit scene with yet another mysterious guy in a heavy coat who apparently represents some kind of higher evil source, and claims he’ll be keeping an eye on our hero. Even Gwen Stacy’s relation with Peter is left up in the air on whether or not they’ll stay together. This is not a story, it’s all set-up for plot threads to be explored in future sequels, and it just makes “The Amazing Spider-Man” feel more like a product than an actual film. The tone is also very inconsistent, ranging from brooding and realistic, to over the top comic book story telling. That's not to say a comic book adaption cant do both, but “The Amazing Spider-Man” just doesn't know how to combine the two. At one point we have very down to earth drama, and then the next we have cartoony lizard monster attacking the city. It's one of those cases where I wish the movie would just pick a tone, and commit.
The late James Horner composed the score, and while I usually love his music, this just came off as very average. I also wasn’t too fond of Mark Webs direction. There’s just something about his way of setting up shots, and rapidly editing events that make me think he’d be more suited for directing music videos. Seriously, this movie has a real problem segueing into musical montages, with characters just doing things. There are actually four separate montages of Peter searching for things on Bing, which is ridicules. The movie is just on a rush and never takes a moment to be itself, or do something special. Case in point, we have a scene when Peter takes Gwen out web-swinging for a romantic night, and we don’t see any more than one swing before the film just moves on. This could have been a really big, special moment with breathtaking visuals, a gorgeous musical score, and it would have made the movie feel more like an experience. This also applies to the climax, which just sneaks up without an effective lead-in or payoff. Once we get to the big rooftop showdown, it feels like any other fight scene as opposed to a big finally. However, it was still a treat to see Spider-Man briefly team up with the police officer to beat the villain, and it’s still exciting on some level.
That’s basically how I feel about the movie, it’s entertaining, and has some real character highlights, but nothing comes off as special either. It set-up a series with no real conclusion, and it just makes this movie feel kind of pointless. We can at least look back on the 2002 “Spider-Man” as something special, something that got the ball rolling for comic book movies, and has held up as something of a small classic in its own right. “The Amazing Spider-Man” came, excited us for a little, but has no real staying power. Even with that said, it certainly has details that are superior to the original, and I still enjoy watching it once in a while. It may be a little short of “amazing” but it’s perfectly okay, and for a comic book fan like me ... I’ll take it.
I give “The Amazing Spider-Man” ... 3 stars out of 5.
Up Next a review of "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"
To Be Continued ...