Before I get down to the nitty gritty with The Dark Knight Rises (that review is coming, I promise), I already owe you all one for The Amazing Spider-Man, approximately the 54th superhero movie to come out this year (give or take a few dozen). It’s getting to the point with these reviews that I really can’t say what I actually think about them without spoiling it for those of you who trust my opinion and check with me before going to see it. So for the five weirdos who trust my opinion, I’m going to let you know upfront that they are spoilers and I’ll continue to tell you in the top part of future review if thar be spoilers. So yes, spoilers.
The Amazing Spider-Man had a bad rap as far back as pre-production. Even I questioned why just a handful of years after Sam Raimi’s last Spider-Man movie were they rebooting the franchise. Later on I found out this was actually a very specific plan by Sony … they can keep the movie rights to Spider-Man and the X-Men if they keep making movies every few years. That’s also why we probably won’t be seeing Spider-Man join the Avengers movie universe, unfortunately. So yeah, a lot of fans looked at this movie as another cash-in by the studios. The one thing that really got my hopes up was the casting, especially Andrew Garfield as Peter. He was relatively unknown at that point (best known probably for The Social Network), but I really loved him in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. That’s really where he won me over and his passion for the project came out in every interview. And now that I’ve seen the movie … it’s really good!
Is it perfect? Nope. There are some definite cheesy, wacky hijinks moments towards the beginning. Right after getting his powers Peter accidentally picks a fight with some thugs in the subway. When he instinctively jumps onto the ceiling, the thugs are just pissed off … when any logical person would be terrified. There was also a scene in the gym where Peter shows off his new jumping abilities and any sane person would know that something weird was going on, but no one questions it. These moments are few and far between, but there were some of the flaws blatantly obvious while I was watching it.
I know some critics have said it’s the same basic origin story for Peter we saw in Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie, but Peter’s basic origins is fairly set in stone, so I’m not going to fault the movie for hitting those certain early elements of the story like the spider bite or his selfishness or (of course) Uncle Ben. In fact, I know a few people who were mad the “with great power” line was changed up.
So even if you want to argue that it’s essentially the same story as Raimi’s Spider-Man (but with a different villain and heroine), when I compared the two … I like Mark Webb’s version better. While the mumblecore gets a little overdone at times, the characters sound more like real people whereas Raimi’s cast was unbelievably stiff in retrospect, especially Tobey Macguire. Sally Field and Martin Sheen were both major improvements as Aunt May and Uncle Ben … Sheen in particular is stellar in the role and when I knew it was almost time for him to be killed I was disappointed – the character was very likable.
Speaking of likable, the leads were great. No, I don’t care if you think Peter was too attractive. I don’t care if you thought Gwen should have died. I don’t care that Peter used Bing … ok, maybe a little. But the fact is that I found Peter to be really relatable … I liked that he wasn’t the only person picked on in school and while he couldn’t stop the bullies, he still refused to add to their bullying. He seems like a real kid, just one that’s really good with science and technology. And yes, Andrew Garfield is adorable and gets very quippy as Spider-Man, which I think we were all looking forward to. I find it very telling that many people are complaining his casting was to lure in the female audience, but it doesn’t seem to occur to them that some women like characters that are well written and likable. Imagine that. Side note: a really good job making Flash a more rounded character. He actually had a bit of a soul which could be interesting if he’s used as Venom later in the franchise.
I also adored what they did with Gwen Stacy. She never gets kidnapped! I repeat, she never gets kidnapped! Whereas Mary Jane always got kidnapped! And Gwen helped save everyone by fixing the anti-toxin and was smart enough to save everyone in the lower levels. Sure she gets a little too flustered around Peter in certain scenes, but Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield have great chemistry (if you’ve seen their interviews together it’s obvious that it’s completely natural). And I really liked that Peter just tells her instead of hides it because let’s face it, if he kept this a secret from his love interest then it would seem a whole lot like Raimi’s version. Here she becomes an ally instead of a victim. Also another ridiculous criticism I read? That Gwen is just a female power fantasy just like superheroes are male power fantasies. Except sometimes on either sides they’re just well-written characters. Gwen might seem like a female power fantasy because she’s … well, given some actual power (story-wise, at least) and few female love interests get that. Again, that’s just a strong character, which is a good thing.
Storywise, the strongest parts were right after Ben’s death. In most versions of the story (including Raimi’s), Ben’s death puts Peter right on the straight and narrow path. Here, Peter is still being selfish, this time under the guise of revenge. It’s only when he’s called out for his selfishness and then saves lives during an accident that his uncle’s words of wisdom connect with him. Again, it strengthened his character arc for me. I would have liked to see him face his uncle’s killer at the end to bring it full circle, but it’s almost more realistic that he didn’t (plus, potential story in the sequel). Same thing with his parents … yes, it was annoying they didn’t reveal what was going on, but the studio went into this anticipating a sequel. Isn’t it better that their disappearance was set up in this movie than have Aunt May say, “Oh, remember when your parents disappeared? I know we’ve never mentioned it before…” in the next movie. I will admit that Reptile’s part in the story was the weaker aspect and thinking back Peter’s last suggestion that he’s going to break his promise to Gwen’s dad does make him look kind of like a jerk.
Beyond anything, I appreciate that it took them a while to get Peter in the suit because they did a ton of practical stunt work in this movie compared to the previous Spider-Man movies. The scene where he’s testing out his powers in a big empty industrial building was thrilling in its own way because of the lack of blatant CGI. Andrew Garfield actually performed a lot of his stunts which was a nice touch. It was just nice for once to lose myself in a super-hero doing superhero things while still looking like a living, breathing person.
Overall: The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t as good as Avengers … but for me, it’s better than Raimi’s Spider-Man. Sorry, but it’s true. I would rather watch this one then the older ones and I’m interested in seeing where they go with the sequel.
4 out of 5