“There’s rumor of a new species in New York.”
It would be easy to say that The Amazing Spider-Man is a remake of the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man film. It certainly looks that way. After just a single decade Sony Pictures has decided to go back to the origins of the popular comic character and pretty much start over. This film takes us back to the proverbial origin story. Once again we get to see young Peter Parker, this time played by Andrew Garfield, get bitten by that nasty spider and find himself with wonderful powers, and of, course great responsibilities. The reboot does tend to beg at least two questions up front. Why the quick turnaround, and what could you possibly do to improve upon at least the first two Raimi films? Let’s answer each of them, shall we?
Why the quick turnaround? When Raimi left the franchise while prepping the intended fourth film, Sony was left with a bit of a dilemma. Now that Marvel has its own studios and has teamed up with Disney, they might be a little eager to regain sole possession of the various titles that have been done in cooperation with other studios. The contracts that studios like Sony have required that they continue to make the films at regular intervals or the property reverts back to Marvel and now Disney. Sony was under the gun, and a new Spidey film was inevitable even after Raimi and his team walked. With the prospect of an entirely new cast and new crew, it made sense to take the franchise back to the beginning. Remember that the comics themselves often rebooted to reflect drastic changes in artists or writers. Unlike James Bond or Jack Ryan, it would not have worked to just recast the property. We’re not talking about just Spider-Man alone. There would inevitably be major changes, and the reboot addresses all of that in a way we can all easily digest.
And what could you possibly do to improve upon at least the first two Raimi films? The obvious choice was to look to the classic comics themselves. As much as I loved the Raimi Spider-Man universe, he made some rather important changes to the mythology. Enter Marc Webb, the appropriately named successor to the director’s chair. He corrected many of those diversions, and this Spider-Man is closer to the comic I enjoyed as a kid. One of the most important returns had to do with the actual web that our web-slinger slung. In the comics, Parker developed the web, and it was contained as a liquid and manual shooters. This meant that Spidey could run out or have the shooters damaged. A rather important dramatic point.
Another important upgrade has to be the cast. Look. I liked Tobey Maguire. Andrew Garfield is a more down to earth Peter Parker. He’s not so flamboyant when he doesn’t have the suit on. Before long it was getting harder to see the line between Parker and Spider-Man. Garfield plays the duality with much more realism. He’s not the only upgrade. Raise your hand if you really aren’t going to miss Kirsten Dunst. She has to be one of the worst actors to play a female lead in a superhero film. I was always so tempted to offer her some cheese with that whine. It’s actors like her that make one long for the silent film era. Emma Stone is a huge upgrade here. She’s a much stronger presence. She’s an asset to Parker and not a lead weight holding him back. Gwen Stacy was always more of Parker’s girl than MJ was anyway. Martin Sheen is at least as good as the late Cliff Robertson, and there’s an homage to the Raimi films as he paraphrases the famous “with great power comes great responsibility” line. Sally Field is a bit of a mixed bag as Aunt May. She’s certainly a top-notch performer, but she never really sells Aunt May to me at all. Here I think we might have taken a small step back. Fans of her most recent series Brothers & Sisters might appreciate that she’s more Nora than May here. Denis Leary plays Captain Stacy who plays Spider-Man’s foil, labeling him a trouble-maker and a criminal. He almost makes up for the most glaring missing element. There is No J. Jonah Jameson this time around. I suspect that will be corrected in the sequel.
Of course, any hero is only as good as his arch-villain. It’s a bit ironic that The Lizard finally makes it to a Spider-Man movie. Raimi was trying to sell the character from the first film and was always shot down. Notice that Dr. Connors appeared in each of the three previous films played by Dylan Baker. It’s one of the reasons Raimi walked. So, what does the studio do? They give Marc Webb The Lizard. Rhys Ifans does a pretty solid job of bringing the character to life. I will warn you that it takes a pretty long time to get to his transformation in the movie. The creature itself is a combination of motion-capture and practical effects. It’s a solid job, and whatever fears I had of the creature looking lifelike were quickly put to bed. There is plenty of action between the two characters, and it’s quite convincing. In fact, effects have come a long way since the last film. Spider-Man’s swinging motion is a lot more fluid and realistic, once he gets the hang of it, of course.
The real improvement, however, is the story itself. We learn so much more about Peter Parker. We discover things about his parents, pretty much as Peter makes those discoveries himself. It adds quite a bit to the character, and I think, the performance. If there is a complaint at all it’s that the story unfolds rather slowly. Those moments do really pay off, but you have to have the patience for that to happen. The film has a certain soul and humanity to it that I didn’t even know was missing in the other films until I saw how thoughtful a Spider-Man movie could really be. The Dr. Connors story dovetails into the story of Parker’s parents, and Peter himself accidentally provides the missing element that brings about the monster Connor becomes. It’s a personal connection that drives Parker toward the hero he must ultimately become.
I have to admit that I do miss the Danny Elfman score from the other films. But, if you’re going to replace him, who better than James Horner? You’ll find this music to be less frantic and more moody.
I also saw the film in 3D IMAX. The movie makes pretty good use of both formats. Like The Avengers, I highly suggest you catch it in that format, if you can. Spider-Man is perfect for 3D, what with all of the swinging and web-slinging. You won’t be disappointed. The story holds up either way you see it.
You might be pleased to know that Webb offers a few nods to Raimi. Uncle Ben’s death has some of the same feeling and even similar dialog. There’s also a crash into a wrestling ring that is an obvious nod to Parker’s first use of his powers and how he gets his name in the first film. There’s a scene where Connors is arguing with himself in two voices much the way Osborn did in the first film. Webb does a great job of balancing the two worlds without appearing to be disrespectful of what came before.
Honestly, I still think Spider-Man 2 was the best of the films for a lot of reasons. But I believe you’ll find this one more satisfying than you might think. There’s a lot of attention to detail, and the future is being set up quite nicely. There are numerous mentions of Norman Osborn and his impatience with Connors’ research. Can Green Goblin be far behind? For now, you’re in for a pretty good time. Stick around. There’s a mid-credit scene that deals more with the inevitable sequel. “Watch out, I’m swingin’ here.”