Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man
This summer, a lot of people have asked,”Do we really need another Spider-Man movie?” This is a ridiculous question. Of course we don’t need another Spider-Man movie. We also don’t need another Batman movie, or air conditioning, or multiple pairs of shoes. But all of these things are available to us, for one reason or another (in this movie’s case, it’s thanks in no small part to Sony’s desire to keep the movie rights to Spider-Man rather than letting them revert to Marvel Studios), so we may as well take advantage of them. So, is Amazing Spider-Man better or worse than the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy?
…It’s complicated. Coming so close on the heels of another big screen translation of the origin story, the movie tries to differentiate itself a little bit from what came before. I’m assuming you guys all know Spider-Man’s origin by now, but I’ll run through it just in case: Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains superpowers. He first tries to use these for personal gain, but after a thief he chose not to stop kills his Uncle Ben, he dedicates his life to fighting crime and protecting the innocent.
For my money, it’s probably the best origin story in comics. It’s simple, direct, and provides a really clear motivation and sense of responsibility. As hokey as “radioactive spider bite” seems now, it’s a decent MacGuffin to get things going. In ASM, however, a whole new origin is bolted on over the original. It turns out the DNA stuff that created that spider was the work of Peter’s father, who mysteriously disappeared when he was a child. Although the idea of Peter’s parents was explored in the comics during the 80s (something about them being secret agents, and there were robots and junk), it’s never really been central to the mythos, and throwing “the secret of your parents” into the mix muddies up an otherwise clean origin. Worse, the movie minimizes the roles of Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), making Peter’s angst and frustration more like that of Harry Potter. Uncle Ben’s death is almost a footnote in the story, and his greatest line, “with great power comes great responsibility,” is attributed to Peter’s father. The movie plays around with father figure themes a little bit later, leaving the job of teaching Peter about helping people to someone else.
That someone is Captain George Stacy (Dennis Leary), police officer and father of Peter’s love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). These two, and the storylines involving them, are where the movie really shines. The Raimi films completely botched Gwen by setting her up as a doomed rival to Mary Jane Watson. Here, she and Peter are allowed to have a genuine romance, which both the actors and Marc Webb’s direction handle really well. Capt. Stacy provides a counterpoint to Peter’s arguments without being framed as a bad guy or an idiot, which is refreshing. Leary and Stone both breathe life into all of their scenes, and the few that they share are among the funniest and most touching in the film.
The rest of the alternates between these two extremes. Rhys Ifans does a fine job as Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard, but without the inclusion of his wife and son, the character feels like any generic mad scientist. Webb showcases his gift for slapstick and awkward comedy throughout, especially in the scenes where Peter is discovering his powers. The Daily Bugle and its cantankerous editor, J. Jonah Jameson, are largely absent, but since it will be utterly impossible to top J.K. Simmons in the role he was born to play, that’s alright. There’s a lot of little lines and hints dropped throughout to set up for a series of films (references to a dying Norman Osborn being the strongest), but there’s plenty of Spidey action in the second half of the film.
Overall, The Amazing Spider-Man is a mediocre-to-decent movie which sets up well for future sequels. There are some things it does well (Gwen Stacy), some things it does poorly (origin stuff), but there’s enough here that’s enjoyable to keep me around for the second film. It’s not really better or worse than a Raimi film. It’s just different.
RATING: 2.5 STARS (OUT OF FOUR)